Zoo Animals -- flash fiction by Tejal Doshi
Updated: Apr 29, 2021
I yank my shirt hem, unsticking it from my skin. Chewing my lower lip, I jog toward my parents, who stand under a tree with my sister, surrounded by chattering people and amateur photographers.
My mother’s narrowed eyes paste a grin on my face. I press my arms against my damp sides, feeling sweat and stink trickle down my armpits, my dead skin flakes. I look like I haven’t showered today. But I have. Twice. I popped under the water first for 2 minutes and 46 seconds, gritting my teeth while the droplets pinched me like tiny burning stones. When I stumbled out, nearly slipping, and began to shield myself with clothes, I caught sight of my body in the fogged mirror. For 6 minutes and 4 seconds, I stared, the way one stares at things that are horrifyingly fascinating, things like shiny cockroaches, things like blood-painted daggers. Then I panicked and jumped into the shower for 34 minutes and 19 seconds again. The rivulets of steaming water gripped me, stung my eyes while I spluttered, snaked around my throat like a gigantic kiss of crystallizing water, whispered to me of grips from the past —
I’m the reason we were late to the zoo.
I touch my ears, hoping they listen to the living things around us instead of my head. Thankfully, my little sister — (she isn’t sweating. She’s clean) — is loud enough. She bounces.
“A monkey! Look!”
I want to tell her we were monkeys once too, but she’d come back with “apes, actually.” And then she’d stare at me because I’m a hopeless idiot not to know such a simple thing, and everyone would shake their head, and strangers would laugh, and—
The monkey, pink like a tongue — (like a sandpapery tongue stuck down a throat) — and gray like a rug — (like the kind that is dumped in a place called nowhere) — sits on a tree, its furred tail swaying. It stares at us resentfully, licks its hand, then crawls away on a bending branch. I tie my eyes to the creature. I watch it like it’s TV. I stare.
And I am disgusting. I’m staring at a creature I find interesting to look at. What makes me different from them? Them who —
I turn away. I lower my eyes. I think about how hot the water will be in my shower when I get back home. I think about how I will bury myself with soap and morph into a clean gleaming body. A body.
And I will fail.
Tejal Doshi is a high school student whose work has been published or is forthcoming in Cathartic Youth Lit, The Peace Gong, Risen Zine, and elsewhere. She is a member of MIST (Mental Illness Support for Teens). She also makes brilliant jokes that, for some reason, nobody laughs at.