by M. P. Johnson
Text ©2005 M. P. Johnson; illustration ©2005 Cubist
Rex stared at Nancy for a moment before climbing into bed and wrapping his furry arms around her, careful not to scratch her soft tattooed skin with his claws. He closed his eyes and ran his black nose through her hair, sniffing. She always smelled like fruit. It was intoxicating. He wanted to wake her up and tell her he loved her, but he knew better. She would be getting up to go into the office in a bit and she wouldnt appreciate being roused from her slumber before that hideous alarm began its incessant bleeping. Besides, she was probably still upset at him from the argument theyd had before he had gone to work.
Rex had been thinking about kids. He was already fifteen years old, which sounded young to a human, but for a coati it was spectacular. His father had lived to a grand old age of twenty-eight, beating out his father by a good five years. Rexs great-grandfather, the first of the talking coatimundi, had only made it to nineteen, which was still pretty good. Unfortunately, Nancy was twenty-threewhich, by human standards, was still very young.
Im not sure Im ready for children, Rex. In fact, Im not sure were ready for children, she had stated.
Well, Im ready, was Rexs gruff rebuttal.
Its not about us as individuals. Its about us as a team. Were barely making ends meet as it is. And, well
I want to have a human baby, Rex. Nancy started to cry. Rex could tell this was something that had been building up in her for a while. He moved in and nuzzled his soft snout against her neck, letting her stroke the red brown fur on his back, which always made her feel better. His sleek tail, with its brown rings, softly caressed her thigh.
You know that we need to keep my line going. There are plenty of human babies out there already. The world doesnt need more of them.
Having a child isnt some ego thing, Rex. Its about having someone to care about. Carrying on lines makes no difference what type of baby we have. No matter what, it will be your child. Do you know how hard it would be to raise someone like you?
Rexs ears perked up in surprise. His black eyes flushed with anger as he pulled away from her. Someone like me? Why dont you say what you really mean? A freak!
I would never say that! Nancys tears were moving in rivers down her cheek, pouring off her chin, drip drop, drip drop onto her work dress, with its long sleeves that covered up her unprofessional tattoos.
Well, in so many words, you just did, Rex growled before slamming the door and heading to his job as one of the night janitors at the mega-fitness center two blocks down the way.
As he walked, he found himself shaking his head, trying to let off steam. When he and Nancy had first become serious, even before they moved in together, he explained to her his plans for children. The tradition that had run down through his family ever since they started talking was to be with a human girl. His great-grandfather Luis was the first to start speaking. He made his way from the Ecuadorian rainforest to America, where he easily got a job in the circus as one of the sideshow acts. Luis fell in love with an armless, legless beauty named Amilla who, for all intents and purposes, was Rexs great-grandmother. Obviously, while they could have sex, and the sex between Rex and Nancy was soft and wonderful, it wasnt possible for a human and a coatimunditalking or otherwiseto procreate. So, all down the line, the male coatimundi was forced to couple with a wild, barbaric coatimundi female to continue the line. Each father told their son how important this was, and how it was the only way to keep their unique breed alive. Rex wasnt about to break from this tradition.
The gym was the perfect place for Rex to ruminate about his life. He had almost no interaction with the other guy, Bob, as he polished the stair-climbers and mopped the locker room floors. It was also the best job he was ever likely to get. Despite the fact that he had educated himself, was extremely well-read, and could learn just about anything in a short amount of time, most employers couldnt get past what he was. We cant have a talking animal making food for people, one greasy, pimple-faced restaurant manager had told him, snickering.
Why not? Rex asked.
Well, frankly, because its gross.
All of his ancestors had let themselves be exploited to make their way in the world, but Rex wanted to break the chain. Sure, as far as he could tell, his great-grandfather Luis had a great time on the sideshow circuit, traveling from town to town, carting Amilla around with him wherever he went, but sideshows werent around so much anymore. There were, however, plenty of jobs as mascots. Thats what Rexs father had been, working for various restaurants and local sports teams. The laughter and the jokes ate at his soul. Rex had to watch it. The poor guy drowned himself in beer every second he was home, and still he wasnt happy. Nope, Rex wouldnt have any of that.
Rex made his way to the barely-lit lunchroom, grabbed his steak from the company fridge, and popped it into the microwave. He watched it spin around in the dim glow through the black mesh design of the glass door. When the buzzer went off, he grabbed it and took a seat on the cold bench attached to the white table.
He and Nancy had been through a lot in their time together, as was to be expected. He met her at a punk rock concert. She had a big tattoo of a platypus on her upper arm. When the band stopped with their Mohawk preening and microphone screeching, he approached her. As he said, I see youre an animal lover, and pointed to the ink on her arm, he braced himself for her scream. She didnt. Instead, her purple lips lifted into a smile and she kneeled down so they were eye to eye.
Hi. Youre a coatimundi, arent you?
Rex didnt know what to say. First of all, most people in the Midwest didnt have any idea what he was. Thinking about all the times people mistook him for a raccoon made him cringe. Yeah, he had a similar ringed tail, but it was more slender. He didnt have the familiar black mask; instead, he had a band of white around his nose that twisted up his long snout and formed snowy eyebrows. Sure, the raccoon was probably his closest relative in the animal world, but that was no excuse. He had never gone up to a human and mistaken them for a monkey.
Yes, I am. My name is Rex.
Well, its nice to meet you, Rex, she said, putting out her hand. He felt terribly conscious of his weird little paw with its long claws as his palm hit hers to shake. Im Nancy.
Their relationship took off quickly. Rex charmed the hell out of Nancy with his nonchalant stories of making it through the world as a talking animal. After a couple weeks of the dinner and movie routine, they were sleeping together. He'd had girlfriends before, but it was only out of desperate need for affection that he had weathered their use of him as a novelty boyfriend. His past companions had taken him out and showed him off to their friends who oooohhhed and aahhhed, and occasionally eeewwwwed. It was no big deal, because when they were wrapped up under the sheets, skin to fur, it was comforting.
With Nancy, it was more than comforting. As soon as their bodies touched, his pulse raced. He was elated. It was like his blood was pumping through new veins, toughening up his heart so that he could brave any army to save her from trouble or pain. He had never felt it before and he knew damn well what it was.
She wanted to get her parents blessing before they moved in together, which struck him as odd.
Just because my arms are covered with tattoos and I have a pierced nose and eyebrow doesnt mean Im a bad girl, she chided him.
Oh, I know that, I was going by the spiked blue hair.
The next night Rex was awkwardly offered the opportunity to sit in Nancys high chair, which her parents had kept as a memento of their only childs youth.
No thanks. Just give me a couple phone books and Ill be able to reach. He gazed at Nancy, who looked flushed, obviously worried that one party was going to embarrass the other.
Do you get ticks? her dad asked as Rex hurriedly stuffed his mouth with lasagna, hoping it would be an excuse for him not to talk.
Can you have a bank account, being an animal and all? her mom asked.
What about lice?
Do you qualify for minimum wage?
Nancys dad, a big man with black-rimmed glasses and a moustache that looked thicker on one side, swallowed a bite of pasta and sighed. I dont approve.
Rex finished his meal while father and daughter had a screaming fit and mother ran into the kitchen. He didnt want to be there, but he didnt want the food to go to waste either, and it was awfully tasty. Although Italian had never been his favorite, this was going down nicely. As long as it wasnt traditional coatimundi cuisinebeetles, which his family had sworn off when they started walking on two legshe was good to go.
He was still chewing his last bite as he walked out the door, pretty sure he hadnt been noticed.
They moved in together a week later. You can always judge by the blue hair, Rex said as they handed their landlord their first and last months rent.
Now, just as he was being lulled into sleep by the lavender-berry-kiwi-something scent of Nancys hair, her alarm went off. He looked at the red digits on the clock, hoping that there was some mistake. No such luck. Nancy swept the sheets (and Rexs arm) off of her and groggily made her way to the bathroom, alarm still buzzing. He swatted it off.
Im sorry about last night, he said, not admitting to specifics because he wasnt entirely committed to the incident being his fault, but still wanting to get it out of the way.
Maybe we could have one of each? Rex said, hopefully.
Nancy looked at him, took her skull-and-crossbones panties off and slipped into the shower.
Rex knew very well that it wasnt feasible, not on the money they made. She worked full time at an office, doing stuff that Rex always tuned out when she started talking about it, but her salary wasnt big. Rex could only get four nights a week at the fitness center, unless someone called in sick and more work needed to be done. They didnt have a whole lot left after rent and bills and food. It was a shame, too, because there was a really nice apartment just across the street that charged one-hundred dollars less a month. Unfortunately, they were barred.
We dont allow pets, the elderly landlady had said when they showed up to take a look at the place.
Im no pet, Rex growled. It hadnt convinced her.
Rex climbed out of bed, too wound up to sleep. He wandered into the bathroom, lowered the lid over the toilet and sat on top of it to watch Nancy shower.
Id have to go to Texas to find a lady coati anyway.
Yeah, they arent really native to Minnesota, she replied, serious.
And she would be ugly and have nasty bug breath.
Just what you deserve.
Rex watched Nancy wash herself through the shower curtain, which was transparent but for the blotches of soap scum. She had sleeves of tattoos that went from her wrists all the way up to her shoulders, even straying onto her back on her right side. Twisted landscapes of eyeballs and ice were homes for various creatures, including a unicorn with two legs sawed off and gushing blood. The highlight on one side, centered above a couple of elves that were running away with the unicorns legs, was the big, extremely lifelike, image of a platypus. Once in a while, Rex wished that it was a picture of a coati.
Sometimes I feel like you look at me as a pet, Rex said, out of the blue. He regretted it right away. It was hurtful and he knew it was not based on reality at all. In fact, of all the girls he'd been with, of every person he had ever interacted with, no one had treated him as much like an equal as Nancy did.
Sometimes I feel like you look at me as a means to achieve human status, she replied.
Rex turned his eyes to the ground, staring at the bits of fur that sat curled up on the white linoleum tile. He knew it was true. Of course, he loved her to death, but fitting in was important to him. It always had been. Should he be ashamed that he felt it was a great secondary benefit that came out of his relationship?
His head filled up with thoughts of what to say next. What could he say that acknowledged her needs, that didnt hurt her feelings?
The water stopped, Nancy pulled back the curtain and stepped out of the tub, naked and glistening in the bright bathroom lights. Rex handed her a towel, staring. He gripped it tight, playfully preventing her from covering herself with it.
Seeing the smile answered all his questions, at least for now. He had an angel that loved him; he could work on building that into something else later. For now, he climbed up her body, letting his furry belly brush over her soft skin and made his way to her wet lips for a kiss.