The ever-curious Bernard Jones was traipsing through the Middlefield Zoo, beginning to sweat a bit under the lazy sun while his tour guide, a petite thirty-something with sandy blond hair tied up under a plastic pithy helmet, grew impatient.
“Correct me if I’m wrong,” he had said a moment ago, staring quizzically, suspiciously at the tasmanian devil exhibit, “But aren’t these the ones that turn into tornadoes when they get angry?”
Earlier, he had had similar questions about the pig they had seen (“Where is his bow tie?”) and the coyotes (“They often use dynamite to catch their prey, no?”), and yeah, the tour guide was thinking he was some kind of idiot, now.
Bernard could tell by the way she furrowed her brow at the sight of his raised hand, the way she seemed to condescend when speaking to him, and how she kept looking at the other tour goers and, gesturing in his direction, sneering, “ Get a load of this idiot.”
The group was on their way to the house cat exhibit–this was a pretty low budget zoo, mind you–and the woman’s professionalism was beginning to crack. She wasn’t thinking about providing “the unFURgettable experience” the Middleton Zoo’s pamphlet promised of the guided tour. Rather, a stream of questions was sloshing through her head, and she winced in anticipation of each one.
“Is it true that mice often hire dogs for protection against the common house cat?” he’d say; “Can you really play their whiskers like the strings on a violin?”; and, because the cat featured in the exhibit was a black one with a pronounced white stripe down its back, “Has this cat ever been sexually assaulted by a skunk?”
Her mind occupied by these potential annoyances, the woman failed to notice the artificial vine that ran dangerously across the walking path at ankle-level, and which had been there since she was hired. The woman had told the zoo caretaker, “Lazy” Bob, to take care of that a million times, but what with him being really lazy and all, he’d never gotten around to dealing with the vine and she’d learned to live with it. In fact by this point, stepping over the obstacle gingerly and warning her groups to do the same had become second nature.
But on this steamy summer day, her mind was on other things–cats being used as musical instruments, skunk rapists and so forth–and she fell. Hard. Without the benefit of the standard warning, the tour group followed suit, toppling over atop their guide like a set of camera-toting, flamingo-hat-wearing bowling pins.
All of them except for Bernard, who had wandered off from the group back at the aviary and remained there, peering into the enclosure and waiting for that chubby-cheeked canary to say something, anything.