When the rhino died, well.
Are you sure this is...? Of interest...?
You see, every day for nearly fourteen years she had walked to the zoo and visited the rhino. This did not involve talking to the rhino or anything like that: she never spoke to the animal, but stood or sat on nearby bench and watched the rhino, and was in turn observed by staff at the zoo, who recognized her as a regular but with whom she also did not speak. Some days she was there early in the morning, just after the zoo opened, some days she brought a modest lunch with her and ate it on the bench, and some days she came in the late afternoon. Apart from their being daily the visits had no other apparent pattern.
When the rhino died, she kept coming to the same spot, to the empty containment area, though she missed a day here or there, and when after a few months the containment area was refitted and given to the four ostriches...
It was sudden, certainly, but in another way it wasn’t, you know. He had been weak and slowing down.
The eyes of the zookeepers, all of them, puffy for days.
A rhino, who’s going to take that seriously, think that’s...
Let’s just call it a rhino. All right? It was a rhino.
Though what it is now, well.
Had there been more than one rhino, I know there wasn’t, but had there been more than one, a bunch of them, do you know what that’s called? A crash of rhinos. I shit you not. A crash of rhinos.
One young girl, she came to the zoo quite often, you know. She was terribly upset. She didn’t say anything about it, but anyone could see.
Not that young. Not a girl. A young woman.
Not born in captivity, but found lost and young, its hornless mother awash with impatient flies a mile away. The rhino had come to this zoo and she had visited the very first week the rhino was there, and fell into her pattern shortly thereafter.
The rhino was a fixture for her, a staple of her routine, every morning and some days the modest lunch on the bench, and now her days have this gap, is all.
Romanticization isn’t the word. Patronizing isn’t the word. You assume that this woman has no other life, that her entire existence revolves around an animal in a cage, an animal she might never actually have noticed. Maybe she just liked sitting on that particular bench, maybe that particular bench had some sort of I don’t’ know connection for. Maybe she hated the rhino. Maybe wished it would die.
It did die. And it wasn’t sudden.
Well, in a way...
The bench directly faced the rhino’s cage. She used to sit right there and watch the rhino, every time she came. This is what you call observed data. The zookeepers are honest.
They call it a containment area.
What do they call a dead rhino? Maybe the technical term is dead rhino. No longer contained.
And this is...? Of interest, I mean?
Maybe she didn’t need, doesn’t need the rhino anymore. Maybe she has transcended the rhino, her need for the rhino, whatever it was. You probably never thought of that. Maybe the rhino was a temporary focus, a placeholder for something more real. Maybe the rhino only existed because she needed it to exist, and when she didn’t need it any longer, well. Maybe and maybe and maybe. You probably never thought of any of this. You just see this young woman looking at a rhino. Unimaginative isn’t the word.
Coccidioidomycosis. Say that thirty times...
Not everybody likes zoos. Not even the people who come to the zoos, even the regulars, would tell you that they like zoos as such. Only anecdotal data on that one.
To characterize the lunch as modest...
If you’re going to feel bad for someone, why not feel bad for the four ostriches? They don’t have any regular visitors. They just stand there, not being rhinos, having one another, eating the hats of children and whatever else. You might feel bad for the four ostriches.
If it’s not about feeling bad, what is it about?
Yes, it’s very interesting.
Tim Conley’s short fiction, poetry, essays, reviews, and translations have appeared in various journals in seven countries. He is the author of two collections of short fiction, Whatever Happens (2006) and Nothing Could Be Further (2011), and a book of poetry, One False Move (2012).
Photo credit: Alice Callas.