This story follows on from Karl the Kangaroo, The Lemon Possum vs Karl the Kangaroo, The Kangaroo and the Comedian and Karl’s Daughter so it is suggested you read those four stories before this one. In fact, this story takes place directly after Karl’s Daughter. The Lemon Possum also appears in The Lemon Possum, The Lemon Possum 2 and The Lemon Possum’s Evil Easter.
Karl had trashed Sadie’s room. He tore down every poster, threw down the ceramic skulls and the monster figurines, ripped out pages from her books. For the grand finale, he lifted her guitar over his head and thrust it to the floor. He was sure he had seen one of Sadie’s musicians do that. A human musician.
He had just done something Sadie didn’t want him to do. Sadie wanted him to be honest, to admit what a nasty little creature he was. So he went and invited an employee to his home so he could pretend to be a welcoming host, he could pretend to be a loving father, he could pretend to be…
Well, he couldn’t pretend to be human. He pretty much was one.
More images from his past manifested into his mind. Sadie had tried to shave her fur to be more like her classmates, and Karl told her she should be proud of who she was. Later, Sadie wondered if she could have surgery. Surgery to remove her tail, make her ears rounder, make her nose pointier.
At that moment, Karl considered such a surgery for himself.
Karl looked around at the bedroom he had ruined. This is what Sadie would have wanted, he said to himself. She threw away her clothes so she could be a regular kangaroo. No talking, no computers, just hopping around….
Where was she? Did she get back to Australia? Karl forced pictures into his head, fantasies to combat his painful memories. Perhaps Sadie stowed away on an airplane, he thought, and she went back home. She was in the outback, hopping around with Karl’s grandson or granddaughter in her pouch.
No, thought Karl, if she had children, they wouldn’t be my grandchildren.
I’m not her father.
With that little wannabe-author out of the house, Karl thought he’d be further honest with himself. He’d be the lonely, miserable rich man everyone saw him as, because that’s who he was. Adopting Sadie, he thought, was probably an attempt to get away from that stereotype.
She was just a tool.
He was a wretched old miser and that’s what he was going to be for the rest of his life. Sadie didn’t matter anymore; he was going to care about no-one but himself because that was the way, it seemed, the world was supposed to be. No-one was going to come to show him the joy he was missing out on, no-one was coming to save his soul. The copywriter only wanted a bigger paycheck, as did the other workers.
They were humans, after all.
Despite thinking himself more man than kangaroo, Karl had a meal of a pile of grass before retiring to bed, staring at the ceiling before falling into a dreamless sleep. When he awoke, his mind randomly played back his days at the theatre, when he first learned to speak. He remembered every joke he made in every pantomime, including one parents found iffy: he held up a bottle of bleach and said, ‘If you drink this, you’ll die, but you’ll have a nice finish.’
The theatre. The beginning of the end.
A familiar figure appeared – yes, popped into existence – before Karl. She sat at the foot of his bed, leering at him like a goblin. The Lemon Possum, that overgrown magical rat who wanted him to sell games that promoted unhealthy eating. Karl could only laugh at her reappearance.
‘You’re not real,’ Karl said.
‘You’re not here,’ said Karl as he got up out of bed, ‘I’m just going to close my eyes, re-open them, and then you’ll be gone.’ He did just that, but not only was the Lemon Possum still there, she was waving a poster in front of Karl. A poster of a younger Karl, the Joyful Little Joey.
‘This is how you were supposed to be,’ the possum continued, ‘you made people happy by dancing.’
‘And look where that got me.’
‘Why don’t you go back to dancing?’ The possum smirked at Karl. ‘You could bring people much more pleasure and joy than you could with your mobile games and your mummy issues.’
‘I don’t bring anyone pleasure or joy. That’s just the way I am.’
The possum pointed to the poster. ‘Are you sure this is not the way you’re supposed to be? Everyone loved you when you were a happy, dancing little kangaroo, and now you want to be a grump.’
‘I’m supposed to be a “grump”.’
The possum let loose a vicious laugh that stung Karl’s ears. ‘Look at you, the mighty Karl the Kangaroo, who beat up little old me, now sitting around feeling sorry for yourself. You don’t scare me. You’re pathetic. You wanted to entertain children, to bring them joy but all you do is mope. And all because of your mummy. Because of little Sadie…’
Karl looked the possum directly in the eye. ‘Don’t you dare mention Sadie to me,’ he spat.
‘But Sadie was a mistake.’
Karl gritted his teeth and narrowed his eyes. ‘What have you done to her?’
‘I’ve done nothing to her. After she left you, she decided to become a normal kangaroo. Now she’s at your local zoo.’ The possum smiled wider, revealing her fangs. ‘That’s how much she hates you. She’d rather regress than live with you. I haven’t done anything to her, but maybe you could. If she’s making you that miserable, why don’t you…’
Karl struck the possum across the face, only for the possum to laugh again. ‘Go ahead and pummel me, it won’t change anything. She’ll still hate you, your workers will still hate you, you’ll still hate you. That Joyful Little Joey will still be a waste of space.’
‘I’m not making your little game,’ snarled Karl, ‘so if this is…’
‘No, I just like seeing people who defeated me miserable. Now, if you excuse me, I have sweets to share.’ Then she vanished.
The first thing Karl did after the possum disappeared was go to his computer and look up the Larford Zoo. Sure enough, there on the newsletter, was Sadie, older and unclothed, but unmistakably her. The newsletter was congratulating her on giving birth. A son. Her son, but not Karl’s grandson.
The Lemon Possum or whatever she was spoke the truth about Sadie.
She had left the poster behind. Karl picked it up, his hands trembling.
The little joey, on stage with the stick and the straw hat and the big smile.
That was Karl. That was who he was supposed to be.
Karl wasn’t the creature he was meant to be. He hadn’t been for years, and he could never be again.
A voice within told him to go visit Sadie. He would go to the zoo, see her and her child and apologise. Sadie would forgive him, they’d let him into her enclosure and they’d hug. He’d hug her, and then the little joey gets a hug from both mother and grandfather.
No. That wouldn’t happen. Sadie wouldn’t forgive him. She went to the zoo so she wouldn’t be like him.
He was still pretending.
He pretended to be a good father. He pretended to be a miserable miser pretending to be a good father.
He pretended to be a miserable miser enough that he became one.
He was a joke. Laughed at and mocked by comedians and a stupid little magic possum.
Karl stumbled around his home, various images spinning through his mind. His past, the theatre, the hours he spent learning programming. Sadie, her new home, her possible reactions to him returning to her. His life, his fragile, fraudulent life.
Into the kitchen stumbled Karl. From his cupboard he pulled out a bottle of bleach.
‘If you drink this, you’ll die, but you’ll have a nice finish.’
That’s what they wanted, wasn’t it? The workers wanted their mean old boss gone, Sadie wanted to be rid of her father forever, even mother…
He threw the bleach to the ground. No. That’s what the Lemon Possum wanted him to do.
He was going to see Sadie.
After shaking his head as if that would knock the unpleasant fantasies out, Karl got dressed, putting on his head a porkpie hat that hid his ears. It made him look like an anachronism, but it did mean that Sadie would be less likely to recognise him.
Sure enough, when he walked over to the zoo, barely anyone seemed to recognise him. Though he thought he did hear the word “Karl” uttered near him a couple of times, he thought it was more likely someone else with the same name being talked about, or a mishearing. He blended in with the crowd as he entered the zoo.
Entering the zoo was a lot like entering the theatre; the air was filled with the cacklings of children and the stench of popcorn. Pantomimes had overpriced fairy wands; zoos had overpriced sticks with chomping animal heads.
Karl took a look at the other animals – the giraffes, the elephants, even the bats – and briefly wondered if, given the chance, they would live in a house or program a game or speak. None of these were human, or pretending to be, they were simple animals and seemingly content to be so. An uncomplicated life with nothing to worry about.
No wonder Sadie went here.
When Karl saw the signpost pointing towards the kangaroo exhibit, he took a deep breath, lowered his hat and walked slowly in that direction. He prepared himself for whatever reaction Sadie might have, he prepared himself for her spitting in his face, grabbing him by the collar, or slandering him right in front of the crowd.
She danced. A huge crowd had gathered around to see her put on a little dance. Her and her joey. She leapt about with her child in her pouch, before lifting the child and twirling him around. Then she held her child in the air and stood as the crowd applauded.
She was happy. She was comfortable. She was just like the little joey on the poster.
When Karl got back home, he tore the poster to pieces and threw them in the bin. He no longer had an urge to think about the past, but he had a good feeling about the future.