Genevieve Hudson - A Story
The van smells like muscles and open wounds. The merry-band of radicals who picked me up have two dozen water bottles filled with menstrual blood in the back ready for their direct action. Some of it, they tell me, was donated by friends before they left home. The stench is like deep water, covering us with its saline hand, forcing us to roll the windows down. Mo bleeds while she drives. It makes her seem noble, like her very body is participating in something great.
The Spanish landscape is unremarkable, just a stretch of highway weaving its way through tanned, weather-beaten hills around us. We’ve left behind the water and the mountains that quivered with life. I can still feel the ocean, even though it’s nowhere to be seen; it pulls me like a tide, whispering: come back.
Rat hangs his head out of the passenger window, a dog with its tongue out and howling. He leans toward Mo and says, “Baby I can’t wait to see the face of some fur-clad delegate wearing your blood.”
“I’m fixing to pour it all over anyone I see wearing boots of stolen skin,” Mo says. Her flat voice lacks the crescendo of emotion that clings to Rat’s every utterance. “Then I’ll purr in their face like a house cat.”
I can’t explain how lucky I feel to have lost my favorite leather jacket at that punk bar in Madrid. I always thought as long as leather was second-hand, it was okay to wear, but these guys are hardcore. They make a point of pooping outside in the grass as part of the African proverb they’ve etched in crude letters onto the van’s dashboard: Poop in the fields of the man who feeds you. Part of life’s circle, they say. They’ve strained the period blood of its clots so they can hide the clumps in the frozen meat section of grocery stores.
“So, what are your plans in Brussels, exactly?” I ask. “Like what’s the direct action?”
“It’s a secret, darling,” Rat says, “but I’m going to put my trust in you because your energy field is sparkling like a diamond.”
“Thanks,” I say, feeling drawn in by the compliment. “The EU Parliament is discussing a measure to make it mandatory that rabbits be moved from small battery cages to something just barely decent. Still awful. But a step in the right direction. Rabbits need better cages. Hell. Rabbits need no cages. We’re there to advocate for them.”
“People overlook the rabbits,” says Dirk, who sits next to me in the back. “It’s always chickens and cows and pigs in the spotlight. People forget about the exploitation of rabbits.”
Rat nods in vigorous agreement.
“It’s going down outside the European Parliament’s metro stop. We’re going to dress in rabbit costumes and go in the middle of the night and set up our blood bomb that will explode promptly at 7:30 the next a.m. Then WOOSH all over those expensive clothes they’re wearing. Those dapper ass booty-boots.”
“Your blood bomb?” I ask. Mo eyes me in the rearview mirror. She reminds me of images I’ve seen of German children during the war, desperate eyes, stoic mouth, and a pale face destined for photographs. She grimaces under her buzz cut, or maybe it’s her attempt at a smile. She doesn’t trust me. Her eyes flit back to the road. Someone named Krenshaw sleeps in the seat behind Dirk, but they haven’t stirred since I got into the van. They mutter something now, some dream language.
“You got it,” says Rat. “That’s a bomb filled with biomaterial from our biobank. We’re talking plasma, teeth, nails, talons, fish scales, pieces of horse placenta, by-products of surgeries, animal embryos, human hair, dead house pets, roadkill. It’s all going to rain down on the delegates going bright and early to their comfy little power jobs.”
“It’s going to raise attention for our biobank co-op, too,” says Dirk.
Rat explains how they’ve rented a storage container in Barcelona and installed refrigerators where they keep the biomaterial. They use it themselves or donate the biomaterial to other vegan activists.
“First rule for the biobank,” says Rat.
He bites into a raw, nut-butter sandwich. I’m not sure how he can eat with the putrid blood smell that’s baking into us, but he chomps away.
“First rule is you cannot kill anything to get the material. It has to have died from natural causes or be found in nature or be stolen from fuckwads. No murdering yourself or buying. We found out someone tried to donate a bird brain they bought from a petrol station in Germany. Hell to the no. That’s playing into the system 100%. That just puts money in their pockets.”
“Yeah, well, Mick was a tool,” says Dirk. “So, it was expected. He never got what this was really about.”
“T to the OOL,” says Rat. “How do you get the stuff anyway?” I ask. “Like the teeth and stuff.”
Now that I know it’s more than menstrual blood I’m smelling but also placenta and questionably extracted surgical by-products, I feel sickness spilling up my esophagus. I follow Rat’s lead and reach my head out of the window for fresh air. The wind pummels me.
“Well,” Rat screams over the rush of wind. “Dirk over here is a dentist’s assistant so he gets us human teeth real easy and Krenshaw works on a farm, so she can steal plenty of animal placentas and sometimes chunks of thigh or brain that the murderers are trying to discard in slop buckets.”
I joined the We R Animals vegan bus outside of Barcelona. I ran into them mid-mindfulness walk around the grounds of a Benedictine monastery, repenting, self-flagellating with the soft vine of a tree, and fasting on fruit. I have to admit that part of the fast was a knee-jerk response to a weeklong cheese binge in France, but I decided to corral it into the more comprehensive punishment I was inflicting on myself. After all, I ruined someone’s life.
I gazed up at one of many stone massifs that flanked the monastery. It looked like an eagle. Fierce eagle, I thought. Your wings are stone, and you cannot fly. The sky was the perfect pearl blue of the Mediterranean. There are worse places to be flightless, fierce eagle, I told the stone bird with my mind.
Over time, the wind had eroded the mountains here into penile shapes, schlong-like and bulbous. I hiked under the stone penises. Their rocky skin shifted between bruised pink and squeezed tangerine depending on the light. Info signs described the formations as needle-shaped, but I think they’re prude. They’re monks after all, so I couldn’t blame them. I walked, brisk and delirious from hunger, through the phallic mountain range, stopping at each vista to pantomime shock at the beauty that rolled into the blue, smog-tipped range in the distance.
That’s when I saw Rat, skinny and homeless looking and wearing nothing but a speedo. He was taking in the glorious views, leaning against a tree and making a scene of the way the sun smacked him in the face with her hot orange breath.
“Vitamins, man! Vitamins. The sun has so many vitamins!” Rat turned toward me all nodding innocence and a little smug- mouthed. ANIMAL FREEDOM was written across his chest and stomach in black paint. He flipped his tangled locks behind his shoulder and handed me a pamphlet with a caged chicken on it.
“Lo siento, madam,” he said to me. “Can I ask if you eat meat?” I told him I only ate fruit, which, for the moment, was true. “A fruitarian,” he said. He held up his hands and bowed at my feet. “That’s commitment.” I nodded and agreed that it was. It didn’t take long before I was actually in the van.
Just before I met him, Rat had gone streaking through the parking lot of a bullfighting arena. The original plan was to get inside like a fan so he could jump the fence below and run through the actual ring with pro-animal chants written across his skin, but he lost his ticket somewhere at a rest stop, and the event was sold out. Rat got depressed because only a few people had seen him running naked circles around the parking lot, so Mo and Dirk encouraged him to keep the slogan on his chest and walk around in a speedo for the rest of the day in an attempt to get extra actions in.
He’d seemed so noble standing there near-naked in honor of something bigger than himself. I wanted that, a purpose, something nonviolent, a set of rules to follow. The We R Animals activists told me they were headed to Brussels where they would unite with other vegan activists from London and Paris. I hitched a ride. I think it made Rat proud, that even though he didn’t get to cause a scene at the bullfighting ring, he had found a new disciple. And Brussels sounded just as fine as any place to me. Now my choice to fast on fruit seemed serendipitous, like fate, because here I was in this new community of activists. They were doing their part to better the world, and I was with them.
They know nothing of what I did to my sister, that I slept with the man she loved in a recliner in her living room. Why would I do that? I’m a lesbian for Christ sake. Anything I’m not supposed to have I want. It’s like I swallowed a bad seed somewhere. But now I’m thinking maybe the seed can blossom into a flower, a beautiful farm fresh, vegan flower. I can purify myself. The van races toward Brussels, and I wish my period to come so I can add to the reserves in the back. I want to free bleed into an empty bottle. I want to watch myself collect.
Hunger licks my belly with her fire tongue. The roof of my mouth is sore and throbs from excess fructose, but what can I do. I told the vegans I only ate fruit, and that’s why they decided to love me, to take me in, so only fruit I will eat. I’m so famished that even the stench can’t distract me from my craving. I run a tongue over my furry, starving teeth. I bite into the sword of pineapple Dirk hands me, and the juice cuts my mouth again. Too much fruit, I discover, lands like acid in the gut. I feel a little delirious.
Dirk shows me the scene of an animal slaughterhouse tattooed on his forearm. A cow spews blood from its eyes. Underneath is a fist with a carrot in it, which Dirk explains is the vegan sign of solidarity. I ask him to draw the sign on my forearm with the sharpie they have hanging from the rearview mirror. He obliges, takes my forearm in his lap and concentrates. There is hardly a word to describe how healthy Dirk looks. His body is unpolluted. His veins must pulse special vegan blood. Oh, to glow like Dirk, all apple-cheeked and afro’d. His eyes are so clear, clearer than the sky above us which does not contain a cloud. Maybe my delirium is not delirium but the wind of truth hammering into me. Maybe I have to walk through hunger to get to the other side of myself.
In the front, Rat and Mo brainstorm ideas for new actions. “Death-in protest in a slaughterhouse.” “Wrap ourselves naked in saran wrap coated with fake blood and package ourselves like meat.”
“Use period blood to write help notes from animals on leather jackets. We can use the left hand so the lettering looks like an animal wrote it.”
“Write the words DEATH SKIN on fur jackets with ketchup or more blood.”
“Lay placentas over the gouda and brie chunks inside a cheese shop.”
“Litter the floor of the butcher’s shop with teeth.” Dirk suggests the last one with his head still tilted down toward my forearm so he can inscribe me with the vegan sign. Dirk does not look anything like my sister’s husband, a retired Latin professor in his late 70s called Bach. But somehow I think of Bach in this moment, think of his bergamot smell and the large hands that had felt soft as the worn pages of a book. Bach is 40 years older than my sister and 50 years older than me, but still, I climbed on top of him that evening and kissed his fuzzy eyebrows. My sister had been away at a lighthouse to study the different colors of the sky for her newest installation. She would paint the sky every day for one month so she could capture each of its many shades. She trusted me to watch her children while she was gone.
My sharpie tattoo is done, and Dirk looks proud. I wonder if his septum ring protects him against some of the van’s menstrual stench. I have to look out of the window so I won’t just keep staring at Dirk’s brown-limbed beauty. He snacks on papaya and I think I, too, should snack on papaya. I should put anything in my mouth that he does because you become what you eat and I would love to become Dirk. I would love to become someone else. His life could look good on me. I could sit in a van, get dragged from city to city, metabolize the death I’ve been ingesting for years out of me. The next time I see my sister, I could be another person. I have heard that cells regenerate completely every seven years. That means that in only seven years I could be brand-new. Nothing of the old me would remain. I could be like Dirk, regal and sheathed in alarming beauty.
In the front seat, Rat explains to Mo how vegan cum tastes far superior to non-vegan cum. Mo isn’t so sure. She says maybe it isn’t animal products that foul the cum and turn it smelly but processed food. So, actually vegans who eat processed food might still have smelly semen. Rat seems offended by this hypothesis. He stares at Mo like she punched him.
“No,” he says. “It’s the flesh of a non-human animal and the milk of a non-human animal that makes the aroma wretched. It’s ingesting the non-human animal poison.”
We stop at a petrol station near the French border. I walk inside to use the WC. The toilet clerk reminds me of my sister. It’s the way she stares at me like she’s judging. I hand her my 50 cents, and she examines the coins like they’re fake. Her eyes accuse me of something. She pinches her nose like she can smell something bad on my skin. Then again it could be the blood in the van she’s smelling. I’m sure it’s worked its way into my hair, the cotton of my shirt. On the toilet, I wipe and see hot red clots. Now, I know it’s fate. My body is telling me, for once, that I’m in the right place. I wish I could call my sister, text her a picture of the van, a bright orange VW contraption with dog paws drawn on the outside and a shrine to farm animals glued to the dashboard. She would think it was hilarious yet noble. My sister appreciates people with strong convictions, which is why she liked Bach. He’d been jailed for eco-terrorism in the late ’80s. He set fire to logging trucks in Northern California and got caught. In prison, he started a school for social justice, a reading group, earned a master’s degree in critical race studies, and wrote a book. I wander the candy aisle and look at sweet things that aren’t fruit. Chocolate wands and chocolate drops and marzipan. My sister always thought I should find a cause. Something to believe in. Bach and I had been up late one night. He had been reading Hannah Arendt’s The Life of the Mind. I’d never heard of Hannah. He started to read her to me: “The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil.” That was me! I always ended up doing evil without making the choice. The line stirred me. It dredged up a desire that had settled like sediment on the bottom of my heart. Our eyes met from across the room. I suddenly saw in Bach what my sister saw, a brain pulsing brilliance, shimmering with a critical edge in a world of apathy.
I wanted someone like that to desire me. I wanted Bach to show me I was just as desirable as my sister who painted beautiful sky things and made art from the garbage of the world. Bach and his purple beard and those wool socks with the big toe worn through. I remember how he laid his soft hand on Adorno’s Dialectic of Enlightenment, as if it were the Bible, as if it could have saved him. I still remember the calloused tip of that big toe.
Somehow, I end up in the cheese aisle. God, those blocks of soft white brie sweating inside their plastic sure look so good. I imagine their salt and mold, the way that chemistry blends together into something utterly good. Dairy. God. A life without dairy. Who can imagine that? The definition of sin. Next to the cheese is a summer sausage. Offensive and flecked with white cellulose spots. I hated having sex with Bach, but I couldn’t stop it. I wanted to show my sister that no one was good. Bach wasn’t good. Just because he read Hannah Arendt and Angela Davis and Adorno. He could still sleep with a girl 50 years younger than himself in his wife’s house while she was in a lighthouse seeking the sky. He could still stuff his old man member inside a younger girl, a lesbian with a mullet and chest binder, in an attempt to feel something. This is what the youth do. This is youth again. He didn’t even get out of that chair. A lazy boy. He just sat there in his recliner like I was making him, like I was making him like it.
Before I know what I’m doing, I’m peeling back the casing on the summer sausage. My lips quiver. I chew the sausage, and the salt stings the sore spots in my mouth that the fruit made. I am eating that sausage, burping it up, eating it too fast. Then I eat another and another. I could eat them all. And I don’t care who’s looking. I don’t even care.