Zoo Story


Maria, she took me, she walked me around the zoo on a caffeinated day in late September, after months of getting close and asking questions. Popcorn in paper from the stand and we were holding hands if not eyes, her niece run off to see the alligator.

The elephant walked in place, obligingly, handful of peanuts from one of the keepers before turning his back on us entirely.

“I never planned it like this.”

Autumn air creeping through the thinning trees, shadows longer than the summer now, more sharp, more serious, while the tiger prowls his pen in agitation, ready for the season finale. He can see the grey in the sky, the leaves losing interest, he feels the cold coming our way, amused at our sense of safety behind the chain-link fence. Nothing can hurt us out here.

Two kids laughing at the gorilla’s useless pantomime and I had to admit it was funny. Maria's niece feeding goats with a handful of grain, the child’s tiny hands trembling with the fear of sensation. We walked slower as the day went deep.

Onto the lion cage and on cue: growl loud enough to start a major motion picture. I tried to use my words, tried to explain, but an airplane overhead took the volume of my voice. My arm around her but she slipped away for a drink at the fountain. The giraffe stretched for the leaf at the top of the tree.
Days like these are why jackets have zippers, and we were bundled from the bottom to the top. Maria was repulsed by the snake pen, but I got no joy from her recoil. Her niece run up and hug her, safe for a minute from the wonderful terrors gathered here to comfort and traumatize us for the rest of our lives. With a zoo in town you can never get lost.

September sun is a filthy liar: holding the door for you one minute and then closing shop early, heading home, leaving you in a dazzle blind of twilight at the moment when you most need the shine. Hands in our pockets, and her words echo from the pavement, amplified for my ride home which I could already see would never end.

Back at the beginning again, the zebras swatting flies with tails too short for anything else, and we made our goodbyes, knowing that this was the last time, the last time, but not really, not really the last time at all. The laughing gull had a good one.

My lips touch Maria’s, and as I watch her walk away with the little girl I curse the loss of summer and the crunchy orange leaves at my feet.

I look up at the animals, hopeless, and I try to read between the lines.

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