I gaze long and hard at myself in the mirror, straining to reach the girl behind the face. I’m in there somewhere and it’s both liberating and terrifying to think that the person before my eyes is now the ‘real’, emotional, non-medicated version of my being. It’s been 14 days since Elvis left the building – Elvis being a small, white pill called sertraline, the building being my mind and body – which means that I am now the fully paid-up owner of my mental faculties.
On the 15th night of the 7th month in the Chinese lunisolar calendar, the lower realm is opened so that ghosts and spirits can return to roam the living world, seeking food and entertainment. During this month (鬼月), Taoists and Buddhists must perform rituals to absolve the suffering of the deceased.
At six it was a black mirror capturing and framing the first settled shapes of rising sun, but by seven the reservoir held ten thousand triangles of light that reconfigured themselves across the surface like a shoal of rising herring. There was a light breeze too, and birdsong from the curlews and house martins as they rode the unseen currents of air.
I have never liked myself as a smoker. A full decade and a few thousand cigarettes in, I still don’t. But what keeps me at it, with fondness, is that I might not have him were it not for the fags. When I was very small and his beard was still black, he would kneel by the bathtub and I would sit happily in the warm water. His eyes would swim as he babbled to me and I babbled back.
For longer than I can remember, I’ve been obsessed with stuff. The sort of stuff you keep because you think you might need it at some point down the line. I’ve got stuff in drawers, stuff shoved under the bed, stuff stuffed down the back of wardrobes. There’s stuff in bags; stuff collecting not just dust, but weird damp residue; stuff buried under more stuff.
It’s the middle of the night. I’ve just woken from a bad dream. In it, three lynxes in the garden of my childhood home are chasing my parents’ scrawny runt of a cat. He makes it to the safety of the kitchen, where I’m sitting cross-legged on the floor, and leaps onto my lap. The lynxes paw at the cat flap, but can’t get through.
The Museum Of Extinct Animals is many things. It is a labyrinth of dusty secrets. It is a fortress of fallen totems from another time. It is a symposium of ghosts. The Museum Of Extinct Animals is a cathedral-sized capsule containing stuffed creatures of rare distinction. Mythical creatures, post-extinction.
I own an animal that will live longer than anyone I know. She will outlive the next generation and the generation after that. When you buy a tortoise, no one tells you how much you will think about death. But when you have something living in your house that will outlive you by a century, mortality hangs in the air.
The tapir, like all odd-toed ungulates, has an exceptionally large penis. I have seen it with my own eyes. I can never un-see it. I can never erase the weighty mental image, but I can offload it onto others. And I do so often. I tell my friends and my mum and the postman about it.
Dear Godzilla, It’s been such a long time.
Do you remember when you told me there were special fires raging at the bottom of the Mariana Trench? I said, how can I believe you? Then you drew yourself inward and by the end of the evening it was the world’s biggest deal to get a full sentence out of you. You mustn’t be so sensitive.