by David Lerner
At first, I went to see the leopard. And in my head, I’d already panned out the meet. I knew he’d bare his teeth and straighten his stride. His yellow and blackened tail weaving through air like a diver in deep waters. He’d walk around with widened paws and a black thin lip. He’d go and smile, almost, as he’d see me hunched near his cage. The windows are tinted with saliva, of which was his. The other side has ample hand, cheek, and stomach prints. He had grown up here, and he was old now, but once… If only these people knew what he was capable of. He’d rip the guts out of stray chickens, a blood-eating grin dripping red muck into rain-hampered dirt. He’d take them like spaghetti, munching into live prey.
People would ask for the staff, shield children’s eyes, or waddle away uncomfortably. They’d gasp and “awh” and be impressed or take photos, videos, and snaps. Whatever kids those days used.
I’m old now. I know the leopard. Know him deeply and honestly. He walks around me like any other prey, but when I crouch, he does too.
When I sit, he hunches forward. And when I jump, he slams the glass enclosure with his head.
If he could talk, he’d hiss. And if he could chew, he would. He hasn’t got any front teeth.
He does eventually speak. It’s a mean sound, rusty. He smiles at me and offers me his hand through a barred window. I touch, and he snarls. And laughs. And sits. He motions me over again, and I walk slowly back.
He tells me he’s angry. He’s been betrayed by the zoo. He hasn’t been receiving enough food these past days. Months. It’s been diminishing slowly. First the birds, then the fish. Now it’s all dry stuff. Dry stuff. For a leopard. He’s frantic, pacing now. It’s all vegetarian, he’s certain. It’s that Lenny FUCK. He’s got it out for him. He’s got it out for every damned animal in this zoo, but Lenny, “Oh, that fat pancake. I’d smatter him with dirt and dig with my paws. I’d wreck him before his caretakers. He wouldn’t see it coming,” and the Leopard swipes air, yellow fangs alone in a foul-smelling mouth. He stops. He sits back down, eyes closed-in on a worm on the ground.
The next animal I visit is the parrot, and he’s a small one indeed. The smallest in the world, I’ve heard. I looked him up and down, and forget his name, his colors, his dialect. His mouth opens and no words come out. I hear sounds. I’m not enjoying his presence, and even take a step back. He speaks louder. I walk away. Echos lurk my ears for a while.
I catch the Hyena, napping. It opens a lazy eye, red uncharacteristic vessels cruising across it, and yawns. “Have you gotten my blankets from the washer, Andy?”
“Have you gotten my pillows?”
I watch it for a second, as it dozes off to sleep. It lays on its back, sounding the alarm.
I found the Macao, needle in hand. They shave each for that. The rubber they use to find veins is slung from a branch in the enclosure. Another Macao comes to view, and they start fucking. The first grabs the bars as I hear a visitor laughing at this inappropriate workplace conduct. I assure him we don’t have any female Macaos after he asks multiple times if there’ll be babies.
On the other side of the yard, there’s an Orangutan, staring down its female counterpart. There’s not much conversation there, just an occasional twitch to her, and a twitch away from him, by her. He returns to being deep in thought like he always is, eyes big in worry toward a blue cloudless sky.
I walk alone, feeling wind pecker at my ribcage. I enter the main yard, passing by the information center I’ve been asked about ten times today. The wind continues to howl slurs.
I walk by the big tree. Its branches have been cut off and fed to elephants.
Finally, I find myself within the lion’s den and hear it. The tearing of flesh, and the ravaging of consciousness. He’s been chewing for a while, the females tamed by his size, stroking his fur with their noses as he crunches bone, after bone, after bone. He’s done and sits, and rolls on his side, whipping his tail annoyingly. I decide I’d let him digest before attempting conversation. Out of courtesy. But he opens his mouth, and puffs air from his nose. He asks for a toothpick and what I’m doing in his den. One of the females giggles.
“Woher kommst du?”
The zoo, I answer.
“Was willst du?”, he breathes.
I want… I want you to stop. You’ve eaten enough, let the others have some.
And at that, he gets up, and everyone disperses. He snags a piece off the carcass, dead zebra eyes meeting the ceiling. There’s not much left. The cubs stare.
He paws to me, stepping to the side of a sharp stone on the ground, chewing. Mincing.
And he asks, “Wie hast du letzte Nacht geschlafen?”
My sleep? It was okay. What does that have to do with anything?
He grins, and like that, my eyes meet the ceiling. There’s a fan there that’s plugged in right now. A few of its wires are sticking out. The king is having none of it, but has decided to slumber into the deepest, most comfortable sleep of his life. He dreams of men and their antics, of monkeys with little robots, and most of all, of a soft bed of straw and the sound of limbs being dismembered.