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Animal Magnetism

By Joe Meno From Issue No. 1

People can be mean; I’ve been called cat-dick since I was eight years old. Around that time I was in an automobile accident. Both my parents were killed, and I ended up going through the windshield. I lost one ear and the other got cut up pretty bad and then grew out pointy and red. People started saying my ear looked like a cat-dick pretty soon after that. I spent most of my childhood running around in the woods. In the woods it was quiet and mostly pretty. Now I’m older, and I work at the grocery. I help old people put groceries into their cars. I like it when they pat my shoulder and say thanks in their weak voices. It’s an okay job but I have a hard time meeting any girls.

An acquaintance of mine named Bill Fink said I should go with him to this Alcoholics Anonymous meeting because he said he knew a girl there who might be interested in me. Sometimes there were refreshments and then dancing afterwards. I thought in a roomful of people who had already been defeated by life that my deformities wouldn’t upset anybody.

But it turned out the girl at the Alcoholics Anonymous meeting wasn’t a girl at all. Actually she was around forty-five or fifty years old. She had dentures; I could see the wire from the bridge when we were first introduced. She also had hands like ice, too cold to touch. And then there were those tubes in her neck from a tracheotomy. It looked like raw hamburger with a plastic tube coming out of her pale pink collar.

After the meeting was over, people began drinking grape punch and socializing. I went to hide in the bathroom but Bill Fink followed me, asking what I thought of the woman.

“She’s nice but she’s got fake teeth. And there’s that weird thing coming out of her throat.”

“Oh, that. So what? Look at you. Those ears of yours ain’t winning you any beauty pageants, is it?”

I’d already thought of that, but I still didn’t like the idea of having to be alone with that woman and her neck-tube.

“Well, let’s get back to it,” he said. “She’s waiting to speak to you.”

I told Bill I needed a couple minutes to talk myself up. So he left me alone.

It was then that I decided to sneak out the bathroom window. It’s always been my way to run when faced with trouble. I made it outside and then this girl with big black eyes walked up to me and asked who I was. She was smoking a cigarette down to its end. Her name was Fawna; she had a nametag with her name written in smudgy lettering. She was wearing a blue coat with a white fur collar. It was like she didn’t even have a neck. She was all face. Kind of like a beautiful raccoon with oval features. She came up to me and said her name, pointing to her nametag, and then asked, “Do you have a car?”

I told her I didn’t. I said, “I came here with Bill Fink.”

I had it in my mind that these alcoholics all knew each other but she didn’t seem to know who he was.

“Do you have a drivers license or did it get taken away?” she asked.

“I do,” I said. “Currently I am not in any trouble with the law. I’m a citizen in good standing. I’m not an alcoholic. I just came here with a friend.”

“Well, I have a car if you can drive it. They took my license away for the third time.”

I looked at this girl and thought, but you’re not even twenty-one. Maybe she was. Maybe she just looked a lot younger than she actually was.

“Where do you want me to drive your car?” I asked.

“Tomorrow I’m stealing my brother’s birds. I need someone to drive me on account I don’t have a license.”

“Why are you stealing your brother’s birds?”

“Because my brother is an asshole who won’t give me any money. He thinks he’s too high and mighty to help me because he owns this stupid dry-cleaning business. I take care of his birds all the time but he doesn’t pay me.”

“How many birds does he have?”

“He’s got like ten of them. A cockatiel. Some lovebirds. And this African gray. It’s like a hundred years old.”

“I really don’t like birds,” I told her.

It was the truth, I didn’t. They’d always made me nervous. There was something about the shape of their claws.

“Nobody likes birds. You have to be an asshole to keep a bird in a cage,” she muttered. “All I know is they’re worth like a thousand bucks. And I need the money.”

“So you’re going to steal his birds?”

“There’s a few pet stores who’ll buy it. Pet stores do that kind of thing all the time. My ex-boyfriend and I used to steal dogs and sell them to the stores.”

I had never heard of anything like that before but didn’t want to tell her so.

“So can you drive?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” I said, trying to let her know I wasn’t really interested. “I really don’t have any experience doing this kind of thing.”

“That doesn’t matter.”

She ended up showing me her car, which was a white hatchback that was rusted to pieces. I drove her around, to show her I knew what I was doing. On the way back to her place, we pulled into the Safeway parking lot, and she gave me a hand job. It felt weird being in the Safeway parking lot because it was the competitor of the store where I worked. The hand job was okay. Actually, it was the roughest, most unnatural experience I ever had. I went home and inspected the damage and it felt like the head of my penis had been rubbed flat. It was as if her hands had been made out of sandpaper. It hurt so bad I had a hard time sleeping though I was pretty glad the girl hadn’t asked me about my missing ear or the one that was pointy and red.

On the day of the robbery, I had a stomachache, but I decided to take the bus to the girl’s apartment anyway. She handed me the keys and then we drove off without saying anything.

Soon we pulled up in front of her brother’s house. It was a small white one-story place: nothing special. There was a broken window in the front. You would never guess he had a bunch of expensive jungle birds inside.

“So do you have a plan?” I asked.

“No, do you?”

“I thought I was just driving,” I said.

“Well, I thought you could come in and give me a hand.”

“Okay,” I said. “But don’t you think your brother’s going to know you were the one who took all his birds?”

“So what? I’m leaving this asshole town as soon I sell those birds.”

I nodded. What was there to say now?

We walked around the side of the house to the back door. From outside, you could hear the chirping, the chattering, the general noise of the birds. Fawna tried the back door but it was locked.

“I thought you had the keys,” I said.

She nodded and said she had forgotten them. “We’re going to have to break in.”

I shrugged my shoulders. This was going badly. Fawna leaned hard against the door and began jiggling the knob back and forth, pressing her weight against it. It didn’t give. Then she began kicking it, once, then again, then a third time. Miraculously the door opened. As soon as it did, the birds inside began to squawk even louder. It smelled like a pet store, like wet sawdust and animal dander. I looked at Fawna who was busy grabbing a black garbage bag.

“Are you we going to put them in that?” I asked.


“It just doesn’t seem like it’ll work.”

She thought about it and nodded and then said, “Maybe we can just take their cages.”

I told her I thought this sounded like a better idea.

We started carrying the birds, two by two, and putting them into the hatchback. It wasn’t long before the back of the car was filled up, and we had only gotten about half of the birds. Fawna seemed pretty discouraged.

“What now?” I asked.

“We haven’t even gotten the really expensive ones yet,” she said. I nodded, not knowing what else to do. Then she said, “I think we should just put the rest in the car, without their cages.”

This sounded like a terrible idea but I did not want to say so. I just wanted to go. I had to be back at that grocery store to work that afternoon. We started loading the birds into the car without their cages. This was harder than it sounded. The bigger birds, the parrots and the cockatiels, were mean and pecked at our hands. Some of them had really sharp claws. And then you had to force them inside the backseat and there was not a whole lot of room for them. It wasn’t going good. The birds didn’t want to be shoved into the car like that. One of them, a bright red and green macaw was the king. He pecked at Fawna’s face. She screamed and the bird got away, flying up, landing on a low telephone wire. Fawna held her cheek where she had been pecked, crying. And then, having left the door open, some of the others birds got out. It turned out to be a real mess. There were colorful birds on the car, in the trees, and the giant macaw who was sitting on the telephone wire watching it all, and who looked like he was gloating.

I put my hand on Fawna’s shoulder and said, “Fawna, I’m sorry. Is your face okay?”

“Who the fuck cares about my face? How are we going to get these birds back in their cages?” she asked.

I told her I didn’t know. I told her I thought the birds were going to have to survive on their own. She looked at me and let me know she thought I was stupid.

Just then a gray pick-up pulled in front. A large man with a beard climbed out and looked at all the birds in the trees and then he saw the macaw on the telephone line and said, “Fawna! Why, why did you do this? You know I love you. Why would you do this to me?”

It turned it was not her brother’s place after all. This man was
someone else, a boyfriend or ex-boyfriend maybe, someone who was a lot bigger than me. He tried to get one of the birds—a cockatiel—back in its cage but it was hard. Just when he had almost cornered the bird, Fawna jumped on his back and began hitting him in the face. He bucked her off and then walked around to the back of his truck and grabbed a two-by-four and started to swing it around wildly. “You home wrecker!” the man shouted. “My mother was right about you.”

Birds scattered in the air like the remnants of a broken heart.

At that point, I decided to do what I usually did in situations such as that. I ran. I ran away so fast that I lost one of my shoes. I hid in the woods for awhile, trying to catch my breath. It was hot out so I took off my shirt, then my pants and underwear. I crouched in the leaves, enjoying the sounds of the wilderness. And then I decided I would live in the woods alone for a while. Later I went back to my place and got my vinyl tent and then found a place in a clearing where I wouldn’t be bothered. I grew a beard and then let my hair get long until it covered my malformed ears. Later I met a deaf girl who was working at a gas station and convinced her to come live with me. Now we’re talking about having a kid.

About Joe Meno More From Issue No. 1