It was Lynette’s ninth year as director of the Franklin Park Zoo. She’d been trying for a baby for seven of those years, and trying to adopt for two. The social worker called last Thursday, and said by Monday she’d have a six-month old available. It was a foster-to-adoption situation; the mother was a drug addict. The baby already had a name. Her husband didn’t think they should change it.
Lynette planned to work a short day Monday. In the morning, she had a meeting with a guy who called himself the Playground Guru. The zoo was overpaying him to build a new structure behind the kangaroos. At noon, Lynette walked to the Safari Grill for a Big Gulp, served in a collectable cup. She usually asked for the zebra cup, but today she picked the cup topped with a plastic lion’s head.
The zoo was supposed to have two lions, but the male, Christopher, had killed the female last summer. It was during visiting hours, a media nightmare. Christopher broke the lioness’s neck, bit her at the scruff and shook her dead.
Be Christopher, her husband would whisper during sex. Her husband couldn’t come unless her hands or a rope or even just her nylons were tight around his neck. Sometimes she wondered if that was why she couldn’t get pregnant, if his sperm lacked oxygen.
Lynette was halfway through the cherry Big Gulp when her phone beeped with a text from her husband: The mother’s in a clinic. We can still foster?
She snapped the phone closed. This was the closest they’d been, but there had been other disappointments. Lynette told herself that she’d felt this way before. She dropped the collectible cup into the trash and walked towards the lion’s exhibit.
Christopher was lying on his electric rock, which was kept heated to 85 degrees. It was October, already too cold for a lion. Christopher was fifty pounds overweight, but they couldn’t cut his food or he’d get more aggressive. Fifty pounds doesn’t look like much on a lion. You could still see his ribs.
A little boy and his mother were the only people at the exhibit. The boy was licking the glass. The glass was two panels thick, bullet proof. Lynette waited for the mother to ask him to stop.
“I’m a snake,” the boy said.
“Is he happy?” the mother asked.
“Your son?” Lynette pointed. “He’s licking the glass.”
“The lion, zookeeper.”
“I’m in administration,” Lynette said. “Not a zookeeper.”
“So he’s happy,” the mother nodded. “He’s a happy lion.”
Lynette paused to look at Christopher. His lips curled in his sleep, showing his long yellow teeth.
“Lions sleep for twenty hours a day,” Lynette said. “But no. He’s not happy.”
The boy stopped licking the glass and started to cry.
I’m a snake, Lynette thought, but she apologized, handed the mother a fistful of Safari Grill coupons.