The Zoo at Night

Roberta Avidor

Roberta Avidor

You’re not alone with your sleeplessness. The lion is roaring. There’s a peacock, too, though you didn’t recognize its call until Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom went to India. You’re not alone because a distant siren cues the timber wolves, all of them except the shy ebony outsider, the only one who doesn’t fight over the salami your brother tosses into the Wolf Woods. Surely, you think, there are other middle- schoolers lying awake, feeling trapped between truancy and the big test in the morning. Your mother worries that you are smoking drugs, but when you skip school you go to the zoo. You bring a notebook so adults think you are doing an assignment. The siren is long gone, but the wolves keep singing so lovely and sad.

When you live next to the zoo every so often a guinea fowl will strut down the street until a neighbor man catches it in a laundry basket to return it. There were frequent rumors of monkey sightings in the trees on the golf course. Remember when Casey the gorilla climbed out of the Primate Pit? The children and teachers on the field trip scattered into the buildings, where he walked up to stare at them through the glass. When the zookeeper shot him with a sleeping dart he turned and walked back to his faux jungle, climbed in, and fell asleep.

It’s a comfort in the dark to think of everything nocturnal next door. Lemurs and foxes, hedgehogs and bush babies. There is plenty going on, even at this hour. Really you are too young to know the word insomnia. Better to imagine you were born nocturnal so that it’s natural to be studying algebra by flashlight. Better yet to plan tomor- row’s trip to the Zoo Conservatory and the misty warmth of the rain forest where the tiny yellow birds sing at the tops of the palm trees and everything is so awake.

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