“Altered Persona” by Thaddeus Rutkowski

Each night, I put on my costume—a long cloth neck, two stubby horns, a patchwork quilt, and stilts—and went out to forage for leaves. I needed a long neck to reach the topmost morsels. But my neck wasn’t going to get any longer from stretching it. No, I understood Darwinian theory. Creatures with long necks didn’t get those appendages by reaching higher. They got them through natural selection. If I was going to survive, I’d have to wait ages for a naturally long neck. But I didn’t have the time, so I pulled on my extensions and my patchwork quilt, and I went out at night. I roamed my neighborhood. It was no Serengeti, but it had some trees.

I drew some attention, but I didn’t care. I was eating the greenest leaves, and my character began to change. I began to ruminate as I chewed. I begin to think about savannahs, tall grasses, and acacias full of shoots. I could see over treetops, spot predators a mile away. I could wrap my tongue around twigs and strip them of edible parts. I was no longer in a suburb, straining to see over shrubbery, trying not to trip over trashcans, and keeping one step ahead of the authorities. No, I was on a plain, and I was taller than any living creature.

At one point, I saw a dog. But was it really a dog, or was it a person dressed as a dog—a person altering his or her persona the same as I was doing? The creature came to me without fear, as if I were encroaching on its territory. It strained to reach my knees. I could have booted it with my hoof—with great force because I was so much taller—but I didn’t. I just kept tonguing the leaves off branches, keeping an eye out for serious predators.


“Altered Persona” first appeared in Matter Press, Journal of Compressed Creative Arts. 2011.
And in print, Violent Outbursts (Spuyten Duyvil, 2015)

IMAGE: Mino Maccari “Giraffe Man”, 1970 – Watercolor, 9 4/5 × 7 2/5 in. Rome.

Thaddeus Rutkowski
Thaddeus Rutkowski is the author of seven books, most recently Tricks of Light, a poetry collection. He teaches at Medgar Evers College and received a fiction writing fellowship from the New York Foundation for the Arts.
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