The Zoo

Zoe Hoffmann Kamrat

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Two pairs of eyes, locked. One bright, one dull. Four hands that will never touch. A clear divider between them, so invisible yet so solid. Two foggy disturbances on the glass where breath was collecting. Two separate hearts, one pulsating rhythm.

Amidst the chatter and footsteps, a small moment of silence in which the two synched, until a hand firmly grasped the boy’s shoulder, pulling him away from the enclosure and into a crowd, “Tommy, we’ll miss the feeding, let’s go!”

Tommy glanced back towards the glass as his father hustled him away to a another glass enclosure, engraved with the words Number Thirteen. But, the longing eyes he saw before were covered by a group of eager and excited children who were pointing and laughing. He turned away and followed his father.

They joined the crowd of people fighting to get closer to Number Thirteen. Tommy, being small, easily walked through the blur of white clothing and white skin, standing right up against the glass, pressing his nose against it so that he could feel the slight vibrations as the enclosure door was opened and a white man with white hair walked out. He climbed onto a white pedestal in his white clothing. He glanced at the white watch on his white wrist, and tapped it twice, then began to speak, his voice crescendoing until it rose above the happy chatter of the visitors and over the ticking that was the massive white clock mounted on the white wall.

“Welcome visitors,” his voice echoed and bounced off the clock and the walls and the windows of the enclosures, “I hope you have enjoyed your visit with us here at The Zoo so far. My name is Ben, and I am one of today’s feeders. As you know, we only exhibit public feedings twice a day. Photography is permitted. Thank you.”

With that, he slipped on his white gloves and white mask. Each enclosure was fitted with airtight windows and doors to prevent the toxic air from escaping.

Ben’s face disappeared inside the dark doorway, but reappeared on the other side of the glass. He dragged a white bucket behind him, which contained the food. His lips formed an ‘o,’ but the viewers couldn’t hear the whistle he produced in the soundproof enclosure. A thousand lights flashed and flickered as a thousand cameras captured the creature that was emerging from the dim light of the enclosure.

“The creature looked like Ben,” thought Tommy, “only it had very dark brown skin and very dark hair that curled like waves in contrast to Ben’s straight blond shock of hair.”

The creature walked to the bucket and knelt down. Its wrists were tied, and it dragged a large ball on a chain behind it, which made it limp across the enclosure floor. Ben picked up a long white stick, and, holding it out at a distance, poked the creature until it bent forward, sticking its whole head into the bucket.

Tommy reached his hand up and tapped on the window three times, but his gestures went unnoticed as the crowd suddenly shouted and pointed. The dark hallway on their left was illuminated, revealing an endless line of enclosures, each with a feeder like Ben, and a creature leaning over a white bucket with wrists tied, dragging a ball.

The viewers scattered down the hallway, their shouts and flashes bouncing off the glass. Tommy glanced towards the enclosure next to Ben’s, which was marked Number One, and saw a creature that looked very much like its feeder, only its hair was dark and wavy, and on top of its head sat a small blue cap, and Tommy could see a black string of numbers on its wrist. “Oh boy, a real life Jew,” a small boy shouted, looking into the enclosure, fascinated.

Tommy turned from Number Thirteen to follow the other visitors down the hallway. He passed Number Eight, who looked up at him from the white bucket. Its hair was also dark, and very fine. Tommy’s eyes met its almond shaped eyes only briefly before the feeder pierced its naked back with the white stick. It fell to the floor, shutting its eyes as it winced in pain. A father lifted up his son to see the creature, reading the word Asian off of a small white card.

Number Fourteen was two creatures tied together in an embrace, their wrists intertwined. When they bent into the bucket to eat, they stumbled over onto the floor, and were promptly beaten with the white stick. Their naked bodies trembled, and as they writhed on the floor, Tommy noticed a word carved into their pale skin, “Faggot.”

“Two of them. I wonder if the air is twice as toxic,” a man said to no one in particular, “I don’t know how these feeders do it every day.” A swarm of children passed by, their voices screeching in excitement.

Tommy ran down the endless hallway.

Number Nineteen looked up from its bucket. He noticed that its body was quite a different shape from the others, and the large crowd full of flashing lights read the label on the glass out loud, whispering and muttering the foreign word to themselves and their sons, “woman.”

Tommy kept running.

He ran so fast the numbers blurred together until all he saw were eyes.

Eyes searching.

Eyes longing.

Eyes pleading.

Eyes…

Suddenly he was thrown onto the ground and realized he had run into the cold wall.

The end of the hallway.

He took a few moments to catch his breath as the eyes spun around him. When he finally stood, he was facing one final sheet of glass, neatly labeled Number Nine. Tommy waited for the eyes in the glass to appear, but as he looked inside he realized this enclosure was different from the rest.

There were no eyes.

There was no creature.

It was… empty.

The door was slightly ajar, and there was a thin stream of fluorescent light that pierced the dark end of the hallway. Tommy felt himself move towards it. He opened the door and the light spilled out into the darkness, drowning it. Tommy stood, now fully inside the enclosure, staring out. The glass was so clear he wondered whether it actually existed. Looking down, he placed his small hands on the glass, feeling its cold strong solidness. When he finally looked up, his stare was met with another.

….

Two pairs of eyes, locked. One bright, one dull. Four hands that will never touch. A clear divider between them, so invisible yet so solid. A small boy, his mouth forming the silent word “dad.” He was met with a blinding flash of white light as the man on the other side snapped a picture with eyes that showed no recognition. The man stood, looking and pointing at the creature behind the glass. Number Nine: The Sympathizer.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that certain men are endowed by their Creator with  unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.