The Abomination of Platypus
by Chelsea Laine Wells
The child will not die. He lies boneless, seething a foul yellow heat, his eyes flat black like burned coins. They seem to always be open. His lips are cracked and dead white but he needs something more substantial than water; she would open a vein and bleed down his throat if her blood wasn’t poisoned. She drags herself to the bed and leans over his face and cries. Please die, she begs him, please let go. He shakes convulsively, rattling the headboard like a good lover. She crawls across the gritty carpet and slumps into a corner and holds the glass pipe up to the weak ceiling light. There is nothing left but she smokes it anyway and sleeps with her head on her arms and her legs hunched under herself like a child hiding. She dreams about thick slabs of mold, pale and clotted and rank as the back of a sick tongue, furling open inside the room like a rain mushroom. It rushes up the walls with a sound soft as the separation of a kiss. She wakes hours later and drifts into the bathroom without looking at the child. In the bathroom she drinks stale water from her cupped hand and takes out the tiny baggie to count the crystals inside, then tucks it away. She orbits to the window, the door, the bed. The boy drags down each breath as though around some dreadful barrier; perhaps the inside of his chest has ruptured and broken apart like the ribs of a sinking ship. She closes her eyes and whispers mercy peace silence, mercy peace silence.
She found him a month ago at a truck stop where she stopped to buy cigarettes. He was shirtless and his shoulders folded in towards his chest like the wings of a cold bird. His hair was that slick feathery black that glossed white in the sun, his skin dark gold; he must have been a Caddo Indian child from the reservation she’d passed a few miles up the road. There was no one with him and she was road-lonely and it seemed that God had put him there for her. A foundling. And she was grateful. She opened her car door and gestured and he padded barefoot towards her, innocent and dumb as an infant. He was mute – when she asked his name he pointed at his throat and shook his head. As they drove she talked to him about everything that had happened to her, ceaselessly like a dam breaking open, sometimes crying with the relief of it. The wind whipped her tears up the sides of her face. She bought him ice cream and hot dogs and let him lean as far out of the window as he wanted and he laughed soundlessly, his mouth wide open. He pointed emphatically to a river so she stopped and he dove in without hesitation. In the water he melted and shape shifted. She sat on the hood of the car with her chin in her hand and watched him for hours. After this she stopped at every body of water they passed. She called him “frog,” “water dog,” “salamander,” “platypus.” The word platypus made him laugh his silent laugh so this is what she called him most often. Then all at once he went motionless and would not eat or swim. Even in the canned heat of the car she could feel a hectic fever teeming from his skin, so she stopped at a motel.
In the infinite circular silence of the room time expands and collapses like a lung. She begins to hear her mother’s voice from inside the walls, what you do to yourself is an abomination, it is an abomination unto the Lord, and unto yourself and the body God gave you, and she feels the blood rushing into her head hanging upside down off the bed the way she used to when her mother caught her with boys or drugs, until her eyes beat like hearts and her ears howled. The sun slips its noose and night rises again and again, a wheel rolling endlessly over her, and she smokes and sleeps and dreams of death and cries over the body of platypus, her animal, her foundling, her abomination, until it comes clear as lightning that God is punishing her for caging him. The fever hovers over him palpable as a restraining hand and she sees that it is his soul and that he is heartbroken, a water animal in dry captivity. She must release him so that he may reclaim his lost heart. She smokes the last grain she has and rolls him into the cheap motel blanket. Headlights off, windows down so the night pours in and dilutes the cloistered white reek of infection coming from his body, she drives into the yawning dark. Mercy peace silence , she says in her small broken voice, it is an abomination, I will reverse this abomination of myself and of platypus with mercy peace silence. She scans the landscape for the black glint of water and in her mind she sees him already under the surface, fighting loose from the tangle of blanket to cut deeper towards the secret pulse of the earth, dead and whole and beautiful; and she, redeemed.