The Zoo by Gabrielle Barnby

Mrs. Argyll had been adamant on one.

‘If it was me I’d take both,’ said Mrs. Forsyth.

Mrs. Argyll’s gaze swept towards the window. The sun was as brazen as the daffodils.

Two children’s tickets had been paid for, and the zoo had a new panda enclosure that she had not seen.

‘Very well. I’ll take the tickets.’

She left the office, folded away her receipt and went over to the two children sitting on the bench.

‘Ben and Lena, I’m here to take you on a day out.’

The girl swung her legs in excitement, a bubble of chatter rung out from her lips. The speech was rapid and her accent heavy.

‘Will we see tigers? I never seen tigers. What if they escaped? I never seen monkeys. I always love monkeys, and baby monkeys they’re so cute. Will there be baby monkeys? And spiders? I hate spiders…’

Mrs. Argyll barely caught a word, nodding and smiling was her choice of reply.

The boy moved his hand from scratching the back of his neck and tucked it into his pocket.

During the short drive along the Corstorphine Road, Mrs. Argyll tried to make conversation with both children equally. But Lena had the lions’ share of talking. She did not have necessity for regular breathing that most people had.

Ben was quiet.

The car journey set the tone for the day. Lena, sat or stood with shoulders back while her speech raced. Mrs Argyll pictured her chomping up words like a dog bolting its food.

Ben twiddled with this or that – his hair, a piece of greenery stuck between the railings or his belly. He rubbed his knees and patted out rhythms on items that made hollow sounds. Every bin received a tap-tappity-tap.

The children had been open mouthed to see real animals, and undisturbed by the cramped conditions of the cages. Mrs. Argyll wondered if they had done anything except watch television before.

When they returned, Mrs. Argyll’s feet were sore. She told the children to sit on the bench outside the agency door.

‘I hope you enjoyed your day out,’ she said.

They nodded.

For the first time, Lena became silent. Ben sat very still.

Mrs. Forsyth opened the door. She smiled and stood back for her client to enter and take a seat.

‘Welcome back, Mrs. Argyll. And what did you think?’

‘Neither really. But if I had no other option I’d take the boy.’

Gabrielle Barnby lives in Orkney and writes short stories, poetry and full length fiction. Her work has been included in numerous anthologies and magazines and she is twice winner of the George Mackay Brown Fellowship writing competition. Gabrielle has run creative writing workshops for many years, encouraging new writers and supporting creative discovery. She is Programme Leader for Wirdsmit, Orkney’s writing group for young people, and has a particular interest in writing for well-being. For more information about her work please visit

Koala arm reaching through bars

Photography by Elmira Gokoryan

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