PROLOGUE: He Bought a Zoo
He traveled across America in the pickup truck he inherited with the intention to settle and buy a house. From Corpus Crispi, Texas through greater Austin and Norman, Oklahoma and suburban St. Louis and he followed the river up that splits the country to Chicago. Milwaukee. Back down again. The swamps of Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana. The Everglades. Returned to Rocky Mountains. The Alleghenies. Great Lake Country. This is a man who once set out to buy a home for his family. Instead he bought a zoo. Spent an inheritance. The collective wealth of every generation before him, the collective blood and sweat and labor of his ancestors and instead of ensuring the survival of his children, he bought a zoo.
This is a man who once had a family. Spent the inheritance of his forefathers. Disinherited son and daughter. Spent the wealth of the history of his family on animals. Bulldozed the condemned bughouse. Power-washed shit-covered birdcages. Painted over vandalized garden pathways. Restored order. Returned wild animals to captivity.
On the first day, he signed the deed. He drove the beat-up pickup truck down the gravel driveway toward the farmhouse. The dust in the wake of the truck an omen foreshadowing the end of every living thing. The little girl that delighted in the beauty of zoos. Of animals. In the feathers of peacocks. Wings folded in silent assurance of their beauty. The peacocks like the girl. The son in the pickup who looked his father in the eye across the gearshift. Who questioned his decision to buy a zoo. The father who watched the girl. The peacocks. Who didn’t say anything. The father who looked around his son.
On the second day, the father restored the elephant enclosure. Scrubbed the scum line of empty pools of bacteria. Recalibrated the reservoir from brown to green to blue. Restocked the giraffes, the zebras, the big cats out of Africa. Too late he realized the lack of space for so many creatures: lions and tigers and elephants. So he put the lions and tigers together.
On Wednesday he refilled the pool around the penguin’s roost. Penned-in the emu. The homes of flightless birds. He looked at the ostrich before him. The five-foot fence. He looked to the ostrich. He looked to the sky. Then he looked to his son. The sweat beaded on his forehead; the wood stake half-drove into the red baked earth; the sweat of his blood beyond his life.
Don’t go nowhere he said.
The next day the pet farm. The old barn repainted. The animals bought from farms, from carnivals, from slaughterhouses. The sheep quiet, compliant. The donkey digging into the horsebox, refusing to unload. The donkey braying.
Don’t say that he said. Don’t talk that way. You don’t know it but I’m the man who saved your life.
He bought great nets to blot out the sky. Parrot and macaw and ducks from foreign nations and every mating call and language spoken. The daughter crying, holding the boot of the man muzzled to her chest like some deadly weapon spent on destruction.
You hurt him daddy. She cried. The man concerned; then laughing: the killdeer, alive, wing feigned broken, practicing evolution become obsolete in the aviary.
On Saturday, the primates. Rendered speechless by the intelligence. Wondered silently how humanity overcome.
On Sunday, the man looked upon the zoo he recreated. The fruits of his labor. His pocketbook. It is good he said. It looks good doesn’t it? The daughter nodding, smiling. The son staring. Not saying anything.