TINGE Magazine - http://www.tingemagazine.org

Issue 8

Zookeeper

 · Fiction

My daughter — when I die, you shall be the keeper of this zoo.

But Father, you are young and cannot die.

My daughter, I am sick and soon to die and the zoo is large; its contents are unknown; its borders defy understanding. Yet still you must learn to be its keeper. You must learn the name of each animal and if it has no name then you must learn to name each new animal. The naming must be a rejoicing. You must be ascending with the beast in its glorious particularity. In no other way can you name.

But Father, the zoo is dark at times and I cannot see my hand before my face. When you are gone, how will I be fed? Where will I sleep?

My daughter, if it is dark there will be a lantern and for sleep there will be a bed. The hours of the zoo’s keeper are long. It takes years to travel the length of the zoo even once, and the zoo is constantly growing. You must feed yourself from a pouch and live out in the weather, sometimes between the cages, sometimes in the cages.

But Father, I know no one but you. Since I was born I have only trailed after you, watching, catching crumbs from your hand and curling against your side in the night. I am no person of substance — I cannot keep even myself. How, then, could I keep a zoo?

My daughter, the zookeeper can have no self. The zookeeper is the needs of his animals. He travels the rows as if on wheels, caring for his beasts in a welter of affection so deep he must always drown in it. That is the work for which you have been readying. That is the work that has slain me — and it is the work which will one day slay you, too.

My daughter, this you must do. My daughter, these instructions: take my body and offer it at each cage, saying, Here is no one. I am no one offering the body of an old man as my body will one day be offered. Then the beasts will flock to you. Then they will love you.

My daughter, your life will be full of the song of birds, the grappling of paws and teeth, horns, feathers, scales…You shall go unharmed in their wild midst for you are not their captain but their servant and these are those who love a servant and often on your endless vigil they will pet you and stroke you and you shall learn that of all joys this alone is the joy of the zookeeper.


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