Animal Cruelty

This story was originally read at Confession Booth, which was an absolutely hilarious and wonderful night and you should go. ALSO, I read it again at Story Club with a host of talented, talented people. Thanks for having me!

The cars were packed with case after case of cheap beer, rolled up mattresses, cans of beans and a lonely, holy coffee plunger. But before our caravan of courage could even disembark, the word arrived via text message that actually, our host didn’t want a horde of undergrads descending on her parents beach house, in a decision that can only be described as poorly timed and eminently understandable.

It was in this moment that the classic ‘Sliding Doors’ scenario was established. On the one hand, we could simply unpack the cars, go to our respective homes and listen to Bright Eyes albums, or whatever it was we did in 2004. Or we could, as our friend Mike generously suggested, go and stay in his parent’s vacant house in the middle of suburbia for a week, an option which took the concept of beach house holiday, and subtracted the words beach and holiday. Imagine the scene – Gwyneth Paltrow standing on the platform, deciding whether or not to enter the sliding doors of the train. That song by Aqua comes on – if you can’t remember it, just substitute ‘Barbie Girl’ in your head, because that’s a song that deserves remembering. But instead of taking either option, Gwyneth repeatedly bludgeons her weird flat face against the trains ‘sliding doors’, blood splattering in large starbursts. Imagine that, and you’re halfway to understanding how bad the decision was when we said yes to Mike’s modest proposal.

Mike is like a beautiful hothouse flower, grown in a greenhouse made of cheese. That’s a weird way of saying that Mike is one of the loveliest, stand-up guys I’ve ever had the privilege of knowing and that also his family is fucking batshit insane and their house a manifestation of all that is wrong with them. Imagine former US President George Bush Senior riding a giant bald eagle and instead of arms he has flags bearing the star spangled banner, and instead of legs he has guns and also the eagle is carrying a collection of teapots shaped like Rosie O’Donnell’s skull, and you’ll just have discovered the inspiration for their interior decoration.

MIKES HOUSE

The other thing to remember about this house, is that nothing opens from any direction without the use of the master key. So you couldn’t open the door of the house from the inside, if you didn’t have the key. You couldn’t open any of the windows. You couldn’t open the sliding door to the balcony. There’s no way out. Drums, drums in the deep.

Somewhere over the next four nights, the terrible event to which I am confessing occurs. On its own, the deed seems inexplicable and unforgivable. But before I am tried by my jury of fashionable peers, I need to weave the story of other shitty things that happened, to maybe promote an understanding of why I did this thing. This terrible, terrible thing.

The first inkling that our thrilling urban getaway was less holiday and more horror-day (that’s a difficult pun to enunciate) was on the first night when we decided we should do a booze run. My mate Bob, not able to fit into the car, but still wanting to go along on the expedition, decides that he’ll just walk the two blocks or so to the local shops. Around four hours later, people start to realise that nobody has see Bob since that fateful moment. We call him, and through an inexplicable static, as if we are on walky-talkies, we hear him yelling that he is ‘lost in a swamp’. We are in Oatley, a suburb bordered by yet more suburbs. There are no swamps in the suburbs. It is known. Then, using logic usually reserved for horror films, we fan out in a drunken search party, separately exploring the side streets and mysterious cul-de-sacs of Oatley and greater Mortdale. The rest of the night was literally spent finding missing people, like the worlds stupidest game of Marco-Polo. At around 3am, I found a tennis court, and sitting under the bright lights was Bob, looking extremely relieved and also covered in a strange amount of mud.

It was during the days where the absence of beach or any activities besides drinking became noticeable. We played Pictionary and drank Bloody Marys, and also succumbed to a group panic attack when Mike went to buy lunch, and took the key with him, effectively locking us in the house. The cloud of cigarette smoke was so dense by that point, you could actually effectively duck underneath it and hold conversations with it. And that night, when we went to sleep, the house next door burnt down. We were woken by the sirens and the crackle of flames, but had to rouse Mike’s brother before we could open the door and check it all out. It was about 3am by this point, and when he opened the door, sitting on the stoop, illuminated by the burning building was our friend Anna, smoking a cigarette. To this day nobody knows how she got out of the house, or more importantly, how the house next door burnt down… But this is not my confession. I did not burn down that house. Anna may have. A fun fact: on the same night as the house fire, Mike drunkenly chose to come out of the closet to his older brother, meaning that it wasn’t only the next door neighbour’s earthly belongings that were going up in flames, it was perhaps also Mike’s parent’s expectations of an all-American, gridiron loving, vagina-frequenting son.

My confession, unfortunately, involves animal cruelty. I need to establish that I really like animals. I like dogs more than people. I like cats more than civil liberties. I like big cows more than big-faced titties. The other day I spent two hours diverting a stream of ants out of my house, using blu-tac and lumps of sugar. I would never knowingly hurt an animal. Unfortunately there are two allegations of animal cruelty made against me on the last night of our Oatley adventure.

Sensing that our enthusiasm was waning, and also we kind of all hated each other, on the last night instead of beer and other lay-varieties of alcohol, Mike broke out some bottles of tequila and also some genuine Czech absinthe. We drank the absinthe in the traditional style – dripped over sugar, passed over with a flame, and then shotted like frat boys. After the first shot, Bob immediately vomited. The rest of us pushed on. I have no real memory of anything else that happened that night, but two things definitely did occur. Like a sick cat, I took myself into the backyard, picked a palm tree and then spent the next hour hurling on it. After I was finished, I went inside and like a sick cat passed out on Mike’s cat’s bed. The crime scene is now set – for after we left the next morning, two shocking things were discovered by Mike’s parents, recently returned from the US.

The first was that their cat was now violently opposed to its bed. With great concern, Mike’s mum repeatedly threw the cat onto the bed, where it would proceed to freak out. After discovering from Mike that I had drunkenly slept on that very bed, Mike’s mum made the following accusation. That I had sexually molested her cat. Just like an episode of Law and Order: Wild Accusations Unit, she calmly reviewed all the evidence, and then jumped to the most disturbing and weird conclusion she could think of. This was not a joke suggestion – Mike’s mum was seriously convinced that I had done this. Ladies and gentlemen, I am so very happy to tell you that I really, really didn’t.

Then, and I say this with multiple levels of shame, when they went outside to check on the pet tortoise, all they found underneath its favourite palm tree was a disgusting pile of vomit with a tortoise underneath it. I had vomited on Stanley the Turtle, a sentence which can only be followed by a thorough hanging of the head. The only defence I can muster here is that I was not aware of the fact that I was vomiting on a tortoise. I am sure there are people in this world who seek to carry out the very action I am describing with a degree of foresight and intent, and those people are monsters – but I am not one of them. It was dark, and tortoises have chameleonic properties. But apart from the fact that I yakked in someone’s backyard and didn’t even clean up after myself – the story gets a lot grimmer. You see, apparently tortoises have a layer of natural varnish on their shell, which keeps it waterproof. A varnish that is incredibly susceptible to things like stomach acid, which it had spent the night marinating under. A series of events that meant that if that tortoise ever wanted to swim, it would actually die, having lost its waterproof layering. Which is the grim knowledge I’ve lived with for years – the fact that I’d doomed Stanley to an existence without swimming, which is probably like flying for tortoises. Or I’d killed him. That is,  until I decided to run this confession by Mike at a Game of Thrones themed dinner party, where he was dressed as a ravishing Catelyn Stark. I wanted to make sure he was fine with me bad mouthing his family, and by the light of roaring sconces, around a mouthful of honeyed goose, Mike told me that in fact Stanley was alive and well, which is exactly the most unexpected twist you could think of at a soirée devoted to Game of Thrones.