Animal ~ Veronica Hackethal
Mama says it was his thing. It was so big and dangley that all he could do was think about the burden of it, she says. That’s what made him leave.
One time Papa came back, though. Mama saw him from far away. He was flaring his ears wide and walking fast. His thing nearly touched the ground. I couldn’t help but look at it, though I tried not to. Mama herded me to the watering hole, away from what was about to happen. I feel sorry for that poor girl, Mama’s eyes said as they pointed toward a young cow, she doesn’t know what’s in store for her.
There were other calves at the watering hole. We splashed and blew water at each other through our trunks. Mama stood to the side, stolid, disapproving. I wished she would stop brooding and play in the water with the rest of us. But she was steadfast and constant. I’ll give her that.
When we returned, Papa had disappeared. The little cow stood munching leaves, as if nothing had happened. She was out of commission for two years after that, while the baby grew inside her. She had a girl, just like me, who stayed with the group. Unlike the boy calves who had to leave when they got old enough.
I wondered what it was like to be kicked out of the herd. I wondered what the males did without their mothers and aunts bossing them.
I saw Papa another time. Even when his thing wasn’t dangling for all the world to see, he was hard to miss. He was one of the biggest bulls around. I had wandered away from the group, near the road where the safaris stop so passengers can take pictures. A Land Rover drove up very fast. A man stood through the open roof, pointing a shotgun straight at me. Papa appeared from out of the trees, flared his ears, trumpeted, and charged at the vehicle. So full of rage. Like the gates of Hell had opened. Nothing and no one could hurt him right then. I ran and hid in the trees. Papa kept charging until the Land Rover turned tail and sped away.
Then he laid his ears down and looked in my direction. I’m not sure if he saw me, but I like to think he did. We didn’t make eye contact. Then he swung his trunk, turned around and headed to the watering hole. I think he knew I was his daughter, though the way Papa got around he would have needed a memory that was, well, as good as an elephant’s.
I can’t explain why the humans didn’t fire at Papa. Maybe they thought he’d do too much damage to their Land Rover before they could bring him down. I was small enough that one shot could have killed me, and I think Papa knew that.
I remember seeing Papa wandering on his own on the Savannah. What was it like to be welcomed back into the herd only when we needed new calves? What was it like to be Papa, to be so alone?
I saw Papa one last time when I was full grown. Mama and I went to the graveyard (yes, we do have them). The largest skull I’ve ever seen sat amid the jigsaw of ribs and femurs. A thick, hefty tusk lay next to it. The end of the tusk was jagged and v-shaped. Papa had a tusk like that. He broke it when he was fighting for Mama. She used to tell me the story. It was the only time she ever talked about Papa with pride. They were fighting for me, she would say, Papa was crazy. So much must dripped from his eyes that it made pools in the Savannah dust. He would have killed that other bull if his tusk hadn’t snapped off, I’m sure of that, Mama would boast. Even with a broken tusk, he was strong enough to win. Mama always told that story with soft eyes.
At the graveyard, Mama fondled the tusk with her foot. She sighed, her eyes wet with dew. I knew I wasn’t Mama’s only child. She’d had others, all boys. They’d all left the group, just like Papa. I was the only girl, the only one to stay with the herd. Sometimes the boys came back, and then I knew they also belonged to Papa. They had the same swagger, the same dangerous confidence, though none had Papa’s bulk. Not yet at least. So I knew Mama had chosen Papa each time she needed another baby. When Mama wept over his bones, that’s when I grew uncertain about this immensely wide, shifting world.
Veronica Hackethal's fiction, travel, and health articles have won numerous awards including silver and bronze in Travelers' Tales Solas awards; she is the recipient of a 2013 American Society of Journalists and Authors Early Career Scholarship.
Motel California ~ Jenny Harp
Katrina ran a clean motel or as clean as her guests would allow. But there was something odd about the guest who had arrived yesterday. She prided herself on being a good judge of character and there was something about the guy she just couldn't put her freshly manicured finger on. She had taken his crumpled, soggy money and watched him scurry nervously away. An eye would have to be kept on Mr. Nervous-Sweats-Too-Much in room 39.
She preferred the time when guests had paid in silver dollars and sighed as she carefully flattened the bills.
In the corner of her eye she saw Stella, a shifty girl who cleaned the rooms. Her? Clean? She was a dirty filthy sneak. But times were hard and Stella was willing to work for an abysmally poor sum. She seemed to have an aura of arrogance for all that. And if there was any gossip or scandal Stella knew all about it. That’s what made her want to retch because no one had ever beaten her at that game before!
Maybe it was time to interrogate her to find out if she could explain the blood curdling screams and torrent of guttural German expletives that had blasted from room 39.
Katrina was certain it was German because she had been born there. It had been wartime. She could not remember her mother because she had never known her. She had been born in a bomb shelter. The best and only thing her mother ever did for her had been to give her life by ejaculating her in an egg sac before succumbing to the bomb’s fumes.
Somehow she had made it to America by slithering into a man’s briefcase. Katrina was not too proud to admit that she took refuge by sleeping in his ear. Food was scarce and she was not above eating fresh earwax. The constant reverberating drum was annoying, but the warmth was worth it.
Somehow Katrina snapped back to the present. She must talk to Stella, loathsome creature that she was. Stella looked uncharacteristically frightened when she approached.
“Tell me about the guest in room 39.”
Stella shrugged, “What’s to tell. He is German and his name is Kafka. The best I can tell is that he is a lunatic.”
"How is he a lunatic?"The question hung like raw meat dripping.
“Well," continued Stella, “He claims he was a man two days ago and that he woke up on his back as a cockroach!”
That was absurd. Who wakes up on their back? And even if you did no self-respecting roach would ever admit to it. Maybe Stella was right. This guy was not right in the head. And how could he have been a man?
“Where is he now?”Katrina snapped.
“In his room howling, ‘metamorphosis’ and rocking to and fro! He hates this place and says it's decrepit!" Stella smirked.
Katrina vehemently shook her head. She ran a grand roach motel. Straining she caught the sound of lyrics in English wafting from room 39, ”You can check out any time you like but you can never leave!”
Writer Jenny Harp is a New Zealander grandmother who lives in the United States with her husband and loves God, life and family.