Pity the Penguins – M.S. Gardner [Fiction]

Pity the Penguins

The time between dusk and dawn is the worst time for the penguins.  The zoo keeper puts them in silk pajamas, purple with yellow polka dots and the penguins scuffle around, ashamed, for the penguins know this was not how their lives were supposed to be and they’d curse their parents if they could only they don’t much remember their parents or perhaps their parents are gone or maybe suffered the a similar fate at a similar zoo but either way it seems as if there has always been the zoo keeper and this enclosure with the piss warm water and as they slump about in their silk pajamas, red with gray stripes, they wonder if they really remember the cold, or if they had never actually felt the icy Artic air, felt the bite of snow and sleet saturated winds, but instead it is just some ancestral residual memory and when the zoo keeper brings them milk and cookies, they wonder if they had ever actually tasted a fish before or if this too is a leftover memory, an instinct they have but can never really possess for themselves and these are the dreams that haunt them as they lay awake in their little bunk beds under the itchy drab olive green woolen blankets from dusk to dawn.


But this time the zoo keeper had gone too far.  Those poor penguins. The wooly socks and silk pajamas had been extreme, yes, ridiculous, and the boxer shorts had been humiliating and just a tad bit more than uncomfortable.  But today it began to dawn on the penguins that the zookeeper was not all right in the head. Cookies and milk and itchy woolen blankets on tiny bunk beds was a bit much and canned sardines and ale were also a bit much.

But today it was lederhosen.  The zoo keeper dashed in with his hat askew and his plain brown tie not pulled up all the way and in his arms were a dozen or more green and tan lederhosen, neatly hung on tiny hangers and the penguins did not resist, they did not know how to resist, as the zoo keeper scrunched their webbed feet into moss green wool socks and stiff brown boots and dark green velvet shorts over their nonexistent bottoms and the leather suspenders kept slipping down because the penguins had no shoulders to rest suspenders on, but the zoo keeper was oblivious to this and the penguins did not know anything about lederhosen and suspenders so it mattered little to them that the suspenders hung limply at their sides like the skins of dead snakes except the penguins knew about as much of snakes as they did of suspenders, which was nothing at all and as they shuffled along in their hard boots making black scuff marks on the white and blue painted floor of their enclosure, some of them tripped over the suspenders so often that they all just finally decided to stand still and they stared up into the stark robin egg blue sky and prayed for the polar bears to come and eat them.


The penguins hoped beyond hope that it would work.  They did not devise the plan themselves, indeed they had nothing to do with a plan at all.  It was either serendipity, dumb luck, chance, coincidence, or perhaps Divine Providence and the hope they felt was not tangible, nor well formed; they did not have the brain capacity for such thoughts, but rather it may have been they picked up an awareness, or noticed the tedious tedium routine, the routine that ruled their lives, formed their meaning and existence from the time they hatched in a hot house incubator without father or mother, was askew, or perhaps it was the wooly socks they were forced to wear for the past fortnight; itchy, prickly, poor quality woolen socks, knitted haphazardly by the zoo keeper in violent shades of puce, fuchsia, and bilious green, knit one, purl two, with absolutely no thought of gauge, their webbed feet folded and rolled upon themselves and unnaturally forced into the itchy, hot, nasty wooly socks in magenta and chartreuse and violet, the zoo keeper’s crazed knit two, purl one, increase one, knit two together, and the penguins would wonder, if they could ponder such things but they couldn’t, their minds numbed, erased, desensitized by the pale ice blue walls, but could they wonder, they would have wondered if the zoo keeper loved them too much, too violent a love which pressed too hard, too long, or if the zoo keeper loathed, detested them and, as such, were forced to endure the cruelty of nasty, hot, itchy wooly socks in colors of rust and orange and dead leaf green.

So when the plan, which wasn’t really a plan but rather a poetic twist of irony or perhaps an act of Divine Providence executing righteous judgment against such unnatural acts inflicted upon them, happened, the penguins were initially hesitant, unprepared to seize the miracle that fell before them like manna falling from the heavens in a rain of blessings.  The zoo keeper entered their enclosure dancing a flamenco, dressed in drag in an extravagant dress in red and black and layers upon layers of tulle, clenching a red rose by the stem in between his teeth, his lips painted a crimson red, his eyebrows plucked in thin arches, his fake eyelashes fluttering in time to the samba music only he could hear inside his head, and he carried brown paper shopping bags filled with miniature sombreros, tiny maracas, and little woolen ponchos woven in red and white and green and a piñata filled with chocolate kisses and small dried anchovies, and he minced across the enclosure, his shiny patent leather dancing shoes clicking along as the high heels tapped across the floor and it was then that he tripped, his braceleted arms and his fishnet hosed legs splayed out beneath him and his Spanish veil headpiece bounced off when his head hit the pale ice blue painted concrete and cracked open like an egg and his addled brains oozed out like a broken egg yolk, his blood spilling, pooling, seeping and running down into the piss warm water tingeing the water pink, his lipstick smeared across his face, and one of his false eyelashes fell off and the penguins weren’t sure which one of them started first, perhaps it was the one who pecked at the fallen eyelash mistaking it for a millipede or maybe it was the one who snatched at the golden hoop earrings the zoo keeper wore in his ear lobes, or maybe it was the one who gobbled the broken tooth that had flown out of the zoo keeper’s mouth when his head hit the concrete because it thought it was a fish egg, though none of the penguins had even eaten a fish egg before, but one of them was the first to taste the hot metallic twang of blood and soon all of the penguins scuffled over, their Birkenstocks sliding across the floor and their poorly knitted woolen socks sagging around their ankles if they had any ankles, and supped on the zoo keeper, the brains were soft, spongy, moist, and salty, his eyes gelatinous, the tender bits of face flesh so easy to peck and tear off in slender strips, and when he had fallen the piñata had broken, scattering the silver foiled chocolate kisses and dried anchovies across the floor of the enclosure, the anchovies landing in the pools of blood and soaking up the viscous fluids and re-hydrated until they became squishy and the penguins ate these as well and if the penguins could think such thoughts and speak to each other or use sign language or possess the ability to communicate telepathically or could scrawl out messages in sticky blood ink, the penguins would have all agreed that they had just eaten the finest, best, most marvelous meal they had ever eaten in their entire lives, though they did not possess the conception of time, of seconds, minutes, hours, days, months, or years, and once the penguins had eaten as much as their stomach could hold and there wasn’t much left of the zoo keeper that they could easily consume as they did not have fangs and claws like the polar bears had, the penguins all sat down and waited for the next thing to happen.

But nothing happened.  No one came. And the penguins died.


By M.S. Gardner


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