In which our hero purloins

 

VV emerged from Nussbaum & Wu Delicatessen and Confectioners’ one Tuesday morning to find that it was spring. Swallows were making their inscrutable gestures in the air and a woman in the fetal position, leaning on her friend, was vomiting on the steps before him.

 

“Snakes, if they swallow something too big, will disgorge it. That’s vomiting,” the friend was saying, “Most vertebrates are able to vomit. Not rats and horses, though. Or rabbits, or guinea pigs. Japanese quail.”

 

“But what’s the difference between a lie you tell yourself and ideology?” The vomiting woman asked between unsteady inhalations, her eyes squeezed shut tight like a child in prayer.

 

“Ideology is motivated. It’s not just about rational error. Some animals are just missing the right part of the brain.The part that tells you to vomit—NOT ON MY TOMS, EMILY!”

 

Verily hurried past them, stepping gingerly around the Twombly-like streaks. He was on his way to Havemeyer for his Marxist Herpetology course, which fulfilled his lab science requirement. VV had reached a low point in his academic career. Since dropping the last Global Core course he had been enrolled in, Advising had sent numerous missives; notices reminding him that his independent project proposal “Emerson and Goethe:A Project Proposal” had been rejected.

 

Thus it was that on Tuesday mornings VV had the pleasure of donning a white cotton coat in Havemeyer 309 and holding in his hands small animals: creeping things each with its own name, in Latin proper, its own lineage—none of which he had bothered to learn. There were expired specimens too, plucked, pickled and gleaming out of jars of alcoholic brews; wrinkled, tubelike snakes, dessicated turtles, chewed up looking frogs with absurd, spindly legs.

 

A fine course, VV decided. Over the course of this semester, Verily had pocketed three frogs and a snake. What was it, he wondered, that made it so wonderful, this pilfering of creeping things? Whatever it was, he was eager for it now, the blunt uncomplicated pleasure of a corn snake wriggling in pocket as he strode across Low Plaza. The duties of life thus discharged.

 

But today, looking down at the dappled lizard in hand, almost meeting the eyes that bugged out in stunned, otherworldly confusion, he felt something in the brain shift. VV handed the reptile to the TA, who had been looking at him suspiciously for the past few weeks but who looked concerned now. He was saying something Verily could not hear. VV was moving as if in a dream, out the door, staggering past rows of lockers so that he could kneel in the Havemeyer bathroom stall and wretch desperately, ineffectually, into the refractive abyss. Alone, caught hard in a spiral of nausea, Verily rocked back and forth, producing small whimpering noises.

 

There are animals, VV remembered, who brainwash other animals into caring for them. Cuckoo birds, for instance, at the coming of each spring, lay their eggs in the nests of other birds. There are cow fungi that infect the brains of ants; cat parasites that, when they infect humans, compel them to love the sight of a cat. It came it came sweetly, spectacularly, with the sloppy force of a confession, unretractable. When he was finished, Verily stood to watch as the contents of his human body were swept away, swallowed, all of it, the water coming back clear.