One Two Three Four Five

Prompt: Aimless

polar bears

It was, at first, not noticeable. Just some kids fooling around aimlessly. The Sunday sky was unseasonably blue and cloudless, and the zoo was packed with moms, dads, kids, aunts, uncles, lovers, loners, friends, the curious, the bored… The trees were in full leaf, casting dappled shade on the broad pathways and banks of purple iris. It was a perfect afternoon to amble, and look at baby howler monkeys, or zebras trying to mate, or a polar bear, in his white-painted concrete lair, pacing from one end of his raised enclosure, which was separated from the walk by a concrete moat, to the other, and then back again.

That’s what three young people did, right in front of the wire fence and stone railing, paced with their backs to the polar bear but in unison with him. One two three four five– pause– kick. Turn. One to three four five, kick. No pause when the bear was heading east; a pause only on the western pace.

One two three four five, kick. One two three four five, pause, kick. Over and over, back and forth.

An elderly man stood quietly beside them, and handed out two printed 81/2 x 11 sheets of paper stapled together, to people passing by. Some paused, and read the words on the paper, and looked at the polar bear, and at the three teenagers.

Then there were six young people, in a line. A little girl and her mother joined them. The original three moved to the front, making room for six more ghost pacers. Back and forth, silently, in neat lines.

One two three four five, pause, kick. One to three four five, kick. One two three four five, pause, kick. One two three four five, kick.

This Polar Bear, the paper read.

The polar bear, or ursus maritimus, is a mammal native to the Arctic ice sheets and the vast expanses of water that surround them. Their webbed paws make it so they are especially apt at swimming. Polar bears need to swim not only to satiate their carnivorous diet but to maintain a body mass necessary for survival in one of the coldest regions in the world.

Many well-meaning zoo patrons believe that captivity is the solution to the polar bears’ endangered status. Polar bears need their space and should not be kept in a confined area. Captivity revokes its natural instincts. They will never be able to migrate, hunt at night, or claim territorial rights. Captivity can turn out quite badly for the estimated 1,000 of them pacing on the hard, wet stone floor.

Polar bears are known to swim in excess of forty miles across the open sea. They are unable to do that in a small pool that spans less than forty yards. Polar bears are known as solitary creatures, and prefer to take long walks along ice sheets and snow drifts. They are unable to do that in captivity. They can only pace on the hard concrete floor.

In 1992, Bill Travers, the well-known English animal rights activist, coined the term zoochosis to describe the obsessive, repetitive behavior exhibited by animals held captive in zoos. Specifically, this animal-specific psychosis refers to a range of mental problems that are brought on by the stress of captivity and the inability to express natural behaviors. Symptoms of zoochosis include over grooming, neck arching, head swaying, and pacing.

The treatment of this polar bear is not moral, not ethical, and does not benefit the commonwealth.

There are many more animals that need to be saved. The panda bear. The dolphin. Not every animal can be saved but we need to do our best to give back to the animals their purpose. The purpose of the panda bear is to climb the foggy mountains of China, not a tree in a glass enclosure. The purpose of the dolphin is to swim in the vast expanses of the ocean, not in a small, enclosed tank for tourists in an amusement park. The purpose of the polar bear is to gallop along the frozen tundra, not to pace back and forth on the hard, wet stone floor while suffering in silence.

These animals have no voice. Join us. Be their voice. Call the humane society, call your representative, and visit our website.

There were twenty people now, pacing silently with the polar bear, and several hundred gathered around. Spontaneously, ten more people joined the lines, then ten more. Zoo officials stood nearby, talking into cell phones.

More people joined, and then the TV crew turned up. That encouraged more to join the silent protest. A hundred people paced.

One two three four five, pause, kick. One two three four five, kick. Again, and again.

People in the crowd held up their phones, videos were posted to the Internet, to Facebook, to YouTube, to Twitter. Two hundred people now, in silent unison, in sync with a silent pacing, polar bear.

One two three four five, pause, kick.

Once two three four five, kick.


Anita Day is Dead

Prompt: Locked

cats in zoo

Bernard picked the worst possible outing for him and his new grandson.

His grandson wasn’t “new” exactly; he was sixteen, but then Bernard hadn’t known he had a daughter, let alone a grandson, until two weeks ago.

DNA found him, and he was surprised to discover that his clumsy liaison with Anita, in the front seat of his vintage Ford, had produced a child. He wasn’t even sure, at the time, that they consummated the act.

The boy’s name was Andrew, and they were to be thrust together for a Saturday afternoon at the insistence of his daughter Emily, whom he’d talked to a few times on the telephone but never met. She had a nice soft voice, and was full of questions, and readily answered any of Bernard’s questions about their lives and about her mother. He learned that Anita Day was dead. Bernard felt sorry, in some little honeycomb of his heart, right next to the mild resentment that she hadn’t told him of his daughter, and his sense of nostalgia for something he’d never actually had a chance to experience.

Emily and Andrew turned up at Bernard’s house at 1:20 pm. He had cleaned it up, with the help of a neighbour, since things like the floor boards and the tops of cupboards and the frames of pictures hadn’t been cleaned in far too long. The floors were adequate, since Bernard had a Roomba that he won in a raffle. It just toodled around the house by itself most days, a companion that he started to feel kindly towards, when he’d had a few too many glasses of beer.

He made sure the cats stayed outside, in case one or both of his new family had a problem with cats. He hoped that wouldn’t be the case.

Emily was 39 years old, very stylish and fit, and fair of face, like her mother (as far as Bernard remembered) and her son. Andrew was a good foot taller than Bernard and bore the unshakeable glumness of a teenager, but was mostly cooperative when Emily told him to say hello to his granddad, shake his hand, and so on.

“I guess this is awkward,” Bernard said, when Emily had driven away.

“A bit,” said Andrew.

“Do you like cats?” asked Bernard.

They went to the backyard where four cats were sunning, running, digging in the garden, and sleeping. “They aren’t all mine,” Bernard said. “Just two of them, the tabby and the grey. The other two are just visiting.” The trees were full of birds, chirping, trilling, squawking. Bernard had never really noticed how noisy they were.

Andrew played with the cats for a bit, and they seemed to like him, which was good. Then Bernard said they could maybe go to the zoo for the afternoon.

“The zoo?” said Andrew, as if it was a foreign word.

“My grandfather took me there when I was a boy. I thought I would carry on the tradition,” said Bernard.

Bernard had been eight and a half years old, and was utterly enthralled with what he saw, and what his grandfather told him on that day. He told him that porcupines had 30,000 quills, that crocodiles can’t stick out their tongues, that flamingos had to turn their heads upside down to eat. Oh, and he also told Bernard that he and grandma were getting a divorce, but that’s another story for another time.

But this time, on this visit with his new sixteen year old grandson, Bernard felt a sense of deep dread and foreboding as soon as his taxi pulled into the parking lot.

They didn’t stay long. Bernard suggested a visit to White Spot instead, remembering the constant and voracious appetite of teenage boys.

It was a good day, a great day in so many ways. Meeting his daughter, his grandson, walking, talking, learning about one another. Noticing that Andrew had his great-grandmother’s eyes. Watching him scratch the back of his neck when he was nervous, just like Bernard. Eating burgers with special sauce with the same concentrated gusto.

Then there was the zoo. All those animals. Alone in bed that night, Bernard tried to summon up all the good memories of the day, but all he could think about was the brume of sorrow that enshrouded that place, the zoo. He would have to do something about it.