Story: Animals

She watched them, milling about like mice in the streets below her. Some pecked at devices in their hands with stylus or finger. Pecking like birds among the mice, fighting for the same seeds hidden in the depths of identical Starbucks cups. An amorphous blob of red and pasty pinkish-peach waddled among them.

A wild boar tramping along the floor of a forest made of skyscrapers and street lamps. Stuffing its face with burgers and fries from the corner joint. Neurotic women scurried out of the way as if nervous squirrels, holding their purses close as they skirted aroundthe hog. Holding their purses close, for that was where they hoarded their husbands’ money like so many acorns and nuts. She sighed, shaking her head as she walked along the building’s top.

Walking along the concrete sides and peering down into the zoo below. Sirens, sounding distant to her as she stood so high above them, her private little show. Police chasing like a pack of dogs suspects, cat burglars and overzealous rats running for their lives. But they need not fear the domesticated men in blue. No, they were merely doing what they had been trained to do and no more. Simple dogs, simple tricks.

She moved along to the third side, and spied a child climbing a tree. She smiled and gave a small chuckle. A playful monkey, with a rather annoyed gorrilla of a mother trying to pull him from the tree. She waved down at him, knowing he probably could not see her up so high, and moved her attention to another animal.

A man, standing in front of a shop window, preening himself like a rooster. Slicking back his hair and checking his collar, then his breath. He must have thought he was the cock of the walk, but he was merely insecure. She moved on, comming at last to the fourth and final side and peered down. Old women, their hair short and curled in that unnatural way. Blue haired women and bald men. Sheep and goats. Too old to care. Too old to be useful. Bleating at the youth nearby in futility. Their time had passed, yet they didn’t want to accept it. So oblivious to the fact they had outlived their purposes. Too stupid to notice their lives had become routine, and their homes now in one larger dormatory for the elderly.

Sheep and goats, they lot of them. They disgusted her. Her ears perked as she heard a creaking. “Who’s there?” she demanded, whirling around to find a dangerous creature indeed.

“Come on down, Nessa. Yer mum’s waitin back at me an Sam’s place fer ye.”

She shook her head. “Not just yet,” she said, turning back to the great expanse before her.

“It wasn’t a request, girlie.” A firm paw landed on her shoulder, nails, claws digging into her expensive blouse. Biting at her skin. She knew he meant nothing by it. He was nervous. He was frustrated. When she was younger, she thought of him as another dog. Housebroken, loyal, and easily distracted. But now, as she came to understand the world she realized only a cruel, vicious predatory creature could have given rise to her. For everywhere she looked, she saw only weak and powerless prey.

Slowly, she nodded and turned to leave the rooftop where she had come to seek solitude and serenity. She could feel his eyes on her as he followed. The careful gaze of a monster, of a killing machine.

“Da?” she asked, breaking the silence of the elevator ride to the Lobby on the bottom floor.

“Hrn?”

“What kind of animal, do you suppose, are you underneath your human skin?”

He smiled, giving a small laugh and shook his head. “Do you really want to know?”

She nodded eagerly.

“Opossum.”*

“What?”

“Opossum.”

“Da, I’m serious.”

He grinned as the bell chimed. The doors began to grind open and he stepped out of the elevator. “So am I. Now, ye wanna take the limo er a cab? I was thinkin it’d be fun ta pull up in a drive thru in either one,” he said as he led the way across the lobby towards the large glass doors which gave way to the zoo outside.

——————————–

FOOTNOTES

*Opossum, not to be confused with the Australian Possum.

Excerpt on Behavior from the Wiki Page:

Opossums are usually solitary and nomadic, staying in one area as long as food and water are easily available. Some families will group together in ready-made burrows or even under houses. Though they will temporarily occupy abandoned burrows, they do not dig or put much effort into building their own. As nocturnal animals, they favor dark, secure areas. These areas may be below ground or above.

When threatened or harmed, they will “play possum”, mimicking the appearance and smell of a sick or dead animal. The lips are drawn back, teeth are bared, saliva foams around the mouth, and a foul-smelling fluid is secreted from the anal glands. The physiological response is involuntary, rather than a conscious act. Their stiff, curled form can be prodded, turned over, and even carried away. The animal will regain consciousness after a period of minutes or hours and escape.

Adult opossums do not hang from trees by their tails, though babies may dangle temporarily. Their semi-prehensile tails are not strong enough to support a mature adult’s weight. Instead, the opossum uses its tail as a brace and a fifth limb when climbing. The tail is occasionally used as a grip to carry bunches of leaves or bedding materials to the nest. A mother will sometimes carry her young upon her back, where they will cling tightly even when she is climbing or running.

Threatened opossums (especially males) will growl deeply, raising their pitch as the threat becomes more urgent. Males make a clicking “smack” noise out of the side of their mouths as they wander in search of a mate, and females will sometimes repeat the sound in return. When separated or distressed, baby opossums will make a sneezing noise to signal their mother. If threatened, the baby will open its mouth and quietly hiss until the threat is gone. 

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