You find the monster in a summer gutter, damp and matted down with bright leaves. You can barely make out his hard armor among the wet sheen of August magnolias. You know it’s still alive because it wags its long scaly tail when you pick it up. You were walking with Quentin.
“Look at this little guy,” you said, as you leaned down, and cupped your palm, and ushered him in.
“He bites you, you’ll need to get shots,” he answered, shuffling at the bricks.
It yawned and you both marveled at his little yellow fangs. It scratched behind one cocked ear and a clump of black fur fell out. You said, “I think it’s sick.”
You put it in the pouch of your sweatshirt and felt the weight of it curled up there the whole walk home, its little hard spines digging into your belly. Quentin was quiet too, watching the looped spirals of wrought-iron gates, crooked Louisiana porches, the purple flowers falling over fences to greet their own shadow. Little cups of summer, bunched and blooming as glad hands.
When you got home you dropped him gently into the bathtub. You both stood there and stared at him shivering on the porcelain.
“You should’ve left him where you found him,” Quentin scowled. “It’s not a domestic creature.”
“No,” you answered, and sat on the toilet. He went into the living room and you could feel the absence trailing after him and spreading like city steam. The two of you hadn’t spoken, really spoken, since you came home from the hospital. Your bones and eyes still hurt from your stay there. All night dreams of fluorescence kept you restless.
The monster keened and reared up on its little crooked hind legs, scratching at the side of the tub. It watched you with wet dark eyes, set back and away in his face, hard as marbles.
You went to the kitchen and opened the refrigerator. Opened the freezer. Then the fridge again. You pulled out a package of hamburger and cut off the end, brought the red raw lump back to the bathtub. The monster was pacing, its little claws clacking on the tub floor.
“Here,” you said kindly, dropping a pinch of hamburger into the tub. The monster pounced on it. Some kind of grateful warmth spread through your belly, and you dropped piece after piece until the whole lump was gone, then watched the monster licking its chops with its little sharp tongue. You ran a finger carefully along the top of its head and watched it arch its neck. It made tiny surprised noises, shuffled from end to end.
You weren’t sure what else to do for it, so you brought in a filthy dishrag and some dirt from the garden and made a bed for it above the drain. Dropped in a little dish of water and some sticks, just in case. It curled up and watched you close the door.
The bed was a canyon. Quentin lay sprawled and still, cast blue in the light from the shaded window. You lay down and considered every inch of your skin that touched. You woke before dawn, as you had been doing lately, and stood just outside the bedroom door, smelling the hardwood and studying the white lights around the ceiling corner.
You stood there listening to the morning birds until Quentin came out, surprised you, put his heavy arms around your stiff shoulder.
“What’s wrong?” You didn’t answer. “You’ll be okay. Don’t worry.” His arms like oak branches, like iron bars. “There wasn’t some other thing we could do. It wasn’t the life you wanted. You’ll be okay.” But he wasn’t there for the metal instruments, the machines beeping, the overhead lights pummeling you over and over. Ankles up and heart in your throat.
You say, “I know. I’ll be okay.”
When you go into the bathroom the monster is stiff on its back, limbs curled in towards itself, eyes closed. Quentin apologizes but it’s not his fault. You find a trash bag under the kitchen sink and go outside, go to the backyard, go past the backyard, to the end of the street, to the levee. You cross the levee. You kick open the mud at the river’s edge, drop the trash bag, and use your heel to try to cover the monster back up. You stand there and listen to the creaking summer sounds in the muddy woods, hissing lowly, the far-off frogs, the river shuffling past, watching the mud already swollen over the hole you’d kicked in, like it was never even there.
Delaney Nolan is a recent graduate living in New Orleans. Her work is forthcoming in Gargoyle. She welcomes correspondence and offers to help pay for her criminal defense attorney at firstname.lastname@example.org.