Shelter

by Daniel Uncapher

Shelter’s got some really good ideas but I don’t always know what to make of them.

We met on a dating app, which he says he uses strictly for technical inspiration with the single exception of my case specifically, and it was his idea to delete the app together.

I’d been experimenting with the concept of dispossession in general and loved the idea. I went ahead and deleted my news app, too, after reading that 357 whales beached themselves again in New Zealand and no one can say why the sweet saps did it.

I told Shelter about the time I volunteered at a whale hospital in Florida, about how we had to physically lift them up 24/7 or they’d die but they all ended up dying anyway, and he had a series of fantastic ideas: what if you invented a machine that could physically lift the whales up for you?

Better yet: what if you invented a system to prevent pilot whales from beaching themselves, like a giant underwater net?

Even better: what if you identified and resolved the underlying ecobiochemical problem that caused 357 whales to beach themselves in the first place?

That’d be a good idea, I said, but I think it’s probably pretty complicated.

Well, of course it’s complicated, said Shelter; linear algebra is complicated, democracy is complicated, shipping lanes are complicated. Does that mean the whales should just go on dying because they’re not simple enough?

No, I admitted. I’d dislike that very much.

I curled up with Mondo at the foot of the bed while Shelter resumed his natural position on his back, arms folded across his chest with the bed sheet pulled over his face like a funeral shroud, stock still. But Mondo didn’t want to be cuddled, and in fact he leapt to the floor and started whining. Shelter didn’t stir.

Mondo, he said, you’re a trial; you’re a burden on the whole human race.

So Mondo turned to me with his big sclerotic eyes and I just gave right in and took him out for a walk.

The night was bright and absorbing and we walked all the way downtown, where I found myself reinstalling a few apps over the public wifi, even some new ones I’d never tried before. Possession is the first step towards dispossession, after all.

Mondo loves the city. I took him off the leash and he raced like a shadow beast through the darkness of the make-believe world. He knows the city at knee-level better than anyone and he hits all the good spots, stopping to taste the puddle wine or read the news at each light post and hydrant.

I chased him down until, for one sweet moment, I was lost.

What kind of place is this, I asked myself, succumbing to the feeling of a familiar place turned foreign. It must be some sort of city, that came predetermined; it has all the trappings of the city, it does all the work a city does, forms a picture in the minds of people, packs a certain material density of space in its limits.

But beyond that it’s difficult to pin down.

I downloaded a tracking app and tracked Mondo to Vaquero Park where a homeless woman was feeding him crackers. I leashed up Mondo and gave the woman twenty dollars but Mondo didn’t want to leave, and I didn’t want to pull him, so I sat down and introduced myself.

Her name was Pangolin and she was a retired professor with the Daniel Austen School. That’s a formidable career, I said.

It wasn’t so sparkling in person, said Pangolin. I taught a class on the Anthroporcine but the students dropped it—the professor was a pig!

You’re a holler, I said. My boyfriend went to Daniel Austen for a year. He says Daniel Austen was a wretched place full of incredibly strong women who sat behind unrealistically tall desks to conduct their business.

My nephew went too, said Pangolin. And he was a real prick. A trash compactor of a man named John Lucas (Two first names!). I caught the little rapist penetrating the family ham one Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving, of course, being his mother’s favorite time of the year, and as far as I know he’s now gainfully employed as a soup stocker at a Dollar General outside of Nome, Nebraska with an occasional libidinal performance into his own bedspread, nothing more.

It’s not entirely his fault, she added. The OB-GYN who delivered him was pill high and fucked up the kid’s toasty Nebraskan cock with those clippy little scissors they use. These things happen! By the way—do you recycle?

Of course, I said.

Do you re-use your shopping bags?

Well yes, of course.

Then you’re wasting everybody’s time, said Pangolin. You can’t do anything from down here on earth. It’s all in the hands of the shipping lanes and the container cranes and the hidden costs of the great international transfer of capital. Trust me! I used to be in on the racket myself—I imported lead boomerangs, but the returns were low.

I cleared my throat and looked at my phone. Look, I said, I appreciate the solid advice, and Mondo really appreciates the nutritious and flavorful snack, but it’s time to go.

Mondo threw up twice on the way home and I was forced to consider the possibility that Pangolin spiked the crackers with something nasty, and I decided not to tell Shelter about the encounter at all unless something really bad happened to Mondo.

But Shelter was awake when we got back and I told him about Pangolin after all, except I pretended it was an old friend and in fact something of a rival, and he seized immediately upon the very suggestion of rivalry.

That’s a great idea, he said. I’ll make an app for matching rivals. How clever is that?

He opened his computer and started dashing off ideas. I watched over his shoulder, which he hates.

I have an idea, he said. Why don’t you make us some tea?

But I had no interest in that at all so I put my head on his shoulder instead, which felt a little cattish, so I curled up on his lap and I became a cat, a genuine four-footed environmental disaster, and Mondo barked right in my face until Shelter told him to smarten up.

Shelter’s lap smelled a little sour, but I tried to embrace the smell. Smells are very important when it comes to personal compatibility.

I looked up at Shelter and said, I have an idea for an app that matches people based on body odor profile, you know, personal scent.

Shelter sniffed. Are you saying I stink?

I hopped off his lap and skulked off to bed. Mondo chased me down, smelled my ears to make peace, and then curled up sweetly beside me. He used to go ballistic whenever he saw me on his side of the bed, his eyes would practically pop out of his head. He just didn’t know what to do with himself with a woman in his spot, to say nothing of my own incredibly invasive body odor profile, just like I didn’t what to do with myself when confronted with the possible existence of shipping lanes, or sea levels, or other so-called big ideas that fastidious people like Shelter liked to contend with.

He says it all comes back to first principles, genuine articles, possessive dispossession, bodily organs sloughing themselves off into our bowels, that kind of aggressive realism sort of thing, and frankly I don’t see it, especially not when he puts it like that.

The sun started to rise so I plugged my phone into the wall and curled up with it under the blanket, sheets tucked tightly over my head, until my glasses fogged up completely. My phone heated up in my hand like a warm-blooded animal, of which I could name quite a few: horse, dog, bird, lion.

Do lions still exist? They must, I thought, and I downloaded the lion app to find out—the answer was emphatically yes, and when I fell asleep I dreamed that Shelter fucked me like a lion, alive and well, until his mondo cock snapped off and stuck inside me until the crusty thing putrefied, and I woke up sweating in the cold light of noon with a craving for whole milk and a violent dislike of touch.

My blanket was soaked through and touching me from head to toe so I kicked it to the floor (startling Mondo), which felt so good that I repeated the act with my phone, throwing it directly into the wall.

Then I tore off my socks and underwear and cast them off, too, and then everything else within reach followed suit: my glasses, my hair tie, my book, my pills, even the tall glass of water which, to mine and Mondo’s mutual surprise, didn’t shatter, but instead bounced harmlessly off the floor and landed upright on Shelter’s dresser—though not without losing all of its contents on the way.

 

Daniel Uncapher is an MFA candidate at Notre Dame whose work has appeared in The Baltimore Review, The Wilderness House Literary Review, Posit, Neon Literary Magazine, The Dead Mule School, and others.

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