Jake and me we used to be so hot blooded for each other. Devouring food in public. Plumping ourselves with love. We wore our shiniest, most brightly colored clothes. We mated anywhere we could. Hotels. My mom’s house. The back of his compact car. We ran through the woods just to sweat next to each other. Way back then we were super pumped to be alive in each other’s heat.
Now we’re not so sure. Now, we’re opening a heavily creaking door. Now we’re stepping on a thin, faded Persian rug. Will it dissolve under our feet? We have no way of knowing. We are hopeful. It is date night. Our hands are clasped, reaching for each other. A skeletal African elephant marches with metal joints, greeting us. Jake is still waving the flyer like a man with a ticket for salvation:
Cheetahs! Eagles! Orangutans! Come on by!
If you’ve been itching to encounter great beasts of old…
Let us introduce you to...
Calliope’s Naked Animal Menagerie – the first collection of unclothed, animals anywhere in the world!
Reanimated with Science and Technology for your interactive entertainment!
Walk with walruses. Zigzag with zebras. Hob nob with hippos. Pass time with pandas. Lie around with lions. Fancy a tango with a toucan? Calliope’s is the place for you!
All of the fun and none of the danger! All of Calliope’s beasts are guaranteed tooth and claw free! Pet a grizzly without the troublesome worry of flea-infested fur!
At Calliope’s Naked Animal Menagerie we are bringing the animals back so you can enjoy them the way nature intended!
Ask about our group rates!
Open late for Valentines Day!
We follow the elephant from room to room. Monkey room. Bird room. Bear room. The animals have lost all fluidity of motion, clinking, and clanking around, jerkily. Roars, chuffs, squeals, and screeches are piped in through hidden speakers. Wolf room. A flooded room labeled Gator’s Grotto.
In the jungle room, eyeless sockets of a tiger stare through us as if we are the ones who are hollow. The gorilla’s jaw is perverted into a smile. It’s not so bad Jake says. He lifts our joined hands, kisses my fingers. We can still make this fun, I answer. But it is not true.
In the Outback room, the bones of a tiny koala cling to a plaster eucalyptus tree. His dreams have gone with his skin, with his heat, with his tiny black nose that would twitch when he was happy, his fuzzy little ears that would catch a breeze and wave with it. There is nothing for him here, not even the sharp barely sustaining leaves, but still he clings.
The elephant outside the door waits for us to catch up.
Caroljean Gavin's (she/her) work is forthcoming in Best Small Fictions 2021 and has appeared in places such as Milk Candy Review, Barrelhouse, and Pithead Chapel. She's the editor of What I Thought of Ain't Funny, an anthology of short fiction based on the jokes of Mitch Hedberg published by Malarkey Books. She's on Twitter @caroljeangavin