Joyland

PNW |

The Wallaby

by Corinne Manning

edited by Kait Heacock

My farmer neighbor asked me if I wanted to meet his wallaby. I’d just moved to the land adjacent his property and was working all day and into the night, getting a 16 foot flat bed shipping container I was planning to live in ready for the fall. When I first started working I didn’t realize that in some cases many of these things, the water main, the grid are just waiting for us. That you’re often building just to reach what’s already there. Not totally unlike when I got married even though I didn’t believe in marriage—even though my time in the city began after I ran away, living with my sister in a community that was supposed to disrupt supremacist and normative thinking; even though, or maybe because, as an adult my time was spent submitting grant reports to foundations— I still fell in love hard and I wanted to marry her, couldn’t think of anything but marrying her and having bookshelves and matching plates and a nice apartment together and it wasn’t until I moved to this land and plugged plumbing into the earth that I understood that my idea of love had tapped into the systems waiting for me.

How does a wallaby play into this? Maybe you think I’d be excited to see a wallaby on a farm, because what could be normal about that? That’s not how I felt— but all of this will make more sense later.

My sister Stacy and I had bought these two acres of land outside of Seattle from the farmer years before with the intention of it being a retreat space for activists, but retreat as in actual retreat. We went out there to camp and cook vegan food over a fire with the rule that we couldn’t talk about anything of importance. But because we were 501(c )3 addicts we compulsively talked about all the things we could turn this land into, like a camp for trans and queer youth. We thought we had time, neither of us, especially Stacy, expected her to die.

“I want to die out there,” she told me but I wasn’t sure how to orchestrate that, how to have her be comfortable on rough land. And even though the Northwest weather was typically beautiful and predictable in the summer, it just seemed too cold to die outside. We had this conversation on a loop.

“You can’t die outside,” I’d say.

“Whose to say I can’t die outside.”

My sister never listened to me but in this one thing I had what felt like the world’s agreement and I ran with the fire of the doctors’ conclusion that she was not thinking clearly. Doctors would say things like how it seemed good to die out in nature until you are actually dying and you are in pain and it’s already so hard. One nurse told me sternly, “Everything should be as comfortable as possible.”

Our final conversation about it was at a lounge in Chelsea that had once been our favorite muffin shop, a previous gentrification topped. We mostly went as a joke but when she ordered a hot toddy I got mad and told her to take it back and she said, “You can’t tell me the fuck I can do. You can’t tell me where I can die.” She pulled her drink close and the steam curled up around her chin and that looked weird because it was late May and everyone, except for Stacy, was in a t-shirt. She wore thermals, and two sweaters. I’d helped her dress that morning.

“It seems good to die in nature,” I told her, “until you are in pain and it’s already so hard.”

“It’s gonna be messy everywhere. Why is there a rule that I need to die inside?”

“It’s about being comfortable.”

“I’m already uncomfortable,” she said a little loud for a lounge like this. I felt embarrassed even though no one looked at us. “Who cares about being comfortable? This is about dying where I want to die.”

“How am I gonna take care of you out there?” And maybe underneath that she heard the subtext of my words: how do I explain your body when you go, what do I do with it after, and what happens when you move your bowels, and can’t someone else just take care of all that? She heard all of this without my needing to say it and gave me the familiar look of compassion and disappointment that older siblings are so good at and she sipped her drink and didn’t say fine but I heard her despite that.

She looked like her flamboyant self until the beginning of June when she was on hospice in mine and my partner’s apartment, Brooklyn summer blazing outside and she was inside and pale and nothing would make her comfortable and when her breath was grinding through her body all I could think about was that land and how her time in her body should be ending there. I knew that once she was cremated I would spread some of her ashes here but once I spread them I didn’t see how I could ever leave her, how I could ever come back to New York without her.

When the farmer asked me if I wanted to meet his wallaby and I was certain this wasn’t a euphemism I got a bit friendlier.

“How many wallabies you got?” I asked. “You like, milk them?”

“That’s not what you keep them for!” The farmer said, laughing. “Their teet’s in the pouch, could you imagine reaching your hand in there and milking that? You’d have to get the tiniest bowl of milk at a time.” He pantomimed pulling a pouch back on himself and reaching a hand in and someone driving by might have thought he was hitting on me. He realized the same thing because his hand went rigidly to his side.

“I only got one. Named Dandy. But I’m thinking of getting a female. You sell the babies for a grand. And they’re always making them too. In the Bush they have one in the pouch and one waiting up inside. If a dingo chases them they just throw the pouch one out so the dingo will leave them be, and then the next one will crawl out and into the pouch. Come on,” He opened his gate and motioned for me in that male way where it’s clear there isn’t much of a choice.

The farmer had beautiful land, just about ten acres in high harvest, and it gave me a sense of the potential of my blackberry run property. Three farm hands were finishing up for the next day’s market. They waved vitally then went back to washing the last of the salad mix. He asked me to help him move a tarp of compost back to its covering. He pointed out his cows, sweetly munching a field beyond, and then his house, where the chickens ran like something out of a story book. A field of calendula, a thicket of wild rose and then a fence with a sweet purple gate that led us into the wallaby run.

Dandy stood there, with his giant feet and his tiny weird black leather hands being a small grey wallaby.

He was smaller than I expected but he stretched his length a bit and exposed a long wiry pink penis. The Farmer laughed.

“Put that situation away, Dandy.” He chuckled again in my direction, feigning embarrassment.

“Poor thing,” he said.

Dandy had beautiful long black lashes that disappeared when he got excited, his eyes large.

“Now,” said The Farmer, “he likes people and you can pet him but we got him when he was out of the sack, and they aren’t as sociable once they’re out. The key if I breed them is that I’ll have to sell them to people when they’re still in a pouch so that way they can bond.”

“The mom’s pouch?” I asked.

“No, it’s like—” and Dandy was on him, grabbing The Farmer’s hands with his little weird ones and gnawing a finger sweetly with his white buckteeth. The Farmer pet his head and then pried the tiny hands off his.

“Don’t let him grab you. I’m trying to train him against that. He’s sweet but a little persnickety. They’re love bugs when you get one still in the pouch.”

Dandy came over and nibbled at the bottom of my shirt. I pet the top of his head—standard fuzzy, maybe like petting a rabbit. He went to grab at my hand and I pulled it away. I didn’t understand why they’d want to train him from grabbing a hand, but I also didn’t feel like asking. I’d seen the wallaby and I wanted to get back to work.

“I should probably get him a female. It’s not right having him alone out here.”

“What does he eat?” I asked.

“Exotic pet food,” he said. He motioned and as if on cue Dandy hopped over to his feed area. Every time he moved it was like he’d never moved before. I couldn’t tell if that was because he’d never been outside the narrowness of the run, or if this was the strangeness of the wallaby anatomy.

That night I watched videos of wallabies in the wild; watched videos of a baby poking its head out of the pouch. In a dream someone reached down my pants, found a teet, and stroked it for milk. I woke up thinking of Dandy, alone, waiting behind that purple gate.

While Stacy’s breath was rattling I knew my partner and I would split, we’d discussed it even before our apartment became a literal place of dying. Significant break ups were familiar to both of us, but we didn’t understand how much uglier it would feel with having to get an actual divorce. When marriage had become legal we’d gone to city hall subversively wearing chaps and sparkly underwear. We had strangers—two silver foxes—be our witnesses because I knew my sister wouldn’t be into it. Not that she wasn’t happy, or didn’t think it was useful that marriage was legal, but when we told her afterwards a bit giddy, she’d just said, “Now you get to have the law involved if you want to break up.”

I took what I’d inherited from my sister’s life insurance and left my job and headed west like lost colonialists do and started building where a house had once stood and since burned down, which is how I could plug in most of the modern conveniences.

By November my little home was set up and cozy and I’d built a composting toilet a few feet away and constructed a kind of bath shack with a tub inside and a shower outside. When the blackberry died back I attacked it with a machete. The Farmer stopped by one day and offered to help with his farmhands. I asked about Dandy and he said that he was about to do much better. They had just gotten a pet goose to live in the run with him and they’d gotten a dog about his size and they’d really taken to each other.

“They love to box, you should see them. Really shows how small a wallaby’s brain is when a dog gets tired of playing with him. Same thing over and over. But man, it’s cute.”

After a few hours of work two of the farmhands took off—they were just doing a favor after all but one of them stayed around. She was at least twenty years younger than me, and she had a nose ring, a cute short haircut covered by a bandanna. She was just the type of girl I went for again and again and I felt like a time capsule: older body but same desire. She was giving me these little looks that indicated she didn’t care about my age and I might have given her a look that meant the same thing. I think the Farmer was waiting for her to want to quit so he stayed and helped way longer than he intended. Around dinner time he stretched, picked at some splinters in his thumb, and said he’d better head in and rest. The farmhand asked me if I was going to work for a little longer.

“Just a bit,” I said, “but I got it from here.”

“I’m not tired and could still help if you don’t mind. I’d love to see how you set that container up.”

I said that would be fine and The Farmer left us and as soon as he walked away she put her shears down and stretched her arms up over her head.

“I’m a yoga teacher,” she said.

“That’s good,” I said, swinging at a stalk. “I’m sure the other farm hands like that.”

“Yeah. I could give you a private session if you’d like.”

“It’s okay,” I said. “I don’t like yoga.”

Her eyes got wide like the wallaby but her lashes didn’t mysteriously disappear—still long and black and kind of extravagant like they were covered in grease.

“I bet you just haven’t had the right teacher,” she said.

“No,” I said. “Sometimes people just aren’t into things.” I picked up her tool and motioned for her to follow in a way I thought was gentle, not like the farmer. But the way she followed me reminded me that I was masculine. We took our shoes off outside the container. She ran her hand along the metal ridges and when I opened the door she crossed in front of me.

“So cool!” she cooed. The container had once been used for trekking frozen things across the country so it was insulated. A bed was at one end and I’d put a window by the oven, which let in a nice amount of light. I lit the stove and put the kettle on. The Farm Hand took pictures of the space with her phone.

“Are you gonna live in this place forever?” she asked.

“I might.”

“There’s enough room for another person, I guess,” she said.

“I’m not worried about that.”

She looked down at her hands—I could tell that she was trying something with me she’d never tried before and I felt bad for her.

“Would you like to see the bath house?”

“Cool,” she said. And I took her out back and she oohed and awed and I suggested she take a bath.

“You did all that work for me. Least I could do. I’ll make you some food too.”

I know I offered these things, but I didn’t exactly expect her to say yes. I just didn’t want her to feel bad. It doesn’t take long to be around a twenty year old before I start thinking like one.

While I cooked I heard her singing from the tub—it was the kind of night that lucidly carried sound and I bet the Farmer, or at least the other farm hands could hear her. It was too cloudy for stars and I cut up vegetables that she’d probably pulled from the ground and washed. I thought about how nice it would be when next year I was at least able to use some of my own food. It’s a bit obscene when you think of it, eating the food that other people grow rather than what you make happen.

Her singing ceased and the night carried the energy of her wanting me to come out and check on her. It rushed electrically between the bathhouse and the container. I kind of wanted to and I figured she was wondering how that works and I knew I could show her how that works. I knew what role was there.

Once, when I was eighteen, I was asked to speak at a fundraiser for the youth program Stacy had set me up with after I ran away. She went thrifting for weeks to find a suit that our roommate Jill could tailor and it felt like the best thing I’d ever worn, not just since running away, but like the best outfit I could possibly put on my body. But when I got to the ballroom it was either the lighting or the crisp shinyness of all those rich people’s clothes, my suit looked drab and strange and didn’t actually fit me as well as I thought. Even though I would have hated it, I felt like I would have made more sense if I’d worn a dress. Bill Cunningham took photos and I wasn’t in the spread for the Times, which wasn’t even what bothered me. The organization had also invited my friend Marquis to speak, the only black person present. During the cocktail hour I watched as they ignored him or like, touched him too much: a fuss over his suit, white hands constantly on his shoulders. I know this is something that happens, had nothing to do with the fundraiser but I think I felt the pull that the world we were getting money from could take me in—that all it would take for me was to grow my hair long and wear a dress and this world could be available.

“Let it make you angry,” Stacy said that night. “All these systems are waiting right underneath you, and if you aren’t paying attention you become complicit.”

That night I really took in those tennis bracelets that caught the light and the men with their grey hair and younger wives, and the number of empty champagne bottles Marquis and I counted when we snuck into the caterer’s area to hide and when the auction started paddles were getting raised for $5,000, $15,000. I remember watching one table where a woman had bid something like $5,000 for a weekend vacation and the bid went up higher and she couldn’t go up anymore and another man at her table raised his paddle again and again and at $12,000 he won and he gifted it to that woman. She said thank you like he’d bought her a coffee or something and he said “not a problem” like he’d just taken out the trash.

Marquis and I both laughed but then he looked at me half surprised but mostly amused.

“These are your people,” he said.

“They aren’t.”

“No, for real, they are.”

I married. I got an apartment in a gentrifying neighborhood and didn’t become part of the community. I made choices for fundraisers to keep rich funders comfortable and happy. Here I was on a farm and maybe it looked like I was doing something different but I was on this farmer’s land not being a farmer with a farmhand waiting in a tub for me. I don’t know what we can ever have control over, when the wiring is there and my sister’s not.

I was chopping beets when the farmhand came chirping in, clean and shiny in her filthy farm clothes.

“You cry from chopping beets?” she asked. I was sniffling and rubbing my nose.

“All the time,” I said. “You need another shirt?”

“Sure,” she sat down at the table. “That’s my favorite thing about cleaning up after a day like today, putting on a clean shirt.”

“Big pleasures,” I said, “out here on the farm.”

She blushed. I gave her a shirt that was particularly warm and soft and we turned away from each other while she changed.

She warmed her hands on a mug of tea. I put the vegetables to cook in a pan and told her I was going to take a quick shower and if she didn’t mind swirling them from time to time that would be great. The water was hot and the air was cold and I think in books older people’s bodies feel younger when they are about to get with a person with a younger body and though I felt that option waiting for me I chose instead to just feel older.

I put on a clean shirt and when I went inside dinner was done and she’d set two dishes out. We ate and the feeling settled over, like it always does for me before I fuck someone I’m going to fall in love with, that I already knew the farmhand. And maybe because I’m older I do know a version of her, I’d dated her before, and I enjoyed the feeling of eating in the kind of silence that comes from already loving someone for years.

We didn’t sleep together the first night. She just didn’t go home, and neither of us slept. We sat at the table for so long that my body began to ache from the chair, and then for even longer we sat on the floor with our backs against the wall. Do I remember the moment we moved towards the bed? No. But she just sat at the edge of it, and then near dawn I started to doze still sitting upright. I heard the rooster from her farm and got up to make her coffee. I had that chill that overruns the body after a sleepless night, the feeling of impending diarrhea. I could go to bed that day—I could slack off on my land for at least one more day, but the farmhand didn’t have that opportunity. And maybe it was just to make it all worth it, but she came forward and kissed me. Her lips were chapped and cold and she tasted like the garlic from last night’s dinner and the coffee I’d just made her.

“Can I come back when it’s time to sleep?” she asked.

All these systems are waiting right underneath you, and if you aren’t paying attention you become complicit.

“Yes,” I said.

When the farmhand came back that evening she shared the big drama that had occurred on the farm: a raccoon had gotten into the wallaby and goose run and killed the goose, it’s head totally severed from its body. I thought of Dandy watching it—did wallabies have any ability to help? They found Dandy with a gouge out of his neck, but okay, just hopping nervously. I thought of Dandy looking at his tiny hands, and the raccoon’s tiny hands, and maybe for a moment he thought he found himself, reached for the raccoon’s head. The Farmhand tried to describe the sharp desperate chittering sound, the stress sound that Dandy made and she began imitating it in sharp high gasps and I wanted it to stop and so my mouth found her mouth, her belly, her cunt like a tiny sum of nickels. After she came, when my fingers worked their way inside —three then four, then five, my hand closing into a fist, only my wrist outside her she gasped and attempted to look like this had happened for her every time. Her hands ran along the inside of my thighs then out and around my ass. Her body shook and she made moans that sounded like gibberish and became real speech.

“Your skin’s seen a lot,” she said.

“Like what?” I asked.

“Resistance,” she groaned. “History.”

She left for her farm early. What was I even doing on mine? I hauled the torn up blackberry away. I sowed cover crop on my one measly row and borrowed The Farmer’s tiller. He looked at me like I had been messing with his stuff after I returned it and I wondered if it was because of the tiller or because of the farmhand.

“How’s Dandy doing?” I asked interested in getting him to stop trying to figure out how the sex worked.

“Healing. Wanna see him?”

I didn’t but I nodded and we were beyond the wild rose, back to that purple gate and there was Dandy, standing tall like last time with a pink of exposed flesh only it was on his neck. The Farmer picked him up by his mighty tail and Dandy’s little arms writhed so I could get a closer look at his neck.

Dandy grabbed my hand and I let him chew on it.

“Don’t let him do that,” The Farmer said. But I didn’t move my hand. I let him move Dandy from me instead.

“I put an order in for a female. She’ll be in the pouch when she gets here, but feels like the least I can do. You wouldn’t want to help would you? Once she’s birthing?”

I hesitated and The Farmer spoke a bit faster.

“We could do a trade. I could give you a farmhand for a few hours, I know you two’ve hit it off.”

I told him I’d think about it.

“I’ll need help to arrange all those sales. Once we were making money I could pay you. Doesn’t look like you got big plans for your land anyway and money probably wouldn’t hurt.” But then he sort of sneered, at least, I saw it as a sneer. “Maybe though money’s not something you need.”

I walked home and looked at my three prepped beds. I was hoping to put some drip irrigation in but mostly wanted to leave it all alone. I didn’t want to have big plans for the land. Even that one field seemed like an exposure.

That night in bed the Farmhand looked excited. She mentioned what The Farmer had said. She was excited for Dandy.

“I’m not,” I said.

“You want him to stay alone?”

“No. But it’s better than there being all those babies, going off to be the single wallaby somewhere else.”

“It’s good money,” she said.

I started feeling cold so I pulled my shirt on. Should I be bothered that you might be picturing me with breasts? Without them? With long hair even though it’s short? That you’ll use a pronoun and I won’t like how it sounds? That no matter what I believe about feeling like I don’t have a gender that the world is waiting to give me one anyway. That I can despise misogyny but in moments I’m going to treat a femme like shit because I can. I got up and found a stale package of cigarettes I saved from New York. While Stacy was in Hospice I took up smoking to have an excuse to go outside. I lit one and frowned. It tasted like Stacy was dying.

“She won’t be birthing until just as I’m finishing. I could stay here with you and help you out with the stuff you don’t want to do.”

“You can take the baby out of the pouch?”

“I can put the baby in the pouch it will travel in, you mean.”

When I didn’t say anything she stood up too. Took a stale cigarette, but when she heard the sound of it crackle she didn’t light it. Just held it in her hand.

“I could help you really turn this land into something. You have a fair amount of space here.”

“I really don’t want to turn this into anything.”

It’s likely that I motioned towards her. She flicked her unlit cigarette at my chest.

“You think you can be a guy by acting like a guy?”

“No,” I said. I put mine out in the sink. “I think I can be alone by acting like I want to be alone.”

“You could have other queers here in shipping containers. You could really transform this community.”

I thought of the plans Stacy and I used to talk about and replaced them with all these adult white queers in shipping containers, being much nicer when they come out of the container versus when you get them before the container.

“It’s a nice night,” I said. “Can I walk you home?”

If she were older she might have told me to fuck off and walked herself home, but instead she nodded and we walked quietly to her little shack. A trendy thing to get to live in when you don’t grow up in poverty. If you get them willingly into the shack they’re less persnickety. We hugged goodnight and I held her close even though her body tried to squirm away and I headed over to Dandy.

Once inside his run I turned my head lamp off and he bounced over. Soon he wouldn’t be alone and he’d settle into a nice monogamy—what does Dandy care if the babies go? He grabbed and bit at my hands tentatively at first and when I didn’t jerk away, he became more aggressive, more joyous. I did too, giving him pressure, giving him resistance. This was one of the most satisfying moments of my life, as I moved with Dandy around the pen. Who knows what Dandy felt, I don’t think he shared my euphoria. But I felt a familiar sense of possibility even if to anyone watching, our existence was nothing but useless.