Anaconda Story, by Nell Zink

When we were discussing this month’s music theme on the blog, we remembered that the inimitable Nell Zink was the editor of an indie rock fanzine before she wrote scintillating novels like The Wallcreeper and Mislaid. When we asked her whether she had any pages to show us, she wrote back apologising for not owning a scanner. However, she did have a (tenuously) music-themed story to hand; the story of an anaconda who unwittingly gets stuck in the New York art scene, and ends up devouring a doyenne of the 90s underground experimental rock community.

We couldn’t wait to share it with you…

anaconda

‘Albert was a 25-foot anaconda who had spent his entire life shuttling between residence hotels on Central Park South. His bills were paid every month by his trustees, but somehow once a year or so he’d wake up to find the management gutting his suite to redo it from scratch. The easiest thing was just to move down the block. As a result he had few friends and, in fact, couldn’t remember having had more than five or six conversations since he’d left Woodberry Forest in 1950. His lifestyle was simple: doze for a month or so, wake up and order dinner, and drift off to sleep for another month. Sometimes when he was awake he watched a little TV. He remembered liking Queen for a Day – he even dreamed about it once. In the dream he was standing on the dais while a huge crowd – mostly of pacaranas –  applauded wildly. Then he’d slowly choked down his fellow contestants. His feelings were ambivalent: a meal is always nice, of course, but their sharp fingernails, scratchy crinolines and high heels hurt his throat. The next time a chambermaid came by (while he was awake, that is), he flicked out his tongue for a little taste. She was like stale perfumed soap. The memory made him shudder. Soon after that he’d had to move to the Plaza.

Now, for the first time, he was out on the sidewalk. His bill had not been paid. He hadn’t had a chance yet to call his attorneys – he had awakened sluggishly as the hotel manager led a team of bellmen carrying him out through the lobby. Through half-opened eyelids he saw the unfamiliar chandeliers and realized what was happening. “I just had dinner, you guys! I can hardly move – hands off!” He was, it’s true, bulging suspiciously with a shape that might have been a calf. The manager just glared. He felt for his wallet. It contained exactly forty-one dollars. He looked up at the line of cabs and back at the dour manager, and started hauling himself towards 59th Street. His vision was not good, but he could see the trees of Central Park, strong old trees, good for napping. After a meal, he needed a good long nap. He wasn’t run over on the way, and arrived in the nature preserve just around dusk. It was early May.

In June he awoke, hungry and anxious. He started down the tree and almost landed on a young woman who was eating her lunch. She looked up blandly and said, “The word is ‘Excuse me.’”

“Pardon me,” Albert hissed. “Perhaps you can direct me to a telephone, accompany me there, and dial for me so I can conduct a conversation with my trustees.” His tongue flickered suggestively. She grabbed her purse and fled.

He fell heavily to the ground. His tongue explored the potato chips she had upset in her flight. Their saltiness reminded him of blood. He coiled around them, trying to engulf them, but they just crumbled into pieces too small to pick up. He was very hungry. He saw a whippet prancing at the end of a leash. He started towards it, anticipating the look of fear that would glaze its eyes as it huddled in a corner, helpless to escape…. Instead it stared at him quizzically, sniffing the air, and walked off. He looked down the hill and saw a number of ducks. He started towards them and they, too, fled. He understood suddenly why anacondas always call room service.

He approached a businessman sitting on a bench. “Do you think you could make a call for me?” he asked. “I’m afraid I can’t dial.” The businessman was very bored, so he pulled out a cellular phone and did as requested, looking Albert up and down. The estate lawyer’s secretary remembered Albert and tried to be consoling. The trust money was gone. In fact, the firm had paid his bills for about a year just out of charity, until he’d been evicted for trashing his room. Albert’s eyes narrowed and he began to feel unhappy. The businessman was smiling. “This is rich,” he said. “This is like what happened to my roommate at Choate – never worked a day in his life, lost everything – now he collects cans – you know, if I can ever do anything for you –” He pulled out a business card.

Albert interrupted him. “The misfortune of your acquaintance no concern of mine,” he hissed. “Furthermore, as you may or may not have noticed, I am a vicious predator and, as such, am easily able to provide for myself.” At heart he was not nearly so confident – he barely had enough money for a calf, and (apparently) he wouldn’t be able to eat it without a hotel room to trap it in. “I will be responsible for my own welfare, thank you.” He turned rudely away and stalked off across the lawn. Fatigue overcame him in mid-stride and he fell into a troubled sleep.

When he awoke again it was nighttime. He had to have food. He counted his money again and looked around. A small crowd seemed to be watching him. Still, he set his jaw and swore that he would not sleep again until he had eaten something. Across the pond he could see some men sleeping on the grass. Perhaps they were shepherds. He’d heard something about a sheep meadow. His tongue flickered uncontrollably. He approached cautiously, but neither smelled nor saw sheep. On the other hand, the men never stirred. He made a mad, impulsive decision – he crept up to one of the sleepers, careful not to wake him. Then he tried to work the man’s head into his mouth as quickly as he could. The man, of course, immediately woke up and started punching him. It really hurt. Soon they were all kicking him. He withdrew to the water’s edge, torn between embarrassment and pride – after all, he had succeeded in biting something. “I know what you are – you’re bums! I, unlike you, do not depend on handouts for my meat; no, with courage and determination I seek to subdue the weak, extinguishing their pathetic lives in my all-powerful embrace. This is my mission and my creed; I cannot do otherwise.”

The spectators laughed.  They implied, in insulting terms, that anyone who couldn’t eat a sleeping drunk was hardly a threat to local fauna.  “Reality check!” they concluded, laughing.  Albert found himself cornered and ended up giving them twenty dollars.

He was depressed. Yet his successful stalking of the sleeping man was a ray of hope, and he recalled vaguely hearing something about Tompkins Square Park being a mecca for the homeless, a prospect which offered several advantages. He decided to dispense with the laboriously slow process of self-propulsion by taking a taxi downtown. Unfortunately, he fell asleep in the cab and was robbed and dumped on the corner of Avenue A and St. Mark’s Place.

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When he awoke the next morning, he saw amazed to see the park filled with people sleeping so soundly they appeared to have been drugged, and an enclosure filled largely with small babies strapped helplessly into strollers. It seemed to have been designed just for hungry anacondas. He writhed into the play area, low and wary, his canny mind grasping immediately the importance of surprise. Immediately a child jumped onto his back. He felt a barrage of painful kicks. He turned to see if anyone was coming to protect this sinister youngster; indeed, a young woman was approaching. “You’re so cute!” she said. The giggling baby was kicking him mercilessly. “I would appreciate the removal of your child from my back,” he declaimed. Again, a crowd was gathering. Other babies were climbing onto his back. “I am hungry!” he said, as threateningly as possible.

The young mothers laughed. “He’s so cute!” they all said. Albert gasped for breath. His ribcage was uncomfortably compressed by the toddlers’ vast cumulative bulk. Their kicks fatigued him. Exhausted by such relentless abuse, he fell asleep.

His life went on in this vein for months. He patrolled the Lower East Side night and day, hoping to find just one truly unconscious drunk, but caught nothing. He began to look thin, and was sleeping less and less. Children still rode him, but he’d learned to take their mothers’ money, which he spent on happy-hour beers in dark, dirty bars like Downtown Beirut and the Knitting Factory. He couldn’t remember his last meal. There really was nothing in the world he was fast enough to catch. As a result, he had acquired a reputation as an easygoing “regular guy.” Gradually, he was getting to be a real mascot for the “anarchist” “art” scene – people liked to rent him as a prop for gallery openings and “anarchistic” “arty” rock shows. He got to pose in one of those magazines like Future Sex and a photographer shot a portfolio, but he didn’t really follow up and the modeling agencies didn’t seem all that enthused anyway. He was making just enough to keep himself drunk. He dimly suspected that if he could just get out of New York he might find his way to some calves, but his immediate future plans involved getting enough money together to try heroin. He really was in a bad way.

One day he woke up on stage at the Knitting Factory. As his bleary eyes opened he recognized Sharon Topper, the singer in God Is My Co-Pilot. She was looking him right in the eye, singing something in bad German, on her knees beside him. She was very close to him, and wearing a soft rayon baby doll with no buttons – no glasses – she didn’t even have fingernails. She was completely soft, all except for her feet, encased in tiny biker boots, which looked appealingly like hooves. It was too good to be true – it was better than Queen for a Day. He threw his tail over her and quickly constricted, breaking her ribs. Then he slipped her head into his mouth. She wiggled uncontrollably. Her arms flailed wildly (while they were still outside with the microphone). The guitarist threatened Albert with a mic stand, and everyone seemed to be screaming, but as the young woman’s body was quickly disappearing inside him, they were afraid to hit very hard. Albert was overwhelmed by a feeling of deep contentment. As he lost consciousness he saw a white, fuzzy figure standing over him with a look of majestic fury. It was Cindy, a brave lamb who had come in from Astoria, Queens to see the opening band. “Baa!” she said fiercely, as she pummeled his thick skull with her tiny hooves. “Baa!”  She grabbed the singer’s right boot with her delicate teeth and began yanking her out of Albert’s mouth. The poor girl was gasping in desperate agony, but she seemed to be mostly all right except for the cruel lacerations. Soon paramedics were caring for her and trying to protect Albert from the angry crowd.

Cindy, the lamb, visited him in the hospital. Against the white sheets he looked horribly emaciated – they were feeding him from an IV. He hid his face against the wall so she couldn’t see him cry. “I can’t,” he said, “I can’t eat dead things, and I can’t eat small things – without money, there’s just no place for me in this world. Can’t you get me some money?” Cindy’s sweet face never betrayed the disgust she felt with the unrepentant monster. She just said, “Baa.” Albert sobbed loudly. “I’ll die in here!  They’re killing me!” he cried, and in fact he did die. Two weeks after he was arrested, he drank bleach in jail.’

Words by Nell Zink.

The Wallcreeper and Mislaid are out in hardback now.

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