Fiction · 05/20/2009

the wolves, the zebras, the ostrich, the water buffalo

the wolves

The grey goes white sometimes or it is white going grey. I don’t know, I can’t tell. But their paws are what I like to watch, pawing in the ground. I wish I could stop one and lift its foot, these wolves. I wish I could squeeze, feel those big pads they have on their feet, these wolves, on the bottom of their feet.

We can’t have a dog. I know. My dad says it. WE CAN’T HAVE A DOG. My mom too: NO DOG. NO. I get it. No dog. They think I don’t follow, my mom, my dad, but I do. I get. I am listening.

I listen.

I love wolves. Their thin forest in this big space and the way this, more than all the other places here, seems to fit, to work, to be done right. The trees naked sometimes and without leaves, the branches the same white going grey, grey going white of these wolves, their big paws.

I want to feel like that, like how they lay down in here, in these fake woods, these wolves, how they stretch out in the sticks and the dirt, happy, walking the edge to protect it or because they want to, doing what they want to.

I LOVE DOGS I say and my dad says back WOLVES. NOT DOGS, WOLVES. My mom also says it: WOLVES. My mom over makes the word, her mouth big and pointed at me. I know I say, WOLVES, wanting to tell them something different, to talk about dogs and places where I would feel comfortable laying down, walking the edges, doing what I want to do. I want to tell them that.

I don’t.

WOLVES I say. I LOVE WOLVES. And my parents, my mom and dad, they turn before I am ready, moving off of the chain fence, the look in, where the wolves are. And they leave me there for a second before calling out, telling me to come on. LET’S GO JONAH and I go do the things I don’t want to, go where I don’t want to, not saying the words and things I should or could say, keeping quiet and not like a wolf. I am not a wolf.

I go.

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the zebras

Zoo zebras. Black and white. The sun today goes hot. The sun coats them, these zebras, in light.

I don’t know where zebras come from. These zebras or any others.

At the store, my dad pushes the cart and I walk beside him, behind him, the chain of his wallet going from his pocket to his hip, his belt loop. I hold the chain when we walk, on some days, walking behind him.

MADE IN CHINA. WHAT BULLSHIT IS THAT. CHINA. JESUS.

JONAH YOU STAY THE FUCK OUT OF CHINA WHEN YOU GET OLDER. DON’T EVEN PUT YOUR FEET IN GODDAMN CHINA.

I don’t know where China is. Other kids I know say that it is right below us, that we can get shovels and tools and dig down in our backyards. Those kids, the ones who say that if we go all the way through we will land on our feet in China maybe. With Chinese kids holding their own shovels and tools, digging down to us one yard over maybe.

I wanted the zebra, plastic and with a tag that said nine ninety-nine, this zebra with one knee bent like it is running or beginning to run. Moving. But my dad, pushing the cart and me behind, holding to the chain of him, he takes if from me, from my other hand, and he reads concentrating and squinting and then breathes out.

SEE. CHINA. MADE IN CHINA. THAT’S EXACTLY IT. FUCKING CHINA. I wanted it, this tiny zebra down the toy aisle in that store, but he kept saying FUCKING CHINA until he was saying PROBABLY FULL OF LEAD PAINT. JESUS. LICK IT AND YOU’LL DIE OF CANCER.

I WON’T LICK IT I said, but he put it back, breathing, his beard longer than yesterday.

FUCKING CHINA

If I licked these zebras, these ones here at this zoo, they would probably shake their hair and laugh with their eyes. I don’t think these are Chinese zebras, here, in this zoo, the hollow standing yellow grass, the rocks and the fake trees, the chain-link fence. I am not sure here what is real.

I WON’T LICK THEM I say and my dad looks at me, confused. WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT? he asks and I don’t say anything else. He doesn’t remember. This is a time when I don’t speak. I have nothing to say.

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the ostrich

Today there is only one ostrich. It is ugly and alone and doesn’t know where to go, just moves its clumsy thick feet around the hill of dirt, the one rock, the tree that isn’t a tree. The tree that is really just a branch dead from a different tree and planted here in the ground. The ostrich doesn’t get a real tree. The ostrich gets a fake tree. I bet it knows that it doesn’t have a real tree, this ostrich, that the zoo gives it a dead branch and no leaves and wants it to believe in trees anyway.

I am an ostrich I think, today.

And I am done believing in trees.

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the water buffalo

There is one water buffalo over this concrete wall, the handrail and the bar, the ground below it that goes down to a drop, to keep us out. I don’t want to go into the place with this water buffalo. I don’t want to get in its way. I DON’T WANT TO GO IN THERE I say, and my dad says THEN DON’T. I tell him I COULD, IF I WANTED TO. He nods, my dad, because he knows I could if I wanted to.

Like when he says YOU CAN’T MAKE IT FROM THERE, and I do, I make it and my fingers smell like the rubber of the ball. OKAY. YOU CAN. Like how sometimes I smile.

Like when my mom says DON’T TOUCH IT, but I do anyway and it’s not that hot. It only hurts a little. SEE? HOT. ONLY A LITTLE I say and feel the heat in my finger where I touched the glass of it, where she told me not to, where I did anyway.

I make a mooing sound, the sound of a cow. IT’S A WATER BUFFALO my dad says, his goatee, his beard, showing some of its red and blonde in the sun. I KNOW I say, and I do, I just wanted to see what it would think if it thought a cow were watching it. The water buffalo didn’t move. I don’t think it cared about the sound of a cow.

I WAS THINKING THAT BECAUSE IT LOOKS LIKE A COW, SORT OF, IT MIGHT CARE IF IT HEARD A COW OR THOUGHT THAT MAYBE A COW WAS OUT HERE WITH US, WATCHING. This is what I say that makes them laugh.

My mom laughs when my dad pokes his finger in her side, above her belt, where her ribs aren’t. DON’T she says, but it is like she doesn’t mean it, like she really means YES.

My dad’s finger in the shape of a broken bone, broken when he played football, when he was on the line like he always tells me about. That finger, the one he pokes into my mom to make her laugh and pretend she doesn’t like it.

I DON’T THINK THEY CARE ABOUT COWS I say and then stop, seeing them, my mom and my dad smiling, laughing. I stop. Because I can do whatever I want. I can.

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J. A. Tyler is the author of Someone, Somewhere (Ghost Road Press, 2009) and In Love With A Ghost (Willows Wept Press, 2010) as well as the chapbooks Zoo: The Tropic House (sunnyoutside, 2009), Everyone In This Is Either Dying Or Will Die Or Is Thinking Of Death (Achilles, 2008), and The Girl in the Black Sweater (Trainwreck Press, 2008) . He is also founding editor of mud luscious/ml press. Visit: www.aboutjatyler.com.