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Degus (Authors note: this is fiction), by James Printer Friendly

So, we had to inter them in the ground. It wasnít exactly fun, but, you know, we needed to do it. There is just something about rotting animals that people typically avoid.

I say that, but as I do, I am struck by an image of 3rd world conditions, where people are so poor and hungry and basically destitute, that they donít care anymore that there are piles of trash rising above their shanty crumbling homes, and that, among these waste piles are rotting animal carcasses (or so I imagine) -- especially dogs. I try to feel sad for these people, but some sort of safety mechanism in me makes me judge them instead. I think its fear of my similarities to these people -- and my self-pitying refusal to see how fortunate my life has really been; but Iím not sure -- I just feel the involuntary judgment issuing forth from the recesses of my identity.

But anyway, the animals we were burying were called degus. I think thatís how you spell it. They were rodents from Africa my wife had bought, even though I had asked her not to. She had bought them and decided to keep them in our room so that the children wouldnít mess with them too much, and then our room had stunk because she never cleaned the cages. Then, when I complained about the smell, she would get all offended-like -- and needless to say, this, along with many other things, ruined our sex life.

Not the smell so much as her offence at my offence at the smell; and even more so my offence at the audacity of her 2nd order anger at my initial complaint. Her argument was like -- Hey, if you see something that needs to be done just do it, donít complain. And I can see the logic here, but, come the fuck on, theyíre your fucking degus, which I didnít want in the 1st place -- but anyway, the animals died, and it was kind of a funny story.

So we were getting a divorce, and we were moving out at the same time, trying to be amicable -- because the kids (who, she had used as an excuse to assemble a menagerie of animals (all the animals had been for the kids) and who she had forced into our bed (the kids , not the wildlife), and let them stay up as late as they wanted -- and again, wouldnít allow me to point out how unhealthy this was for US, you know, and she would get angry, because Ďtheyíre just kids, and I slept in my Dadís bed for yearsí -- but youíre parents got a divorce, I try to say - so any way, I guess the end was really inevitable from the beginning -- like Nietzscheís take on Christianity -- the foundation implied the dissolution), and besides, we both loved the kids, so being as friendly as possible was really for the best.

But we were moving all the stuff, and before we got started, she had taken the degus from their aquarium to move it with all the other cages and aquariums she had. She had put the degus in a Tupperware container, and had poked a couple holes in it, and we started moving stuff out to her designated moving van.

So we were going in and out of the house, and I kept passing by the degus container. The creatures were a bit distorted by the thick Tupperware container plastic, but I could see them pretty well. They were medium sized orangy brown creatures with medium-long stiff brown fur. The closest thing to them in the common rodent visual mental thesaurus is a guinea pig. But these have a bit more chiseled and angular a presentation, and a tail.

They sat huddled in the container, and I saw that they were breathing rapidly. I took notice of this, but thought little of it, firmly convinced that the motionless and rapid breathing was due to a terror at an unfamiliar environment and at large potential predators moving quickly and constantly about. (Iím not sure if this was just my ex-wifeís degus, or something common to the entire species -- but these degus were very timid and shy, even by rodent standards).

It turns out though, that one time, bringing another box out of the room, I realized the degus were dead. At first I had thought they had settled down and werenít so afraid anymore. Then I started questioning this initial impression -- I mean, they seemed pretty still. So I leaned the box I was holding against the dresser the degusí container was sitting on, and sort of freed one arm enough to tap the container. They were definitely dead.

So I told my wife when I walked past her next.

ďWhat?Ē she says.

ďYeah, they suffocated.Ē I say.

ď Are you sure?Ē

See, she wasnít convinced at first that they had died by suffocation. Since she had created the container situation I think this denial was to avoid responsibility in her own mind. But I started telling her how they had been breathing rapidly, and how, ďdidnít you notice that -- I donít even care about them and I noticed it.Ē

This seemed rational to me, especially since she had been walking past that same spot more often than me. But this immediately got her brainís gears to churning, and she produced a novel idea.

It was my fault they died, because I saw them breathing crazy, and why didnít I bother doing something about it? It was because -- according to her-- I realized they were dying, but out of resentment, let them die.

Now, to be fair, this seems like something I would do. As sensitive to the pain of others as I like to think I am, Iím pretty amoral -- like that English kid who poisoned all those people. Its not that I donít empathize with the pain of others, or that I enjoy it, or anything like that. I just feel its okay for people to suffer, like thatís how it should be. So, letí just pretend that I feel the pain of every molecule in every mercilessly striving and doomed creature all around me -- all the degus contained with no breathing holes -- I feel it, but I canít make myself care.

But this time, I really had thought they were just scared. I had even taunted them, lurching and shaking their container as I frequently passed. (This last part, of my mild torture of the dying rodents, I did not share with my then wife).

So I got blamed for it in her mind. And she was all flustered and angry at me and all. And thatís what gets me the most -- having someone unjustifiably angry at me. So I got all angry and cold and pissed off right back.

Now, any human -- unless they are living among skyscrapers of filth and rotting flesh and so donít care about anything anymore other than how many days until death--but most people, know how uncomfortable being forced into close quarters and partnership with someone you are sharing hatred with can be, even if for one last handful of hours. This is something I canít, physically and mentally, canít take.

The degus were still sitting, now stiffening, on the dresser. As I said, something must be done about situations like this. My wife, I could tell, even though she had no intentions of giving me one superfluous word, she was going to do nothing about this unacceptable situation. Thatís just how she is. She can stand that sort of thing lying around, and lives her life either in spite of everyone who canít, or unable to understand that anyone else could be annoyed by such a matter.

So I, without saying anything, took the degus and interred them in the ground. It took me like just over 20 minutes. I buried them in our soon to be former backyard, by all the dead puppies and kittens from the last year or so, and by the cocker spaniel, Franco, that had hung himself on the leash my wife used to tie him up outside when he kept escaping the fence. I buried the degus, and took a big cinder block laying a few feet away and put it over them so that the dogs -- my wife had several dogs -- wouldnít dig them up.

I had used that concrete block for the same reason the last several times I had had to bury something. The last time it had been a puppy, which my wife accused me of drowning because I had put too much water in itís bowl -- when the only reason I was even giving it water was because she refused to.

The block worked well -- it kept the digging animals away long enough for the smell to subside, and, at least for me anyway, it was like a gravestone that lent some solemnity to my expedient burying of once loved creatures. And, by the time I needed to move the stone a few feet for the same reason, the attachment to the previous unfortunate creature was, well, not gone, but lessened -- and , so it was as if it had served itís purpose, and could now be moved on.

So I interred the degus, and we were able to successfully complete the rest of the day.

Entered By Anonymous From Unknown
2009-03-19 00:58:50

that was great...morbid...but great...i feel less bad about my neglecting goldfish a few years back now.

Entered By Ray From Austin
2009-03-20 14:40:13

This feels like one of those stories I'd read and think, "That was a good story." And then later, I'll mention it to someone else, like, "Hey, you see that story about the dead degus?" And they'll be like, "It wasn't about degus, you idiot, it was symbolic of an uncaring world and the fact that the only people who really seem to care are so inept that they can't do anything about it, so everything continues to die, and the uncaring continue to clean up while the empathetic continue to screw things up." And I'll go, "Shit. That's way more intense than I thought." So good job, James, on your dead degus story.

Entered By Jesse From Austin
2009-03-24 04:43:34

Part of the reason I've wanted to become a widely read author is so that my works could fall under the scrutiny of such people and so that I could, at the pinnacle of their tirade when they were most pleased and wearily out of breath from expounding on their own supposed greatness with my great work for their mirror, that I could bring it all down to pieces in front of them. "It is my work and it is absolutely only what it seems. It is thin by intent and made whole in the beauty with which it was expressed. And you are a fool with fancy words. You are a degu with a sliderule." But that's just me. I mean, some people probably write with that other intent and at the end of the day you got this rodent throwin' up deuces and bein' like 'Yo, wat up, Calculus?'

Entered By Ray From Austin
2009-03-24 11:34:22

I once had a conversation with a friend about symbolism in stories. It was my belief that in order for symbolism to exist in a story, it must be intended by the author. My friend maintained that once a story was out in the world, its interpretation was no longer singular to the author. He said, essentially, that if someone finds symbolism in your work, it's there, whether you put it there or not.

Entered By God Satan Alliance From Monkey Pox
2009-03-25 00:13:52

Jesse-- First, comrade, you must get more sleep. 2nd, I have to agree with the friend Ray just made up. Even if a work has no sybolic intention, if someone is able to analyze it via sumbols, like Carl Jung, or Dr. Degus Sliderule, then it can still be a valid interpertation. I mean, all the occurances in the world have no intended symbolic value, but to say that people's analysis of these endless stream of chaotic events was invalid just because they try to find meaningful patterns and constructs would be a mistake. On the other hand, I wrote this story, and there was no intended symbolism -- just a character study, and analysis of a sample of life. Themes sure, symbols no.

Entered By Ray From Austin
2009-03-25 02:32:35

Hey! I didn't just make up that friend. What, you guys don't think I have real friends? I have real friends. Plus, I made him up a long time.

Entered By Anonymous From Unknown
2009-03-27 00:04:01

Ray...seriously now. Did you make up James, too? ;)

Entered By Chris From Austin
2009-04-03 00:33:06

James, Your story is ridden with guilt. There are many contradictions and inconsistencies that imply an adolescent attempt at a cover up. Children spend all there time trying to make the things they've done seem like they were done by someone else. The displacement and projection of blame on your wife is obvious. Even more than that though, you seem to be feeling remorse for "lurching and shaking their container" frequently which is more than likely what led to their passing. It honestly makes me wonder what other sadistic behavior you exhibit. You have a lot of pain and confusion. As this sometimes makes for good writing, your story reads more like a letter written to a psychiatrist or lawyer desperately trying to convince others and justify yourself.

Entered By Lazarus had parts of him cannabalized From Jesus never said sorry
2009-04-05 07:27:32

Chris, don't be biased and immature, read the 2nd paragraph, and realize that there is a point to writing, that personal writing is typically self critical (see 2nd paragraph, used to set tone for whole story) and learn that even evil people laugh at themselves -- soon before they laminate your now bloodless corpse in the name of art.

Entered By Chris From Austin
2009-04-05 18:49:33

James, the 2nd paragraph is a mere; "everything is her fault and not mine" rant. You were right, she was wrong and if she had only listened to your wealth of knowledge she could have saved her sex life. I wouldn't say anything in this entire story is "self critical" I'd say it's more "self proclamation" and "selfish" in general. I don't think you're evil, you just have the attitude of a spoiled teenager. This is horrible writing, there is no point were you are laughing at yourself and there is no point to this story in general except to try to make yourself sound like a victim when you are in fact a pathetic man that abuses little animals.

Entered By Did I misspell cannabalize Ņ From if so Jesus apologizes (and that is not an em
2009-04-05 22:06:15

Chris, meditation is a great way to allow one to rise above desires and bias that are so narrow that they cause one to become so stupid they can not count. 2nd paragraph seems to be about how I like to critically judge those in the 3rd world because of my own self pity -- which, I am not sure about you, but seems to be self critical. My intention was for that paragraph to set the tone of a purposely terrible person (which is a parody of myself admittadly -- influence here is DF Wallace in Breif Interviews with Hideous Men). I wanted to make a caricature of my actual reaction to Lana...I mean the fictional wive's...behavior. I welcome criticism, just not people who are really dumb, as in can't count to two dumb, and who have an agenda based on their own weakness and ignorance. Seriously, come over some time, we'll hash it out if you like -- you seem to have some sort of bonor over the whole situation-- I like this site as a way to laugh and share some rough drafts with people for hopes of more laughs and maybe some constructive criticism. If I wanted people like you around I would go to Church. Seriously, give me a call (I told Lana to give you my number).

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