by John Wyatt
"A day like any other." thought Wilt Meyers as he wheeled his trash can and brooms out of the closet. He took a cloth and a can of polish and began shining the trash can. "My can." he thought with pride. "Been mine for twenty three years." He paid especial attention to the lettering which spelled out CITY ZOO in bold, block letters. He finished polishing and pushed the can outside. The zoo would open soon and he would be ready. He didn't really like his job, but it was honest labor, which was more than some people could claim. "Do them good-for-nothing welfare bums good to work like I do."
He sat down near the monkey cages to eat a quick snack. He had heard once that people were descended from monkeys. He envied the ones who remained monkeys. They didn't have to pay taxes or work all of their lives so that they could retire. The zoo opened and Wilt went to work.
"Never too many visitors this early," he thought, "but I'll be busy enough later on, so I might as well get started." He took a broom and prepared to clean up the inevitable candy bar wrappers and Coke cups.
"Filthy people." he thought. "Can't even clean up after themselves. Just throw their trash around for me to pick up. ‘Let someone else do it’ is their motto." He always grumbled while he worked. The other employees thought he hated his job, but if you asked him he would look at you in a funny way, like you were not very important, and say: “The job's okay. It's people I hate.” But no one took him seriously. They figured that it was just the old man in him feeling lonely.
Wilt worked his way over to the South American exhibit. Behind him he heard the monkeys start screaming and chattering. “Lousy people,” he thought, “always teasing the poor monkeys. Tormenting some weaker creature must make them feel mighty big.”
He grumbled through the exhibit, barking at the occasional child who got in his way. "Kids! They're worse than anything else! Always raisin' hell and bothering me.” He saw a young boy fling a half-eaten ice cream bar to the ground. He wanted to hit the boy with his broom, but remembered the one time he had hit a child. The child’s father nearly put him in the hospital before others pulled him off. Wilt kept silent, wheeled his can over to the spot, and cleaned up the mess.
The African sector was next. This was Wilt's favorite exhibit; all those exotic and beautiful animals never ceased to amaze him, especially the lion. He paused to gaze at Mabel, their lioness. Her grace and power filled him with euphoria. He had always identified with the lions and often dreamed about being a lion and having a mate like Mabel. He lingered around the cage daydreaming. “If only I were a lion! Then what couldn't I do! I'd show them whippersnappers! I'd show them all!” But what he would show them he wasn't quite certain.
He walked over to a recent pile of trash and started to sweep it up. He glanced towards Mabel and saw a small girl climbing over the rail. “Dumb kid.” He thought. “Too many of them.” He bent down to pick up a wrapper and heard a growl, closely followed by a scream. He dropped the wrapper into his trash can and continued sweeping. The growls continued, so Wilt casually turned to see what the commotion was all about.
He saw Mabel rolling about the cage, mauling some object. The object screamed and Wilt realized that this was the girl. “Stupid kid. Anybody that gets that close to a lion deserves to get et.” He continued cleaning up the trash.
A man started yelling for help and began throwing rocks at Mabel in an attempt to divert her attention away from the child. Mabel ignored the rocks and batted the girl around, not really certain what to do with her. Wilt saw the man throwing rocks and became quite angry.
“I'll teach him to hurt Mabel!” He advanced on the man, brandishing his broom. Just then two other groundskeepers arrived in response to the yells.
“GET A HOSE!” yelled one. The other ran off to fetch one. Wilt knew that they were going to turn the hose on Mabel and was now in a quandary as to whom he should vent his wrath upon, the man throwing rocks or the men coming with the hose.
He stood vacillating while the hose was rigged. A pistol bearing guard arrived just as the hose was turned on. The water pressure was not very great, but Mabel had lost interest in the girl and decided to retreat into a corner. The girl’s parents arrived, screaming and alternating pleas to God with threats at the zoo for allowing this to happen. Wilt just stood in the background, unable to understand how anyone could make such a fuss over a stupid brat.
The girl was unconscious, so one man cautiously climbed into the cage and picked her up. The guard was ready in case of trouble, not that his puny .38 could do much to a lion, but it was better than nothing.
Mabel glared at the new intruder and growled. Foolishly, the man decided to run. The sudden motion startled Mabel and she lunged. Six shots rang out and Mabel fell, bellowing in pain and rage. The keeper climbed out with the child, who was nearly dead. Crying hysterically, her parents ran to her.
Wilt was in a state of shock. “They shot Mabel.” was all he could think. Several employees pushed their way through the crowd of spectators. One saw Wilt standing there rigidly and went to him.
“You okay?” he inquired, but Wilt only mumbled something he could not understand. The man took Wilt's hand and led him to a bench. Wilt seemed oblivious to everything around him. “They shot Mabel.” was all he thought.
Several minutes later a veterinarian arrived to look at the lioness. He decided that the injuries were not serious and tranquilized her so that he could work on her. Wilt heard this and began to perk up. He heard someone say that the girl had been rushed to the hospital in critical condition. “Stupid kid.” he thought. “Deserved what she got. They shot Mabel.”
One employee pointed to Wilt and remarked to a friend “I never knew Wilt cared about kids. He always used to growl at them, but I guess the girl’s accident really got to him.” They walked off and the crowd slowly dispersed. Wilt resumed his work, which was quite large due to the many spectators which always accompany any disaster. A small boy ran up to him and roared like a lion. Wilt growled and brandished his broom. The boy screamed and fled. Wilt continued his rounds.
“They shot Mabel. They shot Mabel...”