the museum of americana

a literary review

An Animal in the Higher Order—Flash Fiction by Peg Alford Pursell

Some days she wanted to be nothing more than the animal she was, acting on instinct. Other times she wanted to feel gratitude for the distinguishing characteristic of her species. She liked the science that defined the nature of animals, but when she heard the phrase animal kingdom she couldn’t help but picture little crowns and tiaras sparkling on the heads of squirrels, mice, starlings—images of animals so cuddly cute, they might peacefully be held in her lap, communing joyfully, when of course this wasn’t representative of The Way Things Are.

It was difficult to be the animal in the higher order. All the thinking! Thoughts would not let her alone. Robins hopped over her front lawn pecking their meals from the ground before swooping away. No second guessing. No complicated strategizing. No self-blame. Governed solely by instinct.

All mammals, birds, fish, reptiles, amphibians, even invertebrates slept. Sleep was integral to animal life. Which wren, which seal, which gecko, trout, cobra jerked awake night after night to toss and turn in its nest, hollow, hole, as she did in her bed? Which arose to walk the house in a haze, coming awake to find oneself standing in the middle of stairs, say, and wondering where one was going and why? She reveled in a vision of the meadow vole curled up in its underground chamber as adorable, yet at the same time she was dismayed at the mind that construed a wild animal as a pet, subject to her benevolence.

Who would she be without this mind?

It was as if the deepest part of her wished to escape, trekking her house each night, wandering the rooms, following some lost call, rather than moving through a place of remembrance.

An animal was judged to be asleep when it displayed typical sleep posture (lying down); inactivity of voluntary muscles (her legs heavy on the tangled covers); a lack of responsiveness to typical external stimuli (the man with his probing fingers); and quick reversibility of the unconscious state with intense stimulation (her eyes flew open at his bite).

Science deemed a dream the mind’s attempt to interpret random firings within the brain without the imposition of logical reasoning, allowing the human animal to defy the laws of gravity. Each night her legs, abandoned by the prefrontal cortex’s ordering of chaos, believed themselves wings. Each night, flight.

 

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Peg Alford Pursell is the author of A GIRL GOES INTO THE FOREST, (Dzanc Books, July 2019), and the SHOW HER A FLOWER, A BIRD, A SHADOWthe 2017 Indies Book of the Year for Literary Fiction. Her work has been published in many journals and anthologies, including Permafrost, Joyland, and the Los Angeles Review. Most recently, her microfiction, flash fiction, and hybrid prose have been nominated for Best Small Microfictions and Pushcart Prizes. She is the founder and director of WTAW Press, a nonprofit publisher of literary books, and of Why There Are Words, a national literary reading series she founded in Sausalito in 2010. She is a member of the SF Writers Grotto.