Several weeks ago, a friend forwarded me a story contest announcement from Midtown Reader, our completely delightful local bookstore. The limit was 600 words, a short short story.
Many would enter; six would be chosen.
I entered. I was not chosen.
I’m not surprised, but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t sting a little. I used to write for a living, and I wasn’t terrible at it.
Anyway. Here’s the story I wrote.
“My glass is empty,” Violet whispered, peering at the underside of her champagne flute, “again.”
I grinned at her as the sweat finally coalesced on my spine and began to travel in rivulets towards my waist. It was 10:00 in the morning but already sweltering, in the way that only New Orleans swelters. Violet and I were seated outdoors, taking full advantage of bottomless mimosas and double breakfast meats, planning the second day of our first adult vacation.
The waiter appeared with refills. I squinted up at him. “If you were us, would you go on a paddlewheel boat ride or to the Zoo?”
“Oh, definitely the Zoo. It’s just up the streetcar line from here.”
“Zoo it is!” Violet raised her glass. “Can we get drinks to go?”
“Of course you can, chere.”
“Cheers to you, sir!”
* * *
Thirty minutes later, we wandered through the Zoo entrance after downing our alarmingly large traveling drinks. I was sweating in earnest now.
“What was that?” Violet tilted her head. “Did you hear that?”
I listened, but didn’t hear anything un…. There.
“What the heck was that?” I asked, looking around. It was a guttural, primal sound, and it pierced the din of the zoo crowd like a spear. By the looks on the faces around me, other people heard it too. There it is again. It sounded almost, but not quite, like…
“MOMMY IS THAT A LION?” A towheaded child whispered. “DID THE LION GET OUT OF ITS CAGE?”
Violet turned to me, her eyes and mouth perfect Os of surprise and delight, as the low bellowing roar once again snaked its way to our ears. “Do you think the lion got out? Is it menacing people right now? We have to find out! Let’s go!”
Violet and the kid managed to set off a whispering campaign that rippled through the sultry air. By the time the rumors had traveled 50 feet, there was definitely a lion loose in the zoo, it was hungry, and every sweaty tourist was on their way to find it.
Violet spotted something.
“Is that a bar? IN A ZOO?” She began giggling. “A bar and a lion? This is the best day of my life.”
Re-supplied with beer, we trailed the crowd in the direction of the noises, which seemed to be getting stronger and closer together, like contractions. I paused at a misting station, holding my beer out of the spray.
“What are you doing?” Violet asked.
“I figure if I cover myself in water, then I’m just wet, not sweaty. Right?”
“Yes? But come on! I think the lion is mad!”
“Should we maybe consider moving away from the noise that sounds like a threatened lion?”
“Uh…. Nope. Cheers!” We clinked plastic cups and strolled on.
We rounded a bend and saw the enclosure from which the strange sounds were emanating.
It was not the lion enclosure.
A mother, obviously upset, was hustling her small daughter away from the fence. She reached back to grab her husband, who was transfixed by whatever was going on in the pen. Several other parents were trying in vain to cover their children’s eyes.
I reached the fence and froze. It took me a moment to process what I was seeing, during which time the 600-pound Galapagos tortoise, with a final bellow, completed his sexual conquest of the female beneath him.
The ensuing silence was broken when Violet snorted, beer sloshing to the rim of her cup as she raised it high.
“CHEERS TO YOU, SIR!”