365 Days of Women Writers

Women writers only – no boys allowed

Day 26: At the Zoo by Caitlin Horrocks

with one comment

Family is a tough thing. I think most people, even those with quite good relationships with most family members, have those spaces where things rub, the sore spots that your family knows like no one else ever could.

Nominally, this is a story about a visit to a zoo between a slightly estranged mother, son, and grandfather. The grandfather likes to tell tall tales to his grandson:

“Elephant weasels love roast beef,” the grandfather says. “And key lime pie. And kid stew.”

His daughter takes a curiously vehement stance on this:

She grinds her teeth when her father speaks. Her whole life he has been telling these stories, and there was once a time she believed them. As a child she gave show-and-tell presentations on birds that turned out not to exist, on fictive countries whose names were sexual innuendo she was too young to understand. She was marked down, taken aside by concerned teachers. She still winces at those old humiliations, her own credulity. She has promised herself that her son will grow up on firmer footing.

And if Horrocks wanted to sew up that the narrator was a bit of a wet blanket, we learn she is a patent attorney (sorry patent attorneys, but that sounds so fiddly dull.)

But before we attach our affections on the Grandfather, Horrocks pulls us back:

It has occurred to his parents that the boy might turn out to be gay and that these are the early signs. He is who he is, they tell themselves, whoever that turns out to be. The boy’s grandfather finds this repellent.

Because we shouldn’t be picking sides–These are humans, good and bad, and there is so much family history that it’s nearly impossible to separate the present from the past and the grace of forgiveness comes around rarely:

Her father takes a tissue from a box in the backseat and hands it to the boy. The boy pushes the tissue against his face, gluing it to his mucus-covered lip in an effort to please. The grandfather touches his cratered cheek, checking the square white bandage. He looks up and meets his daughter’s eyes in the mirror. He is without a ready word, and his silence she is happy to interpret as love.

ps, there’s a time traveler.

pps, no, really!

Written by Chance

October 13, 2010 at 7:51 pm

One Response

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