A poisonous donkey, an anaconda with the head of a dog, and a girl responsible for keeping her father’s strange hybrids — her siblings — intact. In “The Boomslang Coup,” Joel Hans explores love and understanding in a tale that will haunt your dreams and melt your heart.
My brothers and sisters are always falling apart. They peel at their seams, are always needing more of my love, which keeps them alive. Once, my father said my kisses are made of magic—that they hold the sutures together—but I don’t know what to believe any more. I loop sutures through my siblings’ seams, silence the openings. I deploy a thousand kisses a day, just to be sure.
One day or another my sister Percy needs her eagle’s talons clipped, so I pin her down on the roughed-up hardwood and start in with the garden shears. Her housecat body worms underneath me.
Percy says, Considering that our father the taxidermist appropriated these talons for the express purpose of protecting both myself and you, Beech, I find this process exceptionally cruel.
Percy speaks to me not in words but her own catlike mumbles and purrs. My father once said he made my ears different so that I could understand those I’m supposed to care for. I fail Percy, sluicing into her cuticle, sending her scurrying into my father’s empty room via the animal door. I think to go after her but remember his words: I’m not allowed. Only the other children are. Percy leaves behind bloody footprints, curved trails like an armada of commas.
The UPS man’s truck comes rolling down the driveway and I shoo away my sister Persephone the anaconda, who barks through the casement windows. She has a Golden Retriever’s head to make her more palatable, but after the UPS man confessed his fear of snakes I keep her hidden. I don’t want him to see her ten-foot body, imagine the strength of her coiled grip. He is unloading a car-sized crate and I stare for a while at the spoon of his calves before going outside.
With the crate open the UPS man is staring at a tiny donkey, small enough it would fit into my palm.
The strangest one yet, he says. Whenever I look at him I feel like his age is different: last time he was twenty, today, he is twenty-two, six years older than me.
Tied to the tiny donkey’s ear like a price tag is a piece of paper bearing my father’s handwriting: My loveliest Beech, you perfect accumulation of DNA, you perfect species of Beech-icity, my precious Beechius beautisis, beware (!!!) of this tiny donkey, which I have named Boomer, for it has been outfitted with fangs and the poison glands from a boomslang (Dispholidus typus)! A very potent toxin indeed. And I wouldn’t want anything to happen to you, my star, my treasure. With delight, your father the taxidermist.
You should probably step back, I say to the UPS man.
He obliges; he has always obliged me.
I say hello to Boomer but her braying makes no sense to me. A stumble of syllables. She turns away from us and ambles toward the house, her four legs blurring along the way.
The UPS man straightens his brown shorts and says, That’s a nice dress you’re wearing.
I’ve been wearing it for a week: a white thing with a pattern kind of like flowers, but not. It’s all stained up and covered in dirt and maybe that’s a spatter of blood on the skirt.
I say, You’re supposed to be here on business.
He is smiling and it has been a long time since I’ve seen a person with a face that smiles. I’m looking at his ankles, too, searching for his seams, the places where he could come apart. He says, Let’s just say that the more I come here, the more I’m looking for reasons to get stitches.
As the UPS man leaves I blow Boomer a kiss but it gets carried away by the wind, all mixed up in the truck’s exhaust. How ugly it becomes. I wish I had the heart to kill it, my own pale love.