“Sundays at the Zoo” by Steven Carr

With her white paper parasol with pink cherry blossoms printed on it raised it above her head, Cybill walked past the line of those standing at the ticket booth and pushed her way through the revolving metal bars and entered the zoo. Going past the swans sitting in the dark gray water of the pond she acknowledged them with a quick nod, and then did the same with the giraffes standing at the fence of their pen as she passed them, then did it again as she went by the rhinos in their paddock. She didn’t stop until she arrived at the bench facing gorilla island, where she sat down, holding the parasol high over her head.

It was only a few minutes after her arrival that Ernie stopped at the bench, and standing at the end of it, said, “That’s a fine parasol you have today Miss Cybill.”

In the shadow of the umbrella’s canopy Cybill tilted her head and glanced at him sideways. “How nice to see your engineer’s suit is so nicely pressed this week,” she said.

“I remembered what you said last week about how even a zoo train’s engineer needs to look professional,” he said.

“I said that three weeks ago,” she said turning her gaze back to the island.

“So you did,” he said. He turned his head the direction she was looking. “I see Clarence has come out of his cave.”

“Yes, he has,” she said.

“Wouldn’t you rather see the new aviary exhibit or the newborn panda?” he said.

“No thank you, Ernie,” she said. “Where I am suits me just fine.”

He looked at the gold watch on his wrist that he had been given for working at the zoo for twenty years. “I have to get to the station,” he said. “Will I see you next Sunday?”

“Nothing would keep me away,” she said.

As he walked away, she took a light pink lace handkerchief from a pocket in her bright floral summer dress and waved it daintily in the direction of the island.

On the other side of a deep ditch that encircled the island like a waterless moat, the silverback gorilla, Clarence, sat down on the edge of the concrete mound and picked up a piece of broken melon and put it to his lips.

“How are you today, Clarence?” Cybill called out.

Clarence shoved the melon into his mouth while keeping his dark eyes focused on her.

*

Holding above her head an umbrella with a bright red canopy covered with intricately woven red lace and with red fringe dangling from the rim of the canopy, Cybill passed the swans, giraffes and rhinos and was about to sit on the bench facing the gorilla island, when Ernie suddenly appeared.

“That’s a fine umbrella you’re carrying today, Miss Cybill,” he said.

“Thank you, Ernie,” she said. “Where’s your red engineer’s suit?”

“I’m not working today,” he said as he ran his hand down his crisp blue button down shirt. “I knew since it was Sunday that you would be here.”

“Indeed I am,” she said.

Ernie sat on the bench near enough to inhale the fragrance of her perfume. “That’s an unusual perfume you use Miss Cybill,” he said.

“It’s essence of banana oil,” she said.

“I thought I smelled bananas,” he said. He hesitated before saying, “I was wondering if you might consider letting me take you out to dinner sometime?”

Cybill shifted uncomfortably on the bench. “I’m not certain that will be possible,” she said.

As Cybill turned her attention to the island and after several moments of uncomfortable silence, Ernie stood up. “I have to leave, but I have to work next Sunday and I’ll see you then.”

“That’ll be fine,” she said.

Ernie walked away and Clarence came out of his cave. He lumbered to the edge of the ditch and sat down, glancing sideways at Cybill.

Cybill took an apple from the bag, and assuming a throwing position again, she pitched the apple toward the island with all of her might. The apple landed a few feet beyond him. He sauntered over to it, sat down and picked it up and put it to his nose and smelled it, then took a large bite.

Elated, Cybill sat on the bench and lifted the umbrella’s canopy above her head.

*

With a white lace parasol held over her head, Cybill stopped at the pond and watched a pair of swans gracefully glide across the water’s surface. She then went to the bench facing gorilla island, sat on the bench and twirled the parasol while enjoying the breeze scented with the earthy aromas of the zoo.

Ernie arrived a few minutes later. “You’re looking lovely today, Miss Cybill,” he said. “Your white dress and that parasol makes you look like you’re ready for a wedding.”

“Thank you, Ernie,” she said. “Your uniform is very becoming today.”

Without sitting down and holding his engineer’s hat in his hands, Ernie said, “Did you give some thought to letting me take you to dinner?”

“It was a very sweet offer, Ernie, but I’m afraid I’ll have to decline,” she said.

“Why?” he said.

“I’m in love with someone else,” she said.

“I didn’t realize there was someone else in your life. You should have told me,” he said, putting his hat on.

“I’m sorry,” she said.

“Have a nice Sunday,” he said huffily, then turned and walked away.

Clarence came out of his cave and swaggered to the edge of the island and sat down, his eyes focused on Cybill as he picked up a peach and bit into it.

Cybill stood up and rested the parasol’s tube on her shoulder and twirled it. With the canopy spinning behind her head, she yelled to Clarence, “I love you.”

Peach juice and pulp dribbled down his chin.

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