Ray Levy

Autobiographical Animal

Jacques was a person in history.

Jacques had a little cat.

One day, the little cat crept into the bathroom while Jacques was bathing. The cat walked up to the tub, sat down on the floor, and watched. Naturally, Jacques was naked. Jacques saw the cat see his nakedness, and Jacques felt shame. The shame was unusual because it was complex. The complexity took a long time to unpack when Jacques told the story to a room of scholars in 1997. The story was original and emotional, humbling and pathetic—but not too pathetic. The scholars argued that Jacques’s story was appropriately pathetic. Also, it was lovely. It was a lovely story. But it wasn’t true. I know because I was there. I was in the bathroom, next to the cat. Jacques did not account for my presence.

Throughout the history of the West, people have treated animals like garbage. The difference Jacques makes is he said he felt bad about it. He felt shame. He was naked. 

He was ready to exit the bathtub.

He had risen to a standing position and was issuing the signal. He was using one of his tan fingers, which was bent and dripping, to point at the towel on the rack. Except he wasn’t pointing at the towel on the rack: the rack was bare.

Fuck, shit. Where was the towel?

Fuck my face off my head. Run a sword through my neck because I’m an asshole. I’m an asshole and I’m stupid. I’m so fucking stupid—

The towel was in the dryer.

The towel was in the dryer, and the dryer was in the laundry. The laundry was in the alcove, which connects to the kitchen, at the opposite end of the estate.

“Be right back.” I turned, and I ran.

What is a TA?

The stick isn’t universal, you know. It’s not even standard. It’s his, and you don’t really know him, do you? No, I think you do not. You know the one you serve. You know the one you serve, and I know the one I serve, and the sticks are different. How then can I present myself to you without disappearing behind the shadow which is cast by the thought that your master did build in the miserable fist of your vision? You’ll have to take me at my word when I tell you what I am. I’m worthless.

Some days get fucked, so what. There wasn’t a towel on the rack. And I suppose there was nothing to be done about it, no action under the fucked-open sun to make up for the one I should’ve remembered to accomplish an hour earlier, i.e., retrieve the towel from the dryer, and return it to the rack.

Jesus, fuck. The TA handles basic tasks, okay? Such as grading papers or working directly for any professor who by virtue of excessive fame and/or age requires day-to-day assistance and emotional support—and I told him not to worry, didn’t I? I told him to stay put. I said I’d be back in a jiffy.

Well, no. I didn’t really use the word “jiffy.” I would never use that word. I cite it now because it’s kinda cute and very casual, and that’s the way I want you to see me. That’s what feels comfortable, you understand.

I ran in the direction of the laundry, which connects to the kitchen, and since I’d already fucked up the day, I stopped at the fridge, and I grabbed a can of beer. The beer was a Dale’s Pale Ale. I really liked that beer. I stored some in Jacques’s refrigerator. Jacques didn’t care, and he never touched it. He didn’t drink much at the end of his life.

I went outside by way of the sliding door in the breakfast nook to sip my beer on the patio. I smoked a cigarette. The cigarette was an American Spirit from the goldenrod pack. Upon reentering the house, I felt looser. The beer had mattered because I hadn’t eaten. Plus, I’d already ruined the day, and the ruining felt like relief, you understand, and so I strode like Goliath over the expanse of the kitchen to the alcove with the laundry in it, feeling good in the place where my body was meant to exist, or where it supposedly endured, or whatever, it just wasn’t there.

The alcove was chilly, which gave me an idea: I should warm the towel in the dryer. If I warmed the towel in the dryer, then I’d produce time, perhaps ten minutes or more, which means I could have another beer, and I could smoke again.

There’s no such thing as a good decision, right? And Jacques was exactly where I’d left him. He was staying put. He didn’t want to slip on the way out of the tub (not again). Holding steady, he was clenched and curved and cold and probably very angry. Cold anger should be enough to make a man want a warm towel—I’d want one—and so I speculated that Jacques was wanting, probably. Meanwhile, the cat was just watching. It was spying on the shape of his sex.

The word “sex” belongs to Jacques, by the way. Perhaps I should mention that I don’t care for the body of his work. I loathe the entirety of his scholarship, pretty much. It itches me. It itched me. All the time, I was itching.

What. It’s not like the wait would kill him.

Do you need me to say it outright? I was not trying to kill Jacques Derrida. I’m a fiction writer. I write novels, which, defined by word-count, are really short stories that resemble scholarly essays about literature, but given the state of the academic job market, see—whatever, fuck you.

This story is not an impotent attempt to channel Poe.

Okay, Poe’s an influence for sure. I’m drawn to his style, mostly the hair and coats. The neck ties turn me off, but I love the pants in that photo. The one where he’s holding hands with the model skeleton?

Look. I wasn’t equipped to pull a Poe. I was a TA, you understand: a loser. And I wanted to be looser: a looser loser. So I activated the dryer, setting the timer for fifteen minutes, and then I grabbed another beer from the fridge, strode like Goliath to the patio, smoked a cigarette, et cetera.

When I returned to the bathroom, I saw the cat. It was watching Jacques’s nakedness. The bit about the cat is true. The cat was there, and so was I, and Jacques was blushing. I had the warm towel in my arms, and I presented it to Jacques—my arms with the towel draped over—I held out that entire apparatus, so Jacques could grab onto it; that way he would maintain his balance.

He lifted one foot up and over the lip of the tub. “Rachel,” he said.

I called myself Rachel then.

Maybe it was due to his accent, I don’t know, and it doesn’t matter, but whenever Jacques said, “Rachel,” he managed to cram the whole name into a single syllable, as if the name were a curse.

It was like he was saying, “Fuck!” And yeah, I love the name Fuck.

If I didn’t have a quote unquote career, but—

Well, if I didn’t need it, you know, the money, which I funnel into the rent and all the fucking foods that only serve to prolong the youth of it, the youth of the husk, and the husk will not end, the husk will not end, and by now it should’ve ended, I swear, it should’ve ended, but it hasn’t because it endures, it endures, endures, et cetera.

Well, I swear. I swear I’d change my name to Fuck.

I really love that name.

Jacques was much colder than I’d wagered a person could ever become. He was remarkably stiff, so I helped him walk to the closet. I invited him to point to the trousers he desired, and I pulled the trousers from the hanger and then up and over the lower half of Jacques. And Jacques wore slacks, mind you, high-end slacks, which were not ideal to work with, even on a good day—and that day was a fucked day. Jacques couldn’t bend, okay? Like his joints, they were not operative.

But I triumphed: I dressed Jacques.

Afterward I said to him that he really should, at this advanced point in his career, you know, I said he really should consider getting himself a pair of joggers.

Joggers are user-friendly menswear (pants) that have elastic bands at the ankles and waist. They are baggy, yes, but not in a way that looks bad. They’re baggy in a way that’s comfortable and forgiving and easy.

“I actually think joggers look great,” I said.

Well listen, whatever, I’d had a lot of beers, so I spoke at length on the greatness of joggers.

“In conclusion,” I said, “joggers are great. They’re fucking great, and we could get you a pair. Two pairs, even.”

Jacques frowned. He said he had work to do.

“That’s okay,” I said. I told him he could work.

“You’re wrong,” said Jacques. “I can work. Or I can go get joggers. I cannot do both.”

“But you can do both,” I said, “because you have me.”

Jacques said—

Well, okay. Basically, he replied that one cannot acquire slacks without going to the store and trying them on. That’s what he was taking issue with, trying them on. He didn’t have time to try them on because he had to work.

Naturally I replied that joggers come in three sizes. “Don’t you get it? You don’t have to try them on.”

No, he didn’t get it. Jacques was totally dumb. Often, whenever he’d slip into that stuck state, I found myself wishing for the strength to handle him like an old console. You know, just hit him with the flat of my palm.

“Three sizes, period,” I continued. “Fuck man, I’m telling you the truth. I’m saying the pants will fit your body. And they’ll look great because they are great. Plus, they’ll be so easy for you to manage by yourself. To pull them up. See?” I mimed Jacques pulling them up all by himself. “And they’ll look fucking great.”

“Fine,” Jacques said. “Take my card. Get yourself a pair, too. I think you need joggers.”

“No,” I said. “I think you need joggers.”

“You need joggers,” he said.

“No, you need joggers,” I said.

And then I—

Well okay, what I did next was I attempted to explain that I did not need joggers by explicating the difference between want and need. Then I realized that Jacques already understood the difference between want and need because Jacques was a philosopher. Well, he was basically a philosopher-adjacent person, according to some people? In any case, I reasoned, if there should be anyone in this closet who doesn’t understand the difference between want and need, then that person is not Jacques; that person is me (probably). Therefore, reality is, it’s somewhat likely that I am the one who doesn’t get what Jacques is saying. 

Turns out, Jacques was saying he could see my want. He saw that I wanted joggers. And he was offering to pay for them, the joggers. Which hello, he should pay for them, absolutely. I made sixteen-thousand dollars a year because I worked for Jacques.

“Cool, cool,” I said. “May I borrow your car?”

“Go,” he nodded. “I have to read now.”

Then I laughed in his face. Because he didn’t read.

Jacques never read.

Jacques placed opened books on tabletops, yes, but he didn’t look at them. What he did was he paced wildly in their general vicinity for roughly five hours whilst kicking and/or stepping on the cat. That much is obvious, though, right? That he never read anything? That he didn’t give a shit about animals?


I took the card and the car, and I drove to Target. I bought, like, eight pairs of joggers, plus a case of Dale’s Pale Ale. 

Jacques and I wore the same size (in joggers), and so we shared the pants until the day he died. Or look, whatever, I wore some of them too. I was right, they looked fine on him. They looked fucking great. I was grateful. And so, yeah, I want to use this time to thank him. I want to thank him and pay homage and—

I was a TA, fuck you. And Jacques didn’t tell the truth because Jacques was vain. I hated him. I hated his entire body of work. I hated working for him because it permanently reduced my earning potential, and I had no family to bail me out, which was terrible because it was terrifying, but I will not make my fear your burden because you don’t care. You don’t care, and yet you know. You know the only job a person can get once they’ve been a TA is—well, they can be a TA again, basically. The life is shit. The pay is shit. Sometimes they don’t have enough for the rent. And I’m “tenure track,” mind you.

Still, I believe it is necessary to give thanks because that’s the protocol, you understand. And sure, look, I did want them. I wanted the joggers. I’m being serious. When was the last time someone like Jacques—you know, someone who controls every aspect of your life and your death and your pay—when was the last time someone like that gave something to you? But not just something. What I’m trying to say is has a person like Jacques ever given you the thing that you wanted?

Yes, this story is dumb!

Jacques said I could use his car and his credit card to get some joggers, and I got the joggers. That’s my story. My story is dumb. In contrast, Jacques’s story is false. Jacques wasn’t honest, you see, and—

Whatever, he died. The death wasn’t noble. I was there for that also. I was there for the dying. I never liked his style. Jacques wasn’t Poe.

Jacques wasn’t Poe because Jacques wasn’t smart, and he wasn’t talented, and his proclivities were mainstream, and he never read a single book. But fine, none of this is news to you because you know how to read, and you’ve read Jacques’s books. I’ve read Jacques’s books. I’ve read everything. I’m serious. I’ve read everything, and they pay me shit.

Okay, Jacques is dead. Also, Jacques was wrong. Jacques was wrong about sex because he was dumb, but once upon a time, his money got me joggers, and I wore the joggers, and it felt good. And it still feels good. Because it exists. Supposedly, it exists. It exists, it endures, or whatever it’s just there. It’s there, alright? It’s there. So thanks. Thank you. Thanks.

Pay me shit and give me tenure now.


Ray Levy is the author of the novel A Book So Red and the prose collection Necessary Objects. Their short fictions appear or are forthcoming in Atticus Review, Black Warrior Review, DIAGRAM, Fence, Tarpaulin Sky, Territory, SPORAZINE, Western Humanities Review, and others. The recipient of an NEA Fellowship in Prose, Levy is currently Assistant Professor of English at the University of Mary Washington and a founding editor at Dreginald.