Invasive Species & Their Habitats

Alexander Weinstein

Teczotchicin Vine

The vine’s voraciousness dwarfs even the kudzu of the Southern United States, whose growth of one foot per day is a snail’s pace compared to the Teczotchicin’s rate of up to twenty-five meters. It’s one of the rare plants one can watch growing beneath one’s feet, birthing folktales of murderous qualities. Indeed, the vines have been known to devour whatever they encounter, entangling wild boars in their constriction, swallowing homes of nesting birds, and suffocating local banyan trees which reach thirty meters into the air.

In 1894, explorer Santos Beniz saw the wild vine from his ship and believed the tips of the undulating plants were people waving. Upon sailing to shore, however, Beniz watched as creepers slithered into his crew’s dinghies, seizing oars and wrapping around the legs of crewmembers. Beniz planted a pole through the abdomen of one of the vines and claimed the land in his name, watching as the speared sucker reached its tendrils skyward to consume the flag. Here, he promised—removing his machete and hacking his way inland—a paradise on earth would be built, and he sent back for crew after crew of men who would build a city named after him.

Incredibly, the city of Santos Beniz still exists with beach access, scuba lessons, and a sandy downtown plaza inhabited by chocolatiers, rum distilleries, and tiendas selling conch shells and shark’s teeth. But while the water surrounding its shores is turquoise and the sea is filled with parrotfish, nudibranchs, and glowing pink anemones, it’s hard to relax when gazing through the snorkel’s goggles. At all hours, one hears the swinging of machete blades and the grunts of workers battling the jungle foliage. The city must employ a maintenance crew of over three hundred to keep the vine at bay; they pull roots from the ground and set brush fires, while the vine’s tendrils snake between their legs, reaching for the city’s visitors and children.

Every hotel owner in Santos Beniz has the same nightmare: the doors of their main entrance widening, vines tumbling toward the front desk. Every restauranteur has the same fear: liana breaking through kitchen tiles to seize butcher knives in their leafy grip. Tourists who visit the beaches of Santos Beniz close their eyes, attempt to enjoy the sunshine, but can never truly rest. Though it’s only the breeze tickling their legs, they leap from beach chairs, expecting at any moment to see the tips of vines slithering between the plastic straps, the maintenance crews dangling from the cliffs.

 

The Monster Snake of Typhon

In adulthood, the Monster Snake of Typhon reaches over five meters in diameter and one hundred and fifty meters in length, its magnitude surpassing that of a London underground train. Its native habitat is the rainforests, where its prey consists of water buffalo and rhinoceri. However, since the encroachment of local cities, the Monster Snake has been found in Typhon’s financial district as well as populated tourist centers, overturning trucks, smashing store windows, and swallowing entire tour buses, digesting them slowly as it escapes down subway tunnels. To see video clips of its attacks is like watching Japanese kaiju films, where scaly-backed giants terrify cities. One watches the shimmering blue, diamond-backed pattern as the snake overturns a hot dog cart and opens its mouth to swallow an SUV.

Two decades of research by Typhon’s Academy for Reptile Studies has helped quell the city’s panic over the creature. Dr. Lefraig’s paper, “The Monster Snake and Characteristics of its Prey: Zero Evidence for Across-Population Targeting,” revealed that the reptile does not choose prey randomly:

“To assess foraging habits, we utilized pheromones of men, women, and children, analyzing variations in composition, breadth, and niche overlap regarding prey’s age, social status, and profession. Six male Monster Snakes were sequentially presented with the scents of over two thousand subjects to determine which scents stimulated gland secretions and predatory prehensile movements. Chemosensory tests indicated that the Monster Snake chose prey consistently, targeting specific members of the test group. Variables for its preferred diet included the prey’s 1) distance and association with offices of international banking firms or world trade organizations; 2) political involvement with energy lobbyists and/or a history of climate-change denial; 3) identification as a corporate lawyer.”

Subsequent research examined death records and revealed confirmation of the study: every one of the victims served as pharmaceutical CEOs, insurance-claim deniers, and/or bank directors. The tour bus of victims? All lawyers.

Most of Typhon’s populace has since come to admire the Monster Snake. Like the common garden snake, who may look frightful but can rid basements of rats, the Monster Snake has purged the city of the least savory part of its population. In recent years, there’s been an exodus of bureaucrats and investment bankers to countries far from Typhon’s jungles. As for the rest of the world, there is great interest in the creature, particularly among American zoologists who have petitioned to bring the snake to the United States for study. To date, the US has vetoed any such actions.

 

The Seahorses of Cajor

While few have seen the giant seahorses of Cajor, legends of their heyday are plentiful along the coastlines of Argentina. The poet and naturalist Phillipe Chante wrote one of Argentina’s most read eco-essays, “Flames of the Sea,” which is both an ode to the majestic creature and a testament to his infatuation with the animal. While many scholars admit Chante’s writing veers uncomfortably close to the erotic, we include one of his less impassioned descriptions here:

“Large as their terrestrial brothers and sisters, the seahorses sport aqueous manes which flow like seaweed from their crown, and like their diminutive counterparts, their tails curl beneath them in a question mark. Fitting, given all the questions we have. Where have they come from, their trumpet-like snouts emerging from white waves during their watery stampedes? To what God do they pay tribute, circling our shoreline like dancers in the dusk? Look how the sea is filled with the creatures, so plentiful that while I sip chardonnay, I watch herds passing along the coast. How I wish to call to them, to watch them emerge from the sea, to come riding to this table where I drink, but they have no hoofs, so must race seaward, their backs glistening in the setting light.”

Though some consider Chante’s essay a fairytale, there are photographs aplenty. One need merely look at the faded black and whites of the sea gauchos who tamed and rode the creatures. Umberto Cézanne, one of Argentina’s last living sea gauchos, passed away in 1964, but he traveled widely giving lectures about the old days of ocean-wrangling, when men in town would head out with harpoons and fishing nets to haul in the day’s catch. Cézanne often appeared intoxicated during his talks at oceanographic institutes, starting fist fights with marine biologists. Such behavior was consistent with the machismo of the gaucho life. Heavy drinkers, fighters, and letches, they spent their days wrangling fish from the backs of seahorses, which they treated brutally, and gave rise to the proliferation of whisky bars along the coastlines. A growing number of single mothers were left to raise their children.

Perhaps it was the gauchos’ behavior which led to the seahorses’ sudden and mysterious departure. One evening, as sunset spread along the coastline, the sea gauchos lay on the backs of seahorses, drinking and cursing. Suddenly, as though responding to a call, the horses lifted their snouts toward the horizon and took off, dragging the men with them. From the shoreline, witnesses could see the men hanging on as hundreds of seahorses thrashed the water white, their gallop a polyrhythmic splashing of sea foam, leaving no trace of their existence except for the small waves which lapped against the pebbled beach.

If Phillipe Chante questioned their appearance, today scholars question their disappearance. Where did the great seahorses go? And why did they kidnap the men who, like the horses, were never to be seen again? Despite these mysteries, the coastal towns grew more peaceful after the men were gone, and children and women flourished as keepers of their villages. As for the seahorses, their images adorn the tile mosaics and paintings in restaurants along the coast. Sitting at a cantina today, one can almost hear the wet spray of the vanished herds, their neighs echoing across the water.

From Hunger Mountain Issue 22: Everyday Chimeras, which you can purchase here.

Art by Maggie Nowinski.

Alexander Weinstein is the director of The Martha’s Vineyard Institute of Creative Writing and the author of the short story collection CHILDREN OF THE NEW WORLD (Picador 2016). His fiction and interviews have appeared in Rolling Stone, The Atlantic, World Literature Today, Best American Science Fiction & Fantasy 2017, and Best American Experimental Writing 2017.

Come On, Come Here, Talk to Me

Lydia Conklin

Sabrina took a shortcut to the party through the field between the Manor House and the Gehry building. The field was supposed to have ticks but no one at Bard cared. People were scoring crack on trips to Brooklyn, sporting fluorescent sores at parties. If you whined about ticks, people would call you a pussy forever. Still, whenever the grass tickled her thigh, she feared it was the tickle of eight legs and a thumbtack body.

When she saw the skunk, she knelt in the grass. She didn’t consider her white dress and white tights, or the possibility that Bill, who’d just dumped her, would see her dirty later. She just fell into the heady vegetable scent of the shaved blades.

Sabrina had never seen a skunk, wasn’t sure they lived in her hometown in Southern Florida. This skunk’s tail was as substantial as his body, and he dragged it like laundry lint as he turned circles. His shiny eyes were so inviting that Sabrina almost spoke to him. She almost asked if he was disoriented, if a lawnmower felled a landmark toadstool or fern. If he didn’t know what the hell he was doing. If he didn’t want to go to Ray Mather’s party either, if later he wouldn’t feel like saying no to coke even though maybe was yes and yes was staying up all night talking to some boy with rosacea.

Sabrina was saved from conversation with the skunk by someone pushing through maples a dozen feet away.

“Hey,” called the someone, who sounded like a prepubescent boy.

“Be careful,” Sabrina said, but the person rested their shoe beside the skunk’s fragile skull anyway. The person was Jojo Myers. Jojo lived in Steinway and had a curled flip of bangs and a moustache she could’ve clipped it was so long. She was so bouncy and small and big-eyed that she looked like the first boys Sabrina had blown, years ago, in parking lots and house party bathrooms.

“You scared me,” Jojo said.

“Well, yeah.” Sabrina pointed to the colorless fur in the grass.

Jojo leapt back. “Oh my god. Are you serious?”

“He’s not doing anything. Yet.”

Jojo held out a cigarette but Sabrina shook her head. Jojo tucked it behind her ear. Sabrina had seen Jojo at parties and Maximum Queef Attack shows, but they’d never talked, because they were in separate departments. Sabrina studied zoology, though there wasn’t much of a program, the classes dependent on visiting researchers. Jojo was in art, with a specialty in “decorative archery,” which consisted of tying bright fl oss around sharpened dowels in ROYGBIV stripes. She stole tropical feathers from the Bronx zoo and sliced them into rhombuses. Her arrows were beautiful, but they weren’t even straight. Even if you had a bow, you couldn’t shoot them. Jojo lined them against the wall at student shows, waited for girls to touch them.

Sabrina had been to the shows with Bill, her sceney boyfriend who wore multicolored t-shirts rescued from the eighties and pants so tight they could’ve been stockings. Sabrina had gone to every event with Bill for all of Bard. This was the fi rst time she was showing up somewhere alone, and she wondered if people would recognize her without his freckled arm around her neck. She still didn’t know why Bill had dumped her. He must’ve fi nally realized she wasn’t cool. She certainly hadn’t been any kind of big deal in high school back in Florida. For Bard she’d tried something diff erent, dyed her ashy hair until the ends broke into Y’s and then Y’s on Y’s, dressed in stiff , formal kids’ clothes. Even though her skin was rough and run through with rivulets where she’d scratched out bug bites in the swamps back home, her eyes were as dark as the last sky of each day, and she knew how to touch a guy.

“Is he lost?” Jojo asked. “Or maybe he’s, like, retarded?”

“He’s circling. So I guess his inner ear could be shot.” Sabrina had never before used information from a course in a social situation.

“I guess that’s cool. Hey. Are you going to the party?”

Sabrina parted the grass with her shoe. “I guess.” Ray Mather’s house was one of the least appealing places she’d ever visited.

“Pretty epic parties,” Jojo said. “They could be memorialized in some kind of, like, party museum.”

Sabrina didn’t want to think about those boozy, feverish hours lined up one after another. The occasions—Keg Khristmas, Drag Week, FU Finals, Lizbeth Lung’s birthday, Crackuation—blurred together in a sea of rabid house music and sloppy public hookups. Halloween was most vivid, with its furries and sexy rotten zombies, and Bill in his rubber salmon suit, scaly flanks jiggling under the cop’s flashing signal lights.

“I was just thinking,” Jojo said. “If we have to go, why not go together?”

The skunk was turning circles so tight that his arrow nose was lost in his tail. Sabrina didn’t want to leave him. “Maybe.”

“Hey, aren’t you dating Bill Miles? Or is it that other girl, Agatha May or something?”

“Agatha Pray. Everyone thinks we’re the same person, even though she’s got that skin tag.” All over campus people called Sabrina Agatha Pray, tried to hug her, accused her of fucking their boyfriends, told her they’d had a fun night while pointing finger guns at her and smirking. She hated to think of what these guys put poor Agatha Pray through. Bill had never made Sabrina do athletic sex. Half the time, they just cuddled. He stroked her hair and sang her homemade lullabies.

“So Bill’s with Agatha Pray?” Jojo asked.

Sabrina shook her head. “I’m Bill’s. Or was. Until last night.”

“That’s raw,” said Jojo. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s probably for the best. I probably couldn’t eat any more ironically horrible fried chicken. I probably couldn’t stare at him staring at a synthesizer for one more hour.”

“Right,” said Jojo. “Maximum Queef Attack.”

“I have permanent ear damage. I live in a faulty smoke alarm.”

The skunk stopped circling and looked out between them, to the middle distance.

“I can’t believe he hasn’t started warning us yet,” Sabrina said.

“How would we know?”

Sabrina stuck her butt in the air, kicked her feet, and hissed. This wasn’t a fully accurate demonstration of aggression mode, since she didn’t have a tail to swat, but Jojo laughed anyway. Sabrina blushed. And then, because she’d wanted to since the moment she’d seen him, Sabrina reached under the skunk, cupping his belly, which felt full of water. She expected him to squirrel away, but he let her lift him.

“Are you serious?” Jojo was still talking in her affected teenage boy voice. Sabrina wondered when she’d relax.

The skunk’s eyes were bright and healthy, his pelt unbelievably soft. Softer than cotton balls, softer than fleece. She wanted to rub him against her cheek, but that would be too much. “Did you know skunks are more trainable than dogs?”

“We can get him to fetch the paper. That would be sweet.”

Sabrina pictured sitting in a breakfast nook with Jojo, eating oatmeal, waiting for the skunk. Her face heated.

They left the glade, crossing out of the overgrowth to where they could see the stars, at least the major constellations. The North Star was obvious, and they walked to the east of it. Sabrina held the skunk ahead of her like a figurehead, so his milk chocolate eyes could see first what was coming. The campus was lush, nature softening the drugs and body fluid art projects.

“You ever hear that thing about plays with guns?” Jojo asked, more tentative now.

“No.”

“I took a class in dramaturgy or whatever. If you have a gun in the first act, it has to, like, shoot someone’s face off in the third. Or second, I forget.”

“You mean it’s only a matter of time?” Sabrina bounced the skunk in her hands.

“I guess the good news is, if it happens at Ray’s, no one will notice.”

Sabrina laughed, throwing her head back, disproportionately amused. She let go of one flank of the skunk, batted Jojo’s arm. She performed the gesture automatically, like she’d done to get Bill in the first place. Jojo smiled, so tight and nervous that you could almost believe she didn’t do this with everyone.

The party was crowded. There was a crust of vomit on a couch cushion beside a girl with her skirt above her bellybutton. The skunk relaxed against Sabrina’s hands. She felt the warmth of his blood, the pulse of his breath.

“I hear there’s decent heroin in the back bathroom,” Jojo said, winking.

The people who bothered to notice the skunk laughed at him, pointing out the soft flag of his tail and claiming it was a boner, which made no sense. No one was disturbed or surprised by his presence. Every girl at the party knew Jojo. They said, “Joey, Jo, come on, come here, talk to me.” They requested kisses, which Jojo delivered to their cheeks, even when they lurched at her lips. Sabrina wanted Jojo alone again. They couldn’t maintain a conversation here.

“You’re too popular,” she said. “Maybe ’cause I’m not hugging a skunk.”

But when Jojo took the skunk, girls shrieked, “Cute panda,” and stretched to stroke his fur.

In the eye of the storm, they found Agatha Pray. So many people had called Sabrina Agatha Pray so far that evening that Sabrina almost expected Agatha Pray to start applying makeup, assuming Sabrina was a mirror.

Instead, Agatha Pray lunged at Sabrina, carrying the heady smell of vanilla. “I’m so glad we don’t have to share anymore!”

“What do you mean?” Sabrina asked, wriggling free. Agatha Pray skipped into the encroaching wall of bodies. Sabrina turned to Jojo. “What was that?”

Jojo looked down, stroking the skunk. “Do you think he’s hungry?”

“Maybe.” Sabrina pressed a cheese curl to his lips.

They found a corner where they could talk. Jojo leaned on the wall over Sabrina and Sabrina examined her mustache, which was so perfectly lined that it could have been drawn with pencil. If it were on a boy, she’d hate it, but on Jojo, she liked that top flap of lip leaning closer in. Then closer. The skunk was still between them, so Jojo couldn’t get too close.

After discussing Jojo’s arrows and her theories of “non-practicing archery,” their past lives in Detroit and Belle Glade, Sabrina was interrupted by a shout of “Beans!” She cringed. Ever since the first week of classes, Bill had called Sabrina Beans.

Sabrina only had to look at Jojo to realize there was some kind of mess behind her. She steeled herself and whispered, “Get me through this.” Jojo nodded.

There were Bill and Agatha Pray. Agatha Pray’s eyes were shut in bliss, her skin tag straight and soft like a baby penis glued to her eyelid.

“How’s it hanging?” Bill asked. “Coming to the show later?”

His tone was so casual that Sabrina questioned what she thought she suddenly knew. Bill was leaning on Agatha, very lightly, but the pressure was certainly from his end. Sabrina didn’t like Bill’s freck-les in her eye line, spread out like splashes of chocolate milk. They were the one thing Bill hated about himself, and the one thing Sabrina could still love about him.

“What show?” Sabrina asked.

“MQA, duh. Come on. You’re always at our shows.”

Agatha Pray reached up and tapped one of Bill’s freckles, spotlighting it in red.

Sabrina filled her lungs. She always went along with whatever Bill wanted. She lifted her shoulders. “That’s just because we were in a relationship.”

Bill frowned, his shoulders falling. “I thought you liked our music.”

Sabrina grimaced. “It’s okay.”

That was the worst thing she could’ve said. Bill stared at her with giant, animal eyes, then stalked away, Agatha Pray following. They hadn’t even mentioned the skunk.

Sabrina turned to Jojo. “That was a nightmare.”

“Beans,” Jojo chirped.

“Shut up.” Jojo was trying to dissolve the scene and Sabrina appreciated that. But Bill was her only friend. She had to know. “They’re fucking, right?”

Jojo gauged Sabrina before she answered. “Looked like it.”

“You know what I mean.” The words came out like syrup. “Since before we broke up. Since forever. Everyone knows. Right?” In her head the revelation hadn’t sounded as bad as it sounded now, heavy in the air between them.

Jojo pulled her lip into her mouth so two chipmunk teeth sat forward. She nodded.

Sabrina looked at the puffy faces floating by. These strangers had known more about her relationship than she had, and no one had bothered to tell her. Jojo could drop the skunk and everyone would put their feet on his roadway stripe and not even care. The creature would be paper-flat, and they’d keep dancing.

“He’s a douche bag, right?” Jojo said. “You know that now.”

“Easy for you to say.” There was a pair of boys on the couch cinching their arms with a prep school tie and yelling that the needle tickled. Sabrina didn’t know how to do this without Bill. Yeah, he was a jerk, but she’d loved him. He’d made her laugh, had navigated her through Ray’s parties without her wanting to kill herself, like she did right now.

Behind all the red skin, there was a window. Outside, it was raining the kind of summer rain you can barely see, that you have to feel to know for sure it’s there.

“I need to get out,” Sabrina said.

“I’ll go with you.” Jojo held up the skunk. “We both will.”

Sabrina pushed through the sweaty forest of bodies, batted limbs, spilled drinks.

“Agatha Pray,” people called. “Watch out!”

But Sabrina kept going. The window was farther than she thought.

“Agatha Pray’s gone crazy,” people said. “Look at her go!”

Sabrina knocked over a boy barfing into a nut bowl. Almond soup splattered the floor. She jumped onto the windowsill. The party was on the first floor, but the fall looked high. Outside, the rain made the backyard murky. Sabrina didn’t see Jojo. Of course, Jojo had left the second she got the chance. She thought Sabrina was pathetic, too.

The whole party watched her now, more people than had ever looked at her before at once. When she jumped, they cheered.

Sabrina hadn’t thought about what would happen when she landed. Because one minute she was on the windowsill, with the yelling and the clapping and “Agatha Pray! Agatha Pray!” behind her, and the next minute she was on a carpet of grass, planted with sepia cigarette butts and bottle caps. She was nowhere magical. She was just in Ray Mather’s greasy backyard.

Then the ground vibrated and Jojo was beside her, carrying with her a smell that was chemical and sharp, and Sabrina realized she had smelled skunk before, somewhere in the Florida swamps, even if she’d never seen one. She remembered catching the scent on an open highway, and it felt comfortable, like she could lean into it. Actually rest on the meat of the odor. The smell made her think of places that weren’t here, and for the first time all night, she breathed.

Jojo approached with the bundle in her arms, half a grin under her moustache. Her face grew larger as the smell got stronger. Sabrina was impressed that Jojo hadn’t dropped the skunk when he sprayed, that she was still holding on.

 

From Hunger Mountain Issue 22: Everyday Chimeras, which you can purchase here.

Art by Maggie Nowinski.

Lydia Conklin has received two Pushcart Prizes, scholarships from Bread Loaf, and fellowships from Princeton, Emory, MacDowell, Yaddo, Djerassi, Hedgebrook, Jentel, Lighthouse Works, Millay, VCCA, Sitka, and Harvard University, among others. Her fiction is in a forthcoming compilation of the best of the last twenty-five years of the Pushcart Prize and has appeared in Tin House, The Southern Review, The Gettysburg Review, Narrative Magazine, and elsewhere. She has drawn graphic fiction for Lenny Letter, Drunken Boat, The Florida Review, and the Steppenwolf Theater in Chicago.

Redirect: In Response to Tanya Gill’s “Shared Horizons”

Shelly Oria

One thing about fear is that it’s stronger than the average human body. Another thing about fear is that it spreads quickly in large crowds. The Director wants his viewers to keep these facts in mind when watching his film. He realizes, of course, that this isn’t about what he wants; he was commissioned to make a documentary about a humanitarian crisis. Still, it’s his work. His art. That matters, too.

The Director is considering using subtitles to offer context: Since the rise of the regime in the neighboring state, X number of people have attempted to cross the border; of them, Y have succeeded, Z have failed, and approximately two dozen have been executed. XYZ is just how the Director is thinking about it for now—hopefully by the time the project is in post-production, things will no longer be weird with Andrea and he will once again feel comfortable saying, for instance, I need those numbers by tomorrow, whatever you have to do please, in that tone of his that means or else. For now, he is still tiptoeing, trying to gauge her mood before asking for a fucking glass of water, which is just such total bullshit considering he didn’t even ejaculate.

His aesthetic taste is kind of classy, clean, so he’s thinking: a simple white font on a black screen. But he’s also wondering if the subtitles are even necessary? Wouldn’t the average viewer likely know all about that regime? Maybe there’s no need to offer stats about those poor people trying to escape their country. It’s not that he minds more research; it’s that he minds needless work.

Bird’s eye view, camera way up top looking down down down, getting closer slowly, gently, only close enough for the pink red stain to pixelate into dots to become a sea of people, become many people, become specific people in a big crowd. Let’s pause here: freeze frame. We are about to get closer, and if the goal is to leave no dry eye in the audience, then there are many easy, obvious choices. But no. The Director wants his job to be hard. There’s a particular kind of male who’s the beneficiary of so many privileges that he develops a need to challenge himself, because he believes these self-created challenges legitimize him in a way he can’t quite articulate but knows is otherwise missing. The Director is that particular kind of male. So he chooses his artistic constraints: no elderly bodies, no people with pre-existing sickness. That would be too easy. No, to be the center of this zoom-in, one has to be of age and sound mind, and to have arrived at the checkpoint healthy. The goal is to still reveal, somehow, pain and despair—and not just any pain and despair but the kind that soundlessly screams: My country has disavowed me, I am a body trying to survive, etc. This screaming is done through physical language, facial expressions: clean camera work. Radical honesty is how the Director is conceptualizing it. For the sake of these poor souls, he has to reveal the angst in a manner that employs no trickery. People are dying, he tells himself, and he repeats the last word for effect: dying. Then he makes the face of a man who feels the gravity of death.

In the editing room months later, the Director is looking at so many different shots, an infinite number of shots, the kind of footage you end up with when your DP is undiscerning. The Director is annoyed, frustrated. Nothing feels right. The faces on the screen show no feeling at all, or appear to be faking, trying too hard. He is numb and he’s been doing this long enough to know what numbness in the editing room means. It means it’s all shit. Sometimes you have to power through this kind of despair until the sweet moment when—magically, mysteriously—you find yourself on the other side of the thing. You’ve crossed over. But this doesn’t feel like one of those times.

For a while now, the Director has been working with his therapist on being present. The therapist is practicing something called Nontherapy Approach. It’s kind of hard to explain Nontherapy, and to be honest it bothers the Director that the therapist has no diplomas hanging on his wall. It feels way too late—they’ve been working together for a year—to inquire about the man’s qualifications, although once or twice the Director made a joke about a Nondiploma Approach, hoping that the therapist would understand the joke to be a question (and offer an answer) but also understand the joke to be a joke (and therefore not resent the Director). The therapist seemed not to get the joke.

But most of the time he tries not to worry about the therapist’s training, because Nontherapy has been helping him accept himself. When he makes a mistake now—any kind of mistake, professional, personal, whatever—he knows it’s because of his past, so he tries to Locate the Authentic Area of Blame (usually his parents) and Redirect. Sure, his parents always meant well and did their best, but they also made a lot of mistakes, and never apologized. He walked in on them mid-orgy when he was six years old—this is really only one small example—and his mother shrieked and kicked him out, explained nothing. When he asked the next day—he had no idea what he saw—she pretended to be confused. She said he must have had a bad dream. In his darkest hours, the Director fears that this memory has rendered him incapable of love.

Redirecting helps. Free from feelings of false self-blame, the Director is able to inhabit his body, connect to the right now. Right now, in the editing room, he stretches. After long hours in a swivel chair, his muscles appreciate this momentary kindness, and he moans. It is a quiet, tame moan, a whisper of a moan; and yet it’s enough to invite memories of other moans. The Director’s mind is now moving away from the refugees who are seeking safety, away from the question of whether they’ll be granted asylum. Will they be shot dead? Or survive?It’s not that he doesn’t give a shit; it’s that he’s inhabiting his body. And his body is sending a clear message. There’s a buzzer in his work area, right next to the monitor, and he presses it. Andrea, he says, can you come in, please? I need you.

 

From Hunger Mountain Issue 22: Everyday Chimeras, which you can purchase here.

Art by Maggie Nowinski.

Shelly Oria is the author of NEW YORK 1, TELAVIV 0 (FSG & RandomHouse Canada, 2014), which earned nominations for a Lambda Literary Award and the Edmund White Award for Debut Fiction, among other honors. Recently, she co-authored a digital novella, CLEAN, commissioned by WeTransfer and McSweeney’s; the novella received two LOVIE awards. Oria’s fiction has appeared in The Paris Review and elsewhere, has been translated to other languages, and has won a number of awards. She lives in Brooklyn, where she co-directs the Writer’s Forum at the Pratt Institute.