~This story originally appeared in The Kenyon Review (2009).
Will went with Linda to the animal shelter because he had a crush on her and thought that the trip would help her to see him in a good light. She called Sunday morning, told him she needed a favor, and he said he was free. A lie. He’d planned on going to yoga in the afternoon for his back pains. He met Linda a month ago at yoga, before she quit to join a more challenging class.
She picked him up and told him in the car that she’d put a hold on a dog yesterday. “Impulse shopping,” she said, and that she needed a neutral party.
Will felt absurdly hurt, but said, “I’m your man.”
The shelter was south of town, in an area that was undeveloped two years ago, when Will moved to
Colorado. Tract houses were there now, and people were
raking leaves and washing cars. He saw a
sign for Shaeffer’s Miniature Animals and Petting Zoo, and in a small field
beyond the houses, children were looking into an oval pen.
“They do something scientific to alter those animals,” Linda said. “It makes me sad.”
He saw a tiny goat and something prehistoric-looking, a shaggy thing, perhaps a yak, the size of a tricycle. Miniature horses, their manes glamorously long, pranced among other mini-animals, including a pint-sized pig. Children pitched lettuce at the animals, and a bossy, regular-sized goose honked, and nipped at the children’s ankles.
Will knew that he’d recall this moment and the constriction in his heart. The boy he’d been. That’s what did it. The boy who despised circuses and carnivals, and feared especially the clowns, back East, in the
Adirondacks. He was seven when he and his older brother
saw the carnival parade--caissons of animals in cages, clowns lobbing candy at
people, and at the very end, a skinny, dark woman in gypsy garb, riding an
elephant. Will’s brother Eddie swore
that the woman winked at him.