The Zookeeper’s Confession

You must understand, the ways of lions are complex. We meant no harm. When the lion—the original, true lion—began coughing, we gave him syrups and aspirins, but nothing helped. We paced and prayed. Yet, still he expired.
But what is a zoo without a lion? No one comes to the zoo for funerals.

We filled out forms, sent inquiries. A new lion was forthcoming. A lion we would cherish even more than the consumptive, unfix- able old lion. The new lion would be robust. It would inspire the love of children and be envied around the world. Oh, the big, new lion!

But until then there was the empty Africa-like square of cement, bordered by yellow grasses. We needed something to bridge our small gap of lionlessness.

The tiger keeper suggested a tuft of tawny hair stuck behind a rock, but how could we shift it throughout the day without being noticed? A lion, even lazy, roams.

And then the flamingo keeper passed around a picture of his dog.

A dog! Who would ever believe it? But this dog had golden hair and such a noble bearing. And we are so far from the lands of lions, who would know?

For seven days, our “lion” was a good lion. A kind of king. Until the child with the whistling lisp—like the flamingo keeper’s whistle— squealed (in wonder, in awe), and lion thought his master had come at last. He jumped up and let out the clearest bark. He can’t be blamed.

But I want to make one thing clear: the dog was always well- fed. He barked out of love, not hunger, as some have suggested. We cared for him like we would have a real lion. Better, even, perhaps.

This story was featured in issue 8.2. Pick up your copy today!

Chelsea Biondolillo’s prose has appeared or is forthcoming in Brevity, Passages North, Rappahannock Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Shenandoah, and others. She has an MFA from the University of Wyoming and is a 2014-15 O’Connor Fellow at Colgate University.