A Peculiar Gift by Daniel Norrish

 

Disordered and slipshod. Unprofessional and slapdash. Damien’s efforts were rooted in kindness as he pulled and jerked at the still warm skin of the kangaroo. Occasionally he paused to wipe the organic filth from between his fingers through his hair and over his thick side burns like a butcher’s apron. This carcass would be a lovely gift for his only mate Andrew and would look perfect sitting smack bang in the middle of their main room, domestically perched on the dining table. Since they ate on the couch the table was free for sitting, he reasoned.

He had absolutely no idea how to peel the hide from a roo but he had practised with varying and gruesome success on rabbits, which he assumed were pretty much the same thing. They jump, they eat grass, they’re the same, he reasoned.

Damien chuckled quietly to himself like a fantasizing child as he skipped around the corpse, still shuddering with nerves. He sprayed and flung bits to all corners of the clearing where he’d shot the animal like a dancing garden hose. Grass trees sprinkled with innards. A storm of flies argued over discarded pieces of flesh and pools of blood. Damien looked a lot like a kangaroo himself as he leaned forward with a round, arched back and hopped from one side to another. He made a little cut, a quick stab with his fishing knife then pulled and yanked and twisted at the fur until finally, the creature fully undressed.

Damien paused.

He stared down at the tangled ball of muscle and gut before he hoisted the skin over his shoulder like a wet sack, picked up his grandfathers old .303 rifle and started back up the seeded hill to the house.

He peeled the gelatinous belly fat away from the hide as if it were a stubborn sticker, rubbed salt into all the right places and hung the skin in the shed for two days. He knew his mate wouldn’t interrupt the morbidly ceremonial process. Andrew was in town chasing women, although Damien didn’t understand why. He didn’t think they could be that hard to catch.

Eventually the job was done. The boomer stood tall on two hind legs with its tail to balance like some statue of Jesus marching to his end, two bare feet and the base of a crucifix. A look of frightened curiosity on the dead animals face gave it a lifelike quality you might assume impossible. You couldn’t even see the stitches, beautiful. Damien placed the magnificent carcass on the dining table and stepped back to admire his work. Pleased and proud, he just stood there for a while.

“Damo? You around mate?” Andrew called out as he entered.

“Yep. Back here.” Damien replied and he listened breathlessly like a son waiting for his father as his best mate’s footsteps approached. He emerged and his elastic sided Williams boots stopped dead as if they had been ordered to do so by a sergeant. Damien watched as Andrew cast his big blue eyes up to the fury statue like he was about to pray. Instead he started to curse. Long and heavy words. Horrible words. Angry, blaming sentences formed from shock and disgust.

An entire minute passed.

As Andrew’s initial reaction died down he took a moment to really appraise the thing. He judged the dead animal, the artwork.

“Good, isn’t it?” Damien asked.

Silence for a second.

“Yeah, it’s real good mate. How did you manage that?” He replied and Damien shrugged.

“Well how long did it take?”

“Few days. I know you get lonely out here with just me, now we have a new friend.” he answered.

“Someone else we can talk to.” He continued.

Andrew laughed as he remembered the men in town asking why he lived such a simple life in the bush. Why he lived with a simple house mate. This was a perfect example.

“Did you catch any women?” Damien asked.

“Nah mate, not this time.” Andrew replied and he realized he’d probably spend his whole life out there in that almost empty house.

Damien jeered as he pointed up to the prize. “You’re bloody useless, I caught him easy.”

The rest of the day dragged as it does in the bush, full of slow chores and tiresome tinkering. The men took two hours to repair the fence immediately north of the house, just a little to the left of the back gate. They sat patiently twisting thin wires around one another until the hole was filled with almost invisible cable. As soon as the sun fell below the horizon they retired and slept.

The sound of lusting frogs, croaking in the dark and the silence of the sheep in the paddocks blended in the air like lovers, perfected by each other’s company. Grass grew without a whisper and the wooden limbs of gum trees clicked and snapped as they twisted in the wind, stretching like a napping baby. Nature was at peace.

Then they woke.

Damien thought he was still dreaming. Rattles, scuffling and other suspicious sounds were coming from the living room. It took a second to fully understand what was going on but as he heard the TV switch on he looked to his open door to see Andrew beckoning for him to come out, the .303 in his possession.

They stalked, side by side in faded jocks and matching school footy jerseys which now served as pajamas as they approached the living room. The old wooden house cricked a little as the weight of two grown men shifted in harmony but the sounds they made were masked by whatever true cop show was on the television. A little further. They entered with silent fear to hunt the bumps in the night as Andrew raised the rifle butt to his shoulder to survey the scene over the iron sight.

The only light in the room was blinking on and off in dull blue flashes as the old TV tried to reveal the scene like a searchlight waving over a prison kill zone. Food was everywhere. Dragged and dropped in a long disgusting line from the kitchen to the couches. Biscuits and fish fingers pointing to the culprit. The men squinted in awe and amazement as the kangaroo shuffled between a cold tin of braised steak and onions and a VB. The re-animated chunk of fur jerked back and forth, rocking rigidly like a stubborn grandfather. A stiff spine.

Damien noticed Andrew was still pointing the gun at the magical creature. How could he even consider pulling the trigger? Why would he end this? At the very least, it’s a miracle. A resurrection.

“Don’t…” He began to order but before he could finish the thought the roo stopped dead. It faced away. No fear or even surprise in the hairs on the back of its neck. It just locked back up in place, more like something from the exorcist than a fairy tale and the men both felt a jolt of terror.

Then a wash of proper light filled the room and a fox stuck its tiny little black nose up from behind the stuffed animal as if waiting for the spotlight. A look of interrupted aggravation glared up at Andrew as he stumbled back and aimed at the pup. Over the sight of the rifle all Andrew could see was its tiny pointed ears in front of the TV Antenna as if it wore some childish Halloween costume. A dog from space.

Bang. The crack of the weapon deafened both men as well as the fox as it leapt out an open window and the TV shattered in on itself like a piñata spilling sparks rather than candy. Dull blue light turned sharp and yellow. The critter ran north, charging through the back yard with one, two and three quick strides before it pounced without reservation at the only hole in the back fence, just a little to the left of the gate.

The sound was something like a snare. The twick and twang of thin, almost invisible cables. In a moment, Andrew and Damien stood over the crippled scavenger.

They pondered for a minute before deciding to work together, pulling and tearing in turn. They snipped and cut and cleaned and after two days hanging in the shed, a beautifully manicured fox sat motionless on their kitchen table beside a kangaroo with plenty of room for more.