Naturally, he had been aware for a long while that he wasn’t human, but it wasn’t until he was fifteen, punching between channels one night, when he landed on some sort of foreign-language wildlife documentary, that Trevor realized that he was a kangaroo. Though he understood not a word of the dozy narration, the creature’s strange dignity ignited deep within him flames of recognition.
This was his secret, confusing but pure. Even had either of his parents been available, it is extremely unlikely that Trevor would have been able to talk about it. His mother was caught up in an on-again, off-again affair with an especially drippy office co-worker, while his father was utterly preoccupied with his own largely imaginary illnesses. The family home combined obsessive secrecy with obsessive worry, both to no purpose. Ultimately his parents concealed their contempt for one another no better than they concealed their contempt for themselves.
As Trevor’s adolescence ticked along, the two of them struck him as ridiculous beings, fixed in their routines. So did his teachers, his neighbours, and without exception every adult he had the chance to observe. His fellow teenagers were harder to make out, all of them trying on different identities within a week, even a day; by swift turns complacent, inspired, sulky, fatuous, affectionate, impossible. While his own newly discovered essence made Trevor bubble with as much shame and confusion as any of those others, conveniently allowing him to pass for one of them, it also afforded him a distance that inured him against certain kinds of hurt.
This distance not only took him into maturity, it was his maturity. He could watch the squabbles, ambitions, vanities, delusions, and harm, especially harm, done by the humans around him. He was a true anthropologist. He thought one day as he observed a customer arguing with a pharmacist about the price of medication; true because not anthropic himself.
There were also the untruths that bothered him. In high school, a class in advanced chemistry revealed that what had been taught in introductory chemistry was not the case: electrons did not circle nuclei in neat shell-like orbits, one within the other, but rather were a blurry cloud of motion in an atom that was, however tiny, somehow mostly empty space. Trevor felt indignation on behalf of those many students who had confined their studies of chemistry to the one introductory class and now moved about in a world emptier and blurrier than they knew. What else might teachers withhold, simplify, lie about?
Surely these were the reasons that he became a chef, to the almost unpronounced dismay of his parents. Food preparation was at once a more honest matter than most human endeavours and a sort of vantage point from which to observe a wide, if not altogether surprising, variety of humans and human behaviours. He worked at this or that restaurant until the perspective it lent him became uninteresting, and then he moved to another. His experimentation with recipes more or less followed the same principle, though, on the whole, the food was the more protean subject.
Life was gently stirred like stock.
At a farmer’s market in his thirtieth year, Trevor bumped into a woman and overturned her basket. Apologies became conversation: strange but so, and stranger still conversations became other conversations. They moved in together, then moved again to a larger place. They celebrated. They travelled. They bought towels. They recalled to others the first meeting over strewn carrots.
The conversations then turned to children, and even as he reluctantly warmed to the picture to which she added loving detail after detail, week by week, he knew that it would never be. Nature flatly forbade it.
In winter he shovelled snow from a long drive, then his neighbour’s drive, sometimes listening to downloaded music categorized as perfect for shovelling to, and sometimes he thought, this is what humans do. In summer he attended barbecues and nursed his second beer while his in-laws told him about property values, how they can surge at any moment and how patterns can be watched for, and often he thought, this is what humans think about. The variety of things humans did and thought about was diminishing; the anthropological perspective was becoming less engrossing, which is to say less diverting, less sustaining. Less safe.
But when his wife became pregnant, Trevor’s curiosity saved him. The question of how it was possible—whether one of those admirers at one of those barbecues had contributed something—turned out not to be nearly so interesting as the changes that came over her, over their days, nights, thoughts. Never before had Trevor been so tempted to take notes: there was so much to observe, to puzzle over. When the baby emerged, he felt utterly helpless. The midwives softly laughed at him; they thought he was a man. Holding his son, he laughed, too.
No sooner had the boy’s childhood proper began than Trevor found himself aggravated by those untruths to which he had become accustomed. The world had so much to say about and to the boy that was untrue: this was withheld, that was simplified, those were lies. Clearly disturbed by his aggravation, his wife suggested a family vacation, to let them all relax.
And there they were poolside, the boy in some activity tent with other children, and he walked to the bar to get their drinks refilled. The sun at least was honest. He was not truly relaxed but he believed he was making a decent show of it, middle-aged belly before him sure to burn. Someone was speaking next to him but not to him. Crowded around the bar were not just guests but a number of resort employees, all straining to see the television screen.
According to the halting news anchor, it had begun in zoos: any with even a small population of the animals found itself under attack, synchronized attacks. Not, repeat, not a hoax. Carefully planned escapes followed by. Some sort of strange weapons, it wasn’t clear what or where they had. Not a hoax. Australian authorities could not be reached for… It is unclear what… Casualties mounting at… The military has been… Anyone in a city with a zoo is advised to… Not a hoax, repeat, not a…
Trevor found himself staring into the pool, which was quickly emptying of swimmers. In the bored sunlight’s bouncing there he saw the face of Rhonda Federman of many years ago, the girl at his school who spoke to nobody, the one person he had never found ridiculous, though he had never figured out why. Her glare of universal reproach was now fixed on him alone.
A biologist was speaking on the television: at any rate, we appear to have gravely underestimated the kangaroo. The swimming pool was now just a pool, not a swimming pool at all, because it had no swimmers, and the water in the pool cannot be said to be swimming, nor for that matter can any pool rightly be called a swimming pool because it does not swim, and with what justice, with what fucking justice should something be labelled for what others may do to it or in it?
This, he found, he was yelling at his wife. Momentarily, she was gone. Rhonda Federman and everyone else were gone. The sun was still there. The atoms, mostly empty space, were even more spaciously empty than it had been explained.