By Aimee Parkison and Meg Pokrass
(inspired by You Don’t Own Me by Lesley Gore)
I explained it to my husband, even though he didn’t ask. I told him the name of my lover. I gave my lover a regular name. One he couldn’t complain about. Walter.
My husband slumped in his leather chair, and I told him the whole story. How we met in the summer in an online game. How the game had these startling little animals, and how I had become addicted to it. “Walter?” he said. And then, he laughed. Rain must fall, I said. Don’t tell me what to do.
My face was drenched but my husband’s skinny face was dry. He sat there like a wound up bird. When he opened his mouth, he chirped a few angry sounds. You see, I explained, there are no little animals around here anymore. No frogs, no mice, nothing that moves or breathes. It’s too quiet here.
We lived in the heart of the desert. In Palm Springs. We were the luckiest people on Earth. He often reminded me about this. And because we didn’t see many little animals here, we took trips. Trips to places filled with incredible animals. Last month, Costa Rica!
You don’t own me, I said.
I couldn’t look at his face, so smug and amused about virtual Walter. I left him in the lap of his favorite leather chair. I drove away in our luxurious car.
Where does the money come from? my mother asked when we bought the first of many remarkable cars. I don’t know, and I don’t care, I had said. Sadly true.
My mother was asking me so many difficult questions. Asking about the house in Tahoe, the vacations. There were so many things I didn’t want to say to her then about my life. I was loving our hot leather seats, the sleepy purr of a highway, the suck and spit of jet fuel making white satin ribbons of sky. The way chlorine-free pool water caresses like sex, how when you first dive in, you forget that you never learned how to swim. How happily unhappy I felt.
Enough about my mother and the pool, enough about Walter and my husband, it’s time to get to what you’ve been waiting for all this time: the little startling animals in the game. They are startling because of their camouflage. They hide in plain sight, so that you often don’t see them until it’s too late.
No one can compete with them, not even a lover like Walter.
If my husband were a wise man, he would know not to be jealous of Walter because the little startling animals are his real competition.
Each animal is its own universe. It can swallow a gamer whole. Each is so tiny and sweet, you try to catch it before it sees you and catches you. You can bite each other.
That’s the point of the game.
You need to startle the little animals before they startle you.
If you startle an animal, you can hold it. If it startles you, it can hold you. Then, the biting begins. Sometimes it’s hard to find out who is eating whom, until you see your lifeline moving up or down.
Once you’ve been captured by a little startling animal, the only way to break free is the rain pool where you swim to the safety of another life. In this new life, the little startling animals hunger and the only way to keep them alive is to hold them and feed them kisses, but kissing them the wrong way will make them disappear, or worse.
You must kiss their eyes when their eyes are closed. That’s the difficult part, timing the kisses just right because they blink so fast that their eyes are almost always open. Kissing an open eye is not just rude but deadly as all animals instinctively defend their eyes.
Even a lip gently brushing an open eye can cause them harm, alarming them, making them mistrustful, feral so that the little startling animals become rabid and bite.
When they bite you, the only thing that can heal you is the rain falling into another pool. As this pool fills with rain, it’s a portal to another life where Walter waits.
Aimee Parkison is the author of Refrigerated Music for a Gleaming Woman, winner of the FC2 Catherine Doctorow Innovative Fiction Prize and a new member of FC2’s Board of Directors. Her recent book of experimental fiction, Girl Zoo, is co-authored with Carol Guess. Parkison’s other books include Woman with Dark Horses, The Innocent Party, and The Petals of Your Eyes. Parkison is Professor of English at Oklahoma State University, where she teaches Fiction Writing in the MFA and PhD Creative Writing Program.