by Peter Crowley
One morning there was a platypus walking through our backyard. I awoke my wife and suggested that we take some photographs. She agreed and perched by the window, ready to snap pictures on her phone.
“Why don’t you go outside?” I suggested. “You’ll probably get a better shot out there.”
She looked at me, not without a mild dose of trepidation, “But, what if it bites? Are they known to be dangerous to people?”
I smiled, musing aloud, “There’s no such thing a dangerous ‘wild animal’. It’s people who pose the greatest danger to themselves.”
We went to the edge of our back porch to get as close as possible to the platypus that was now scouring the ground for insect larvae. For a short while, it seemed to take little notice of us, except for emitting an initial befuddled grunt as we stepped outside.
But after Sarah whispered to me, “Maybe we could keep it as our pet,” the animal looked up at us with consternation – it was now the fearful one – before brusquely turning around and disappearing behind the brush at the edge of our backyard.
“Let’s follow it!” Sarah exclaimed, as if an expedition leader. I shrugged and went along with her.
After making our way through the dense copse of trees and brush on our backyard’s border, we emerged into an empty verdant meadow. The platypus had vanished.
We trudged back to the house in downtrodden mien. Our dreams and fantasies, encapsulated in matter of minutes, of the possibilities of having a pet platypus had come to not. The rest of the day seemed laden with vacuity. Our lives had returned to the boredom of everyday reading, work, eating, gardening and drinking alcohol. It seemed that the potential of having a platypus had eclipsed our lives in such a profound way that, unknowingly, we had invested our all into this. Without the platypus, our lives were undiscovered lithic fragments at an archaeological site or bluestones from prehistoric Welsh quarries, forgotten on their journey to the druids’ Stonehenge masterpiece. Without the platypus, we would not depict astronomy as had the druids, nor we harvest wild wheat on the Hilly Flanks. Instead, the two of us were confined to our house of fixated time.
Each day after that, we gazed out our back window, a vast hope welling within us. And, each day there were none other than sparrows, robins, chipmunks and an occasional muskrat passing by.
We started to give up hope.
One morning I awoke up to a shriek.
“A burglar? Had my wife taken a fall?” I wondered, rushing down the stairs.
The house was empty. I opened the front door; there was nothing.
Then, another shriek followed by, “Come here Joe! I caught him! Help me bring him inside!”
I bolted to the backyard and saw my wife struggling to contain the platypus in a see-through plastic trash bag.
“What the hell are you doing?” I asked, thinking my wife had gone completely mad.
“Get some rope!” she ordered, ignoring my question.
“No, we can’t do this! What are we going to do with him?”
“We will keep him! He’ll have a nice life with us,” she responded, not looking up as she tried to press the platypus’s bill into the bag.
“This is ridiculous. Let the animal go!”
The platypus was starting to break through the plastic bag. It succeeded and my wife was struggling to keep it from moving. I don’t remember what got into me, but suddenly I sprinted towards the house, went inside to grab something and was back to where Sarah had been struggling with the platypus in less than a minute.
Yet they were both gone. I saw some movement through the copse at the end of the backyard and ran in that direction. In the meadow behind our yard, Sarah was following the platypus, cajoling it, “Come on, my platypus, we won’t hurt you…”
The platypus was not moving very quickly but looked pretty angry. Then I jumped on it, contained it and we succeeded in tying it up with rope.
“Let’s put it in the basement, for now at least,” I suggested as we carried it towards the house.
Eventually we got a cage for the animal, named him Cam and kept it in our living room. We learned from some online research that platypuses were highly intelligent and could be used by humans for many things like assisting with unspoken interpersonal communication through their reading of visual cues, as de facto insect repellants and, once well-trained, could even perform special deliveries on holidays if the recipient was instructed to give the platypus a good tip with the food that they like, such as shrimp or crayfish. Our platypus had learned to do all this but had seemed to do much more – what more is hard to explain and I really can’t put my finger on it. But it has certainly changed our lives forever and I cannot imagine what our lives would be like without him. It would probably be like living in the Dark Ages or something.
To be honest, some days we don’t leave the house anymoe. It’s either a weekend or Sarah and I are both supposed to be working from home and end up sitting on the couch in front of the platypus’s cage and stare at the animal. If someone were to glance through our window during these extended time periods, they would likely see a man and wife gaping, almost stupefied with their mouths slightly ajar, at wild animal in a cage. But certainly it is more than this. Hours dissipate, melting like Dali’s surreal clocks. This animal has seemed to transform all the extra space in our lives, where once rested doubts; misgivings; anxieties and disintegrated them. I really can’t tell you how or why this happens…it just kind of happens!
These days some critics will say that pets can exert substantial and even detrimental control over their owners. Yet I know that’s not true and probably only happens in the rarest of cases.
However, on occasion this mayhappen to us. For example, on a Friday night not long ago, Sarah and I were supposed to go out to dinner with another couple whom we’ve long known. The platypus seemed to watch us get ready with intense curiosity. As we neared the front door to leave, the platypus bleated a call of distress.
“Oh!…Cam is upset that we’re going out…Maybe we should just stay here?” Sarah asked, frowning.
“No way,” I answered, point-blank. “We have plans – let’s keep them.”
She nodded and we got into the car. But Sarah looked pityingly towards the house. “I can still hear his baleful call,” she said in a sad voice, looking at me with beseeching eyes. I didn’t respond and looked straight ahead.
As I was about to back out of the driveway, Sarah hastily got out of the car, saying in a desperate voice, “I can’t leave Cam! You can go meet them – tell them I’m sick. But I’m not going.”
She walked brusquely towards the house. I sat in the car thinking, “This platypus is changing us in ways I never imagined it would…it seems to rule our lives.”
I turned off the car, called my friends and told them the truth: our pet insisted that we stay in. I’m sure they thought us odd, as they have not asked out to go out since. Though, really, what do we care.
So, what could we do? We had to still live and function, right? We still had to go to work and socialize with people, because we certainly were not hermits. So, we adjusted.
We decided to get cochlear implants that have recordings of an extensive variety of our platypus’s sounds. Also, we purchased digitalized contact lenses that allow us to see more than one hundred images of Cam if we blink twice. This way we can go into the outside world and it appears as if we were engaging with others in work or social settings, but we have our platypus’s photos and vocal sounds readily available. Occasionally, or perhaps more than occasionally (haha!), we both miss instructions that people give us at work or things our friends say to us.
Overall, my wife and I continue to be moderately successful both at work and in our social lives. Yet, I must admit, sometimes we get the “Didn’t you hear what I just said?” or “Weren’t you listening at the meeting when we discussed so and so?”
Honestly, though, this does not phase us in the least. Our platypus has become so integral to our lives that we dreed even imaging a world without him…such a world would be truly unlivable.
About the Author:
Peter Crowley is an independent writer and scholar with a M.S. in Conflict Resolution, Global Studies from Northeastern University. He works as Content Specialist/Production Coordinator for a prominent library science company. For fun, he plays in bluesy rock band around the Boston/NYC area. His writings can be found in Boston Literary Magazine, Mint Press News, (several publications in) Wilderness House Literary Review, 34th Parallel Magazine, Counterpunch, Foreign Policy Journal, Work Literary Magazine, Opiate Magazine, Truthout, Green Fuse Press, Antiwar.com, Rhinocerotic, Peace Studies Journal, Ethnic Studies Review (forthcoming), Libertarian Institute, Middle East Monitor, Dissident Voice, Inquiries Journal and a periodical publication of the Brookline, MA Historical Society.