Unimelb Field Guide

The Arts West Animal

27 February 2017

There is an animal with antlers who trots around Arts West. She cannot use the marble stairs (due to her hooves), but she can fit into the elevators fine. She loves the Arts West elevators because they are very shiny. Sometimes she hides in them to watch the Arts students arrive. This is why those elevators are always slow and erratic: she weighs them down and keeps nudging the wrong buttons.

No one sees the animal because she has a shaggy coat that changes colour so it blends in with her background. As she walks around, she tries on the wallpapers. On the first floor, her fur is tartan. In some tutorial rooms it turns floral, or it becomes blue with clouds. When she plods past that third floor curtain, her body is purple velvet.

She sleeps in the little room that’s on the fifth floor, just to the left. She likes the green silk chairs and the oak desk, because they smell the way she thinks a forest would. All the bookcases are glass. Sometimes she breaks them. (Accidentally. Her curled antlers are quite hard to control.)

When this happens, the professors are all very nice about it. They cannot see her, of course, but they believe she exists. This is why the Fifth Floor forest room needs swipe card access: they want her to have a space that is her own. They also open up their offices when they think she’s around. They do not mind her consuming their pot plants, or chewing their MacBook chargers by mistake.

At night, Arts West is dark. Sometimes she needs a distraction, so she searches for a room with screens that slide down from the ceiling. Then she watches ballet lessons on YouTube.

The ground floor has glossy tiles, so she used to practice there. Her hooves clicked as she pranced around. She could pretend she had an audience who sat along the stairs, and who applauded when she performed arabesques.

She had loved dancing at night-time but she stopped due to the pigeons. The pigeons had looked so smug. They strutted around the dark cobblestones outside, and then they gathered at the glass doors so they could sneer at her pirouettes. She wished that she had claws. Her hooves felt clumsy. Her legs tangled. 

Now she does not dance at night, she only sleeps. In her bad dreams the pigeons leer at her. In good ones she grows wings and joins their flock.

Weekdays are a relief, because they are bright and busy. She curls up in classroom corners and peers out at the clock tower. She joins Latin lessons and linguistics lectures (if they can’t see you they can’t charge you HECS).

She likes a lot of the librarians. Her favorite is from the Baillieu and has a ginger beard. In O-Week he ran a session on effective research techniques and he said you can find most answers using Discovery. She had been wondering if his beard could change colour and so she forgot to listen when he explained Boolean terms. Maybe this is why her questions get no answers. Once she typed in: can you tango with four legs and no dance partner? but Discovery said: no results were found.

Yet in the Arts West elevators, everything seems okay. She watches students shuffle in, their lips painted red or purple. She likes how the colours smudge onto the coffee cups they’re clutching. If she’s gentle, she can nuzzle their wool jumpers. She can know she has a herd.

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