The Sad Tale of Harrison and the Flamingo

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Harrison spent his afternoons sitting on a bench at the zoo by the flamingos. The stink of this particular place was something he’d decided to call muckwart: feces and the fungi reek of standing water. The flamingos were white and pink, some with dark black feathers in their tail, and their legs were like crazy straws that bent backwards as they squatted or puttered about. A dozen or so of them lived in the small enclosed space, with a swamp and some mud around the edges. There was a chest-high fence around them, and it seemed ridiculous, watching them, that they couldn’t just leap right over it and be free. But they couldn’t. They just plodded around in circles and pecked at the ground. Harrison enjoyed this fact immensely.

The kids would gather and run amok, their parents chasing them around, and then they’d get lifted up and away to another exhibit. Harrison was always glad when they left. He enjoyed being alone with just the flamingos.

“Hey, Juicy Fruit. Why don’t you get out of my sun, huh?”

It was the tallest flamingo, and it was directing its query at Harrison.

Harrison just sat there, his arms outstretched on the bench’s back, his hands dangling, his head at a contemplative angle. He looked up at the sky’s litter — the dull clouds of an overcast afternoon milling about, a speck of sun grimacing behind them, the whole thing like a murky urine-soaked rag — and he wondered about the dust that gathers on flower petals.

The flamingo barked, “Hey. You! Shit Lips! I’m talking to you.”

Harrison pretended to be lost in a reverie, staring skyward, tapping his feet to the tune of When Johnny Comes Marching Home. A few stray white feathers floated by on a soft gust of wind, and Harrison swiped at them with an absent-minded swipe. He was contemplating dinner at his favorite seafood restaurant, the one where he could sit at a table by the large plate-glass windows that filled with moonlight and watch pedestrians go by. It made his mouth corners lift to form a slight smile.

“Hello? Fuck nuts? Get the hell out of my sunshine, Dippy. Don’t make me come over there and do it myself. You will not like me on that side of the fence. I promise.”

The flamingo was now bobbing its way over towards where Harrison was sitting. It came to the fence, stopped, turned around a few times, shook its head, spread its wings and made some feeble attempts at flapping them, and then turned its head to gaze at what Harrison seemed to be gazing at in the sky.

“Um. Oh, well, sure is shitty out, huh?”

“Yep,” Harrison mumbled over a weak burp.

“What the hell’s hand basket are you looking at up there? Seriously. It’s just a bunch of fucking gray clouds, and…well, look at that, will you! There’s some sun up there, see?”

Harrison did see. He wondered how he could be in the way of it. The sun was immense, really. And it was so far above them, so obscenely far away. It was impossible that a little dot of a thing like him could get in its way. But then he thought, “What is above, really? Everything is just circles and more circles, concentric and curtailed, as it were; and we are all here just perpendicular to the sky, somehow. The relativity of distance and perspective, the beholder’s eye. It’s all a tossup. Who am I to say that the way I see what I see is the way what I see should be seen? There is no up or down that makes sense to everyone at once. Everything is just adjacent to near or far.”

The flamingo ruffled its feathers. “Gawk, gawk, gawk. You silly fucking nut job. That’s all you do. You come here and gawk the hell away at us going about our locked-up lives. And we just stand here like idiots, a gaggle of us…”

“A gaggle?”

“Oh, fuck. Whatever. A flamboyance, a flurry, a stand, a regiment. A fucking bunch of us, okay?”

“Okay.” Harrison cracked his neck a few times and yawned for effect.

“And what do we do? Nothing. We can’t do shit. We just stand around and nibble at the mud, take dumps in the water, have staring contests while waiting for the guy with the bird feed to come around and dole it out. It’s not the most exciting of lives to be living, let me tell you, Sissy Pants.”

“You got a mouth on you, don’t you?”

“Shit. If this beak could…oh, fuck you. I get it.”

Harrison laughed and mussed his own hair with both hands.

“Bet you’d rather I never piped up, huh? You’d like it if I just shut up and kept minding my own, like always. Putting up with all the savages who come here and rattle the fence and shoot spitballs at us. Fucking gawkers. Fucking savage gawking motherfuckers.”

Harrison stood up. “You know what?” Harrison wasn’t sure whom he was addressing. “You’re kind of a dick.”

The flamingo kicked its weird little rubber-like feet at the dirt, turned around, and wobbled its way back to the water. It dunked its head beneath the water and stayed like that.

Harrison kicked at the pebbles and dead leaves and food wrappers on the cement, turned around, and skipped off towards the zoo’s carousel. He had two dollars in his pocket — just enough for a ride.

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