Darcie Dennigan    


from Animal Land


Michaela’s mother

It is easy to see how Michaela could have mistaken the graceful hands of the ring-tailed lemur for human hands. She had ridden a hobby horse to the little Indian market with a friend. They sell frozen cups of mango to kids in the summer. Her friend also rode a hobby horse. Two little pink hobby horses parked side by side outside the store…

The trope of two items in tandem suddenly separating was being enacted on a grand scale in the months and weeks leading up to Michaela's abduction. One of the twin satellites sent up to view the rings of Uranus fell from orbit and drifted out of contact. One of the two 787 jet airliners approaching Mozambique's runway suddenly blew up. There was also the great Ibeji carving outside our town's museum of antiquities. One week before Michaela disappeared, one of the Ibeji pair was stolen in the middle of the night. Michaela and her friend parked their hobby horses side by side.  Upon exiting the store, Michaela noticed that one of the hobby horses had moved and was lying down on the ground beside a large oak tree. Michaela went to retrieve it. Later on her friend said that they could both see the long fingers, with their spatulate ends, reaching from behind the tree to take the hobby horse's handle. The elegant fingers continued to grip the handle as Michaela reached the hobby horse. Then they began to grip her.
Presence is a great mystery. And presence in absence, which Michaela has epitomized for me—for she has been with me on many occasions since her abduction, when I can bear her to be— is a great reality for all of us in the course of an ordinary life. She has been with me, and I have been with her, in the spiny forests of the ring-tailed lemur.



So what if joy escapes almost as soon as it is born… So does living… When it was happening, living escaped me… I was constantly… A memory of myself from five minutes before… or… a thought of a future thought: how, once I was out of it, I would think back on the moment I was in… My toys were a joy… only after I’d put them down… or lost them… The tessitura of joy was always… far from hand… And then there was: holding someone’s hand… That was always my idea of joy… Living kept escaping from me… I was a husk, a vacant-suitcase… The world was everything that was the case…  There may still be a place… for me… here… Speech is my fourth dimension… my secret body… Holding someone’s hand was always my idea of joy… Isn’t that why… If I had seen the hand of an animal reaching out for mine… wouldn’t I have taken it…? Creepers, syllables, woodbine, fur, and words… The world is everything that is the case… You can have tessiturae of joy… holding hands… but that is not the world… it is only joy when you’re alone, a-husk again… born back in the world… You who are hearing me… Help me be born… Haven’t you chosen the world over joy…? How was I to know… every time I had a choice… I would choose the other thing…



For the 25th anniversary of Michaela’s abduction                (Michaela’s mother: I concede that awareness of pain and pain itself are two different things…) police have released this age-progressed image of what Michaela, last seen at age nine, might look like today: (Michaela’s mother:… but I consider them to be like the simultaneous perception of a voice and a face…) Police have also released a letter Michaela is said to have written only a few weeks before her abduction: (M: I am going on a trip to heaven. I expect to see Aunt Marge. I expect to see our cat Tippi. I expect to see all the ants I have stepped on.) What is the significance of this letter? Some say it is proof that Michaela felt her death was imminent. Others say the letter—what the police are saying is a strong piece of derealitie— may prove she is still alive, for, as we know, the disreal cannot be uttered. If one utters it  (M: I am going on a trip to heaven) one emerges from it.  But the age progression image of Michaela is the real sensational news in this reporter’s opinion. Police psychics have drawn her eyes to resemble a mandrill. Were she alive today at age 34, she might have the eye hollows of a mandrill. Further, her hair might, police say, might have the brindle texture of a mandrill’s black hairs.  And it isn’t too farfetched to speculate: This image of the animal-woman brings to mind the parable of the tree that devoured birds. The one that grew feathers instead of leaves. If an animal ate too many women, would it start to grown human breasts? Would its hair become finer and smell of apple shampoo? And what about Michaela? Why do police speculate that she has grown to resemble an animal? Is she no longer an abductee? Has she killed and eaten her abductor?



Did you know… some lemur species have blue eyes… I had always… distrusted… blue eyes… Which is not to say anything… anything definitive… The aesthetic reality of this… occasion for speech… is the imminence of a revelation…the imminence only… There is the story of the girl who climbed the tree, bucket in hand, to get at the honey in the tree’s hive… The bees stung her… (Newcaster: She was stung by bees) and she fell from the tree… A large lemur put out its arms… and caught her (Newscaster: She was caught by a large lemur) …Thus she was saved…? The story does not say what the lemur did with the girl…afterward… The story does not say who first told this story… or who first heard it… The mouths of lemurs… In the jungle communities, stories sprang up… the stories, called fady, all say that to hurt a lemur is to bring bad luck, sickness, hardship to you and your family… How is this the case for me…? The world is everything that was the case…

Let me repeat an ancient fady… I will do both voices.

--Daily life is the only life we have.

--Go over.


--Why such reluctance? If you only went over to Paradise you yourself would become Paradise and would be rid of all your daily cares.

--The mere possibility is also Paradise.

--You have won.

--But unfortunately only in Paradise.

--No, in reality. In Paradise, you have lost.

… Lemurs have graceful leaps… I think of their leaps when I think of… If my life had gone over… had leapt its banks… flowed to the present time down a different channel… I… it would take an astonishingly graceful leap…



On the 25th anniversary of Michaela’s abduction, only one thing remains certain: her mother has not given up hope. (Michaela’s mother: Doubt is what allows a single gesture to have a heart.) There is the phone line she has established for her daughter to call anytime night or day from anywhere in the world. There is the website where she posts weekly letters to her daughter. (Michaela’s mother: Michaela if you are reading this…) And of course there are the yellow ribbons she tirelessly knots  around trees and telephone poles, to remind her family, community, and the world that Michaela is not forgotten, that Michaela has not—yet—come home (Michaela’s mother: You ask what does the line “The world is everything that is the case” mean to me?            Nothing.            Only a terrible sense of what is possible.)            Meanwhile, police say the case isn’t completely cold. Their most promising lead: descriptions of an animal hand snatching Michaela. Eyewitness accounts say the hand could have belonged only to a lemur. And what do we know about lemurs? In 25 years, not many new facts have emerged. We know they’re a matriarchal society, and if a lemur is indeed behind Michaela’s abduction, it would be the first time that a matriarchal animal society has been accused of violence. And now a new wrinkle: While police won’t divulge too many details, sources say they’re fingering a prophecy made by none other than Freud himself in his parable of Grusha and the wolf. Sources say that nine-year-old Michaela kneeling to retrieve her hobby horse was in the same exact pose as Grusha, reaching for her washbucket, about to scrub the floor. As we know, the wolf takes Grusha by surprise. And of course, surprise is an important element of ravishment. (Michaela’s mother: Everything that has happened to you, Michaela)            (M: The world is everything that is the case)            (Michaela’s mother: you’re still my baby girl)            And while this 25th anniversary abounds with hope and with speculation, what no one here seems to be saying is: If this is an animal abduction, what of the inevitable offspring? What sort of creatures may have been born to Michaela (Michaela’s mother: Michaela, if you are still alive) in the 25 years she has been held captive?



Darcie Dennigan is the author of Madame X, and, along with artist Carl Dimitri, of the forthcoming artbook Dandelion Farm.