By Edele Winnie
I am the most pathetic person in the history of the world. Sad, pathetic, heartbroken, foolish and really really stupid. I have given my heart away- fallen madly in love- with a three legged giraffe. His name is Alphonse and he lives at the Little Acorn Petting Zoo.
My name is Sheila. I am not a moron or a crazy animal rights person. I am a perfectly normal twenty eight year old woman. Kind of short, sort of skinny, with middle length brown hair that has been called mousey- which is really unfair. Mice come in different shades you know, and my hair is nicer than all of them. Yes, I don’t like mice. Who does?
I went to university for one course too many and my combined masters degree in archaeology and exercise science found me a job at the snack bar at the Little Acorn Petty Zoo. It was seasonal work because the place was closed in the winter and I told myself that it was just temporary but after the fourth year I was unsure about my future. Was this really what I wanted to do with my life?
I was already hooked you see, and didn’t even know it. Like I said, I’m no crazy animal person. I had a cat when I was a kid and it ran away and I don’t really blame it. My mom shouted a lot and my dad was really fat and I spent a lot of time alone in my room. I guess that’s where it all started. Me alone in my room feeling trapped like a freak in a zoo.
Alphonse was already at the Little Acorn Petty Zoo when I was hired to be the popcorn queen. I didn’t take much notice of him. He was a bit of freak even then for he was the one animal no one could pet. He hated humans, he hated other animals and he used to kick the shit out of anything nearby. Old fat Gus, the owner, had bought Alphonse somewhere and was going to breed him but no female would ever go near Alphonse’s crazy kicking legs. So he got fenced up in the Little Acorn and people looked at him and walked away to the goat petting station.
I used to stand there all day behind the popcorn machine right across from Alphonse’s tiny enclosure; both of us stuck standing in the hot summer sun. He stared at me and I stared at him. But I didn’t love him then. I didn’t love anyone, especially myself, and I was just trying to survive on the spiky delusions of being a sporty archaeologist finding treasure in the pyramids with cool lusty men in pith helmets. But there were no cool men and no jobs and so I ended up selling stale popcorn while staring at a cranky giraffe.
I guess a lot of planning had gone into it. I never heard about it but I guess a few of the employees at the Little Acorn knew. Trapper Bob, who did an animal show with skunks certainly knew, for Alphonse had kicked him once and broke his arm. I think Trapper Bob probably was there when it happened, maybe even held the knife. Maybe the idea came out of his demented stinky head. You see fat Gus couldn’t breed Alphonse because he kicked too much. So Gus cut off one of Alphonse’s front legs. The theory was that he wouldn’t be able to kick anymore because he’d need to keep one on the ground to support himself. But theories never quite work out, do they? Look at my experience- I was going to find Atlantis and be the most famous archaeologist ever. But all my Atlantis dreams sunk.
Alphonse, the great majestic really tall cranky crush-your-face-with-his-foot giraffe, lay on the ground and did not get up. The surgery was competently done and there was a nicely bandaged stump. But the giraffe just lay there, not eating, not going to the bathroom, just dying. He looked like some kind of deflated giraffe balloon. Flies started to buzz around him. Fat Gus towed him out behind the sheep barn where no one went because it was just too depressing.
For the first time in four years I didn’t have to stare at Alphonse from my popcorn stand. And you know what? I missed him. I felt like I had nothing to look at. Even though we’d had no contact except by eye, I felt like I somehow knew the tall guy. And as I tried to sell my popcorn to all of the popcorn hating people I could not get Alphonse out of my head.
He wasn’t going to die, was he? Snipping his leg off was cruel- maybe a little deserved- but still cruel. I didn’t blame the giraffe. I felt trapped and depressed and lashed out at anyone who came too close to me too.
After work I snuck off behind the sheep barn to check on Alphonse. He looked awful. He wasn’t moving, just the very slow rise and fall of his breathing. Flies were swarming all over him. His eye swivelled and looked at me.
“Yeah.” I said. “It’s me, the popcorn lady.”
He looked away again. There was some food and water nearby but neither one looked like they’d been touched. This giraffe was going to die.
Sometimes in life you make weird decisions for no justifiable reason. I had one of those moments. Me, a silly girl- now a 28 year old woman- who’d devoted her life to archaeology and sports management- which went nowhere- suddenly I felt just like Alphonse. A caged life with only loneliness and unhappiness waiting. I decided to make a stand and join Alphonse in the fight for his life.
I’d never been up close to him before and I was surprised at how spindly he looked now. He was really long. He didn’t smell particularly nice. I sat down beside his head so that he could see me. He blinked. I held out my hand for him to smell. I don’t believe he bothered. I touched his nose. It was dry and flakey.
“You want to die, don’t you?” I asked him. He didn’t reply.
I soaked my sweatshirt in the water bucket and carried it dripping over to him. I’d seen water carried that way in the movies but this giraffe was having none of it. I dripped it into his mouth but he just let it run right out. I didn’t bother trying with the food. I knew he wouldn’t take any.
So there I sat, beside a maimed suicidal giraffe as the sun set and the mosquitoes came out. I didn’t mean to stay all night. But I woke up with my head next to his. My waking disturbed him for he opened an eye but then closed it again. The sun was just coming up. The rooster over in the chicken yard was crowing.
“Well Alphonse.” I said, stroking his forehead. “I guess this is it. You’re either going to die here or resume some sort of miserable life as a three legged curiosity.” He didn’t respond. I don’t know how it started- I was just talking to him, trying to soothe him- I guess I ran out of things to say and started talking about myself, and my pathetic life. About the boy I’d loved in high school who wouldn’t take me to the prom, and about the grad student who cheated on me with a woman I thought was a friend. Both of us were alone and crippled with nothing waiting but unhappiness and loneliness.
I was crying and hugging him and I didn’t even notice that he was licking my hand. His tongue was so dry that I was getting friction burn. When the light bulb finally came on I soaked the shirt again and brought it to him. He sucked on it until it was dry and then I got him more and we didn’t look back.
He struggled the first time he tried to stand, missing his left front leg, but I was there for him and I pushed him and encouraged and he tottered and then he was up. It was incredible to see him stand again and take a few wobbly steps. I cried. He was so thin. But he hadn’t given up. He kept trying.
Fat Gus decided that people would come to see the recovering giraffe so he was brought back to his pen across from the popcorn wagon. I moved the wagon right up against his fence so I could reach up and scratch under his chin when he put his head down to me.
And then came the shattering.
Fat Gus obtained a female giraffe. He was going to breed them. Alphonse wouldn’t be able to kick her because he was missing his leg. Gus’ dream of a giraffe herd was just a few ejaculations away. In honour of my efforts in Alphonse’s recovery the new giraffe girl was renamed Sheila.
I suppose I should have been happy. Alphonse would mate and lead a semi-normal life. But I wasn’t happy. I was jealous. Extremely jealous. Alphonse and I loved each other. And they were trying to break us up.
When Sheila the giraffe was introduced into Alphonse’s small enclosure it was a big event. Fat Gus, Trapper Bob and all the icky staff were there. I hadn’t really realized how much I despised them. As they shouted ribald encouragement at Mr. Tall Three Legs I lost it. I started screaming. I threw popcorn, which is pretty much the most ineffectual thing a person can throw at another person. At first they laughed. Then they got really quiet. I guess my extremely red face screaming hysterically wasn’t as funny as they first thought. They tried to grab me, to calm me down, but I thrashed like a gator at an opera. Trapper Bob stepped forward. The arrogant git thought he could wrangle anything. The moment he restrained me with his hairy tanned arms the giraffe enclosure fence came crashing down. Furious Alphonse was among us at once, but he didn’t kick. Fat Gus’ evil surgery had cured that. Instead Alphonse brought his head down, mouth open, and clamped his jaws onto Trapper Bob’s head. A giraffe’s head is big and a human noggin fits completely inside the mouth. I could hear Bob’s muffled screaming. Alphonse lifted Bob up off the ground and stretched to his full height. Then the giraffe gave Bob’s body a good shake and the body fell away with a gush of blood. There was a loud clang as Alphonse spit Bob’s head into the nearest waste receptacle, a perfect three point shot.
Everything erupted then. Everyone was running and screaming. Alphonse was stumbling around on his three legs. Shelia the giraffe was running around too, kicking out at people and cages. She smashed the popcorn stand. She destroyed the pot bellied pig enclosure and fourteen angry squealers ran amok. The sheep and goats were already out. It was the most exciting day that the Little Acorn Petting Zoo had ever seen.
I wish I could say there was a happy ending. Or some kind of peace. But I am the most pathetic person in the history of the world. Sad, pathetic, heartbroken, foolish and really really stupid. I could have prevented so much. But I didn’t.
Of course the police were called in. The boys in blue were ecstatic to practice their hunting skills and they methodically shot every pig, sheep, goat and even Morris the really old pony. It was like they were saving the giraffes for last.
Giraffes are easy to keep track off. They’re so tall their heads are like flags that show you where the rest of them is. When they sniped Sheila, I fell down myself, screaming and crying onto the ground. She thrashed and moaned and Alphonse and I had to leave her behind. The police would come for her and finish her off. I didn’t want that happening to Alphonse. I made him lay down near the maintenance area. He would do that for me. Then I mixed a toxic cocktail of all the nasty cleaning supplies I could find. It looked like a mad scientist’s drink, all bubbly and frothy and smelling faintly of Spring Fresh.
I’m pretty sure he understood me.
“This is going to kill you.” I explained. “It’s going to be painful. But it’s better than being hunted and shot.” He licked my face. “You don’t have to drink this. We could take our chances.” He blinked at me. We understood each other. He didn’t think there was any chance at all and neither did I.
I cried while he drank it. He was still lying down. He closed his eyes then and put his head down. He shuddered a few times. His eyes opened once, to check on me. I was still watching him. And then he was gone.
I wailed. He was the only thing that I’d ever been close to. That I’d ever really loved. That ever really understood me. I could hear them coming, the police. They were still shooting things. I guess there was still a few dangerous ducks left. We really were the same, Alphonse and I. A caged life, with no hope for the future. I’d made two toxic cocktails- one in a bucket, the other in a glass. I took the drink and held it high in my hand, toasting my one true friend and love – and drank.