We are at the zoo on a late fall afternoon. The weather is cool but pleasant. We’re sitting at an outdoor table near the exit and I am trying to convince Jessica that it’s time to go. She disagrees. Jessica has been in charge of the itinerary for this trip, so we have ridden the tram and the train, the Sky Safari and the carousel. We haven’t seen much in the way of animals, and Jessica uses that as the crux of her position.
“We didn’t see the tiger. The tiger is your favorite,” she says.
I do like the tiger, all caged potential and prowling energy. You know he’s plotting how to get free and he’s just biding his time till then. I totally sympathize, and if I weren’t such an upstanding citizen, I’d find a way to liberate him. Then he’d rip my throat out. I get that.
“We’ve been here all day,” I say to Jessica. “The tiger will be here next time. Of course, he may make his move before then. Anyway, it’s the polar bear who’s my favorite and we already got to see him.”
The polar bear doesn’t seem inclined to rip out anyone’s throat. He gives off an everything’s cool, man vibe. Sometimes when the gawkers harsh his mellow he wanders off to his room in the back, but he’s not contemplating how to scale the fence. I like the polar bear but I do not understand him.
The sun is low in the western sky. The day is ending, but Jessica does not wish to take that cue. She says, “I am not ready to leave yet.”
I understand the feeling. There is something about a Sunday in late autumn that makes me sure I’m missing something, that a thing is ending and I’m not quite through with it yet. But it’s getting late and the zoo will be closing in a few minutes. I’ve already mentioned this to Jessica, but still she does not want to go. She doesn’t normally dig her heels in but when she does she is mulishly stubborn. You can tug and tug and she won’t go anywhere.
I pull another weapon out of my arsenal. “Five minutes,” I tell her, giving her notice that a transition will be taking place and she should get ready for it, just like all the parenting advice tells you to do. It works some of the time.
Today she ignores the warning. She’s looking at the river otters exhibit. The otters are running back and forth excitedly and she says, “Look, someone is bringing them dinner.”
“I do the same thing when people bring me dinner,” I say.
“No,” she says seriously. “You don’t run back and forth. You clap your hands.”
“True. But the spirit is the same.” I take my pocket watch out (in many ways I am my own grandpa), and Jessica tenses.
“I am not ready yet.”
“Well,” I say.
“You’re always telling me to say what I want,” she says, not looking at me. “And I want to stay.”
Damn, but she’s good at this.
“Well,” I say.
Just then there’s a sound like a trumpet, and for a moment we both look around, trying to find the chamber orchestra that’s tuning up.
“What is that?” Jessica asks.
Then I see it. “It’s a swan. A trumpeter swan,” I say, pointing at the exhibit next to the otters.
Jessica spots the swans floating gracefully in their small pond. “That’s the swan?”
“Yes,” I say.
It makes the sound again, a melancholy sound on a melancholy day. Jessica stares, fascinated.
“Why does he do that?”
“Probably for the usual reasons.”
“He is hungry, or he sees a friend, or he is bored.”
“Or maybe he just likes to make that sound.”
“Or maybe that,” I agree. Or maybe he calls because it’s a Sunday in late autumn, and he feels it, too, the sun low in the sky, the things left undone. We’re not finished yet.
“He has never done that before.”
“Not when we’ve been here, no,” I say.
She watches the swan, waiting for the call to come again.
“We saw black swans in England,” she says.
“Yes, in Leeds.”
“You had never seen a black swan before.”
“I didn’t actually know they existed until I was, like, forty.”
“The world is full of things you did not know about.”
She nods. “I am ready to go now.”
“Just waiting on the swan, huh?”
She takes my hand. “Do you remember where we parked?”
“We will come back soon.”
“We always do.”
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