Pangolin

by Ama Kirchner

 
“It’s a pangolin,” the man in the white lab coat says.

“A pango-what?” I say.

“He can’t hear you,” says my granddaughter. “He has tinnitus.”

“I can hear you just fine,” I grumble.

“IT’S A PANGOLIN, GRANDPA,” shouts my granddaughter.

“It’s a therapeutic robot,” says the man in the lab coat.

“It looks like a fucked up anteater,” I say.

“THEY THINK UNUSUAL ANIMALS JOG SOMETHING IN THE BRAIN,” shouts my granddaughter.

“I can hear you, you know,” I say.

“He’s having a good day,” she tells the man.

It is not a good day.

*

They wheel me to the Alzheimer’s unit, the scaly anteater rolled up in a basket next to me. For a while I don’t even look at it, I’m so incensed. I know it might be the dementia—mood swings, unexplained anger—but it doesn’t change the fact that at this very moment I’m pissed.

Yes, it is true that some days I shout at Bob or John or whatever-his-name who is always stealing the jello from my tray. It’s true that most days pass like a whisper and others like thunder and some days don’t pass at all, they just disappear. But I am still me. I am still me.

The pangolin has uncurled and is peeking up at me with its baleful eyes, its long tongue slipping in and out of its mouth.

I have to confess, it is kind of cute.

*

I look up “pangolin” and find out that it originated in Africa and went extinct a dozen years ago. Poached for its scales, I see. A pity. I had always wanted to visit Namibia when I was a boy, like my Great Grandma Mavis, the missionary. I name the pangolin Mavis and train her to fetch things off of the jello-stealer’s plate, which she does. He gets so irritated that I laugh my ass off and forget that I’m stuck in here until I die. Then I’m standing in front of a man I don’t recognize who is in tears, and the whole room is staring at me like I’ve done something terrible. I don’t know where I am or how I got here but I can sense it is my fault. There is juice on my shirt and tears on my face and Mavis is purring and pressing her little head up against my hand and I think I’ve soiled myself. “There, there,” says a woman in white. I don’t know who she is and my mouth won’t work. They walk me back to a room—my room?—and sit me down and Mavis lies down in bed next to me, and I fall asleep to the sound of her soft, raspy breathing.

*

“GRANDPA, HOW ARE YOU DOING?” asks my granddaughter.

“Are you all right, James?” asks the nurse.

“Are you going to eat that?” asks the jello-stealer.

I look at Mavis rolled into a little scaly ball under my hand and I think to myself: it’s time to blow this popsicle stand.

*

See, the thing they all forgot is that these pangolins are also robots, robots with sharp teeth and claws made of stainless steel. Mavis starts with the pillow and soon the room is swimming in feathers. I have her take a swipe at the bedpost and she splinters the wood. I hear shouting and footsteps so I say, “C’mon, girl!” Then we’re flying down the hallway tearing down flyers. Mavis is chewing up the furniture and ripping water faucet off their hinges and I’m yelling up a storm.

“James, stop!” says that stupid oaf who is always stealing my jello. He’s in his nightgown and slippers, his hair a cloudy tuft on top of his wrinkled old head. What was his name again? Bob or John or Michael. Or…or is it—

“Ben?” I say.

“James!” he cries, rushing toward me with open arms.

*

The nurses let Ben sit with me for a while in the cafeteria as they herd the others back to sleep.

“Mavis was our daughter,” says Ben.

“I know,” I say.

“She died,” he says. Something catches in my throat, so I just nod. I look down at Mavis sleeping in my lap, my sun-speckled hand resting on top of her.

“Getting old sucks,” I say.

“It does,” says Ben.

“And this feels like the goddamned end of The Notebook,” I say.

“Yep,” laughs Ben. “But I’ll take what I can get.”

*

In the morning, we stand together holding hands as our granddaughter approaches in a yellow sundress. Mavis trills softly between us.

Ama Kirchner is a writer and researcher based in Atlanta, Georgia. In her spare time, she watches a ridiculous amount of television and doodles at amakirchner.com.
<span>%d</span> bloggers like this: