ZOO by Jeff Landon

Originally appeared in Elm Leaves Journal


We’re a family, but the only thing that binds us now is blood.  We are western lowland gorillas, displaced in the Virginia Beach zoo, but no complaints.  Our space is open and rich with what we need: water for bathing, trees to climb, and a cave to hide in when the world gets too large.  The food is great if you like roots and celery, and I sure do!

We have names: Cindy, Doogie, Zip, and Jude.  I am Jude.  Tourists call out to me, Hey Jude, don’t let me down.

In sign language, I tell them: I will kill you.

Our zoo is failing.  Last month, the prairie dogs were relocated a few miles up the road, to Norfolk, to the good zoo, the giraffe zoo.


Cindy is afraid of thunder.  I never hold her anymore except for times like these, when lightning crisscrosses overhead, and thunder rumbles and Cindy shakes in my arms.  I hold her.  I say, It’s just weather, Cindy Loo.  We loved each other once—that’s what I remember every time it thunders over Virginia Beach.  When it thunders, we sit under the arch of the cave with our arms looped around each other until the storm passes.


Sookie is our caretaker and, I believe, a genius.  She feeds us, brushes us, and delouses us.   Sookie has an advanced degree in zoology and another, lesser degree in child psychology from Old Dominion University.  Her thighs are wide and muscular, and she showers with a soap that smells like carrots. She’s a substantial woman, with excellent teeth.  When she hugs me, she puts all her body into it.  When she hugs me, I enfold her and she sinks into the pillowy heft of me and laughs and says, Jude, Jude, let go, but I never want to let go.


King Kong can lick my hairy balls!

No, no, deep breath, King Kong is just a cartoon, fictional.  Sookie has told me in times of stress and sadness I need to close my eyes and visualize something peaceful, a home, my home, my family.

But I don’t remember my home, so I imagine A Home.  A tree-filled living room, bathtubs filled with celery, a detachable roof so we can watch the starts at night, Sookie and I.  She wants me to work on my anger because her dissertation project depends upon my gentle disposition, but I rage.

At night, almost every night, I whiff my body for lingering scents of Sookie.  I hear the night shift workers—last week, their paychecks bounced.  A boy with a push broom stops working long enough to wave to me.  Hi Jude, he says.  Nice night.


Yes, yes, it’s true; we DO play with ourselves all the time.  We sure do like to toss our feces around.  Crazy Monkeys!  Sure, take a picture.  No, no, it’s fine.  Is this light OK?  Sure, sure, put it on You Tube!  Jude the masturbating Gorilla!

You’ve made your point.  Now, finish your sno-cone and pick up your moose hat and stroll on back to your Minivan, Jane Goodall.


Today, Sookie has a new partner, a man, a visiting zoologist from Durham named Chad.

Chad fills a notebook with doodles and sentences.  He takes pictures with his expensive-looking camera.  He mentions, casually, to Sookie, that he used to model.  Just like that: “I was a full-time model for five years, but animals are my passion.”  Barf, right?  And may I mention here that Chad the model is one hirsute motherfucker?  You could weave at least three wigs with hair shorn from his legs and arms.

Sookie doesn’t seem to notice.  She keeps touching Chad’s arm, and laughing at the blah-blah-dumbass coming out of his model mouth.  When she leaves our “living zone,” she forgets to hug me.  For a few minutes, I stand there, arms open.  In the fading distance, Chad talks to Sookie about oatmeal facials and his wide pores.


I dream about a home I don’t remember.  I’m homesick for the idea of a home.

This is our last summer in Virginia Beach.  Sookie was almost crying this morning, talking to Chad, leaning into his arms.  She said, It’s like the last day of summer, every day.  She hugged me, but it’s not the same anymore.  There’s nothing between us.

Now, it’s late.  I sleep on a bed of banana leaves.  Cindy sleeps with her arms curled around Doogie and Zip.  A waxy yellow moon dangles in a muddy sky, and in that light, I look at the sleeping faces of my family.  Soon, they will tear down this zoo.  They will plow down the trees and our cave.  Trucks will arrive with concrete galore.  We will ride in trucks to new places, new people.

I don’t want to go that way.

I lift the banana leaves from my bed.  They look like sails.  Imagine a kite, a kite made with banana leaves and vines.  In hurricane season, I could unfurl the kite and let the wind plump these sails.  Cindy takes my hand, and then Doogie’s hand, and Doogie attaches himself to little Zip.  The wind howls and trees bend and twist and break, but that same wind lifts us away from here and into a swirling sky, over the ocean, under the moon, back to the places we never knew.

Jeff Landon has published stories in Crazyhorse, Another Chicago Magazine, F(r)iction, Mississippi Review, Phoebe, New World Writing, FRiGG, Smokelong Quarterly, Wigleaf, and other places.  He also has published a flash fiction novel Emily Avenue (Fast Forward Press) and a short collection of flash fiction, Truck Dance (Matter Press).  He lives with his family in Richmond, Virginia, and teaches at John Tyler Community College, and possesses many bobbleheads.

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