Sunday, March 12, 2017

Howard Has a Second Cup and Takes the Day

Howard wondered how long the rhinoceros had been there. Had it come in the night? A cold drizzle began to fall, and he wondered if the animal felt the chill. Howard glanced at the clock on the coffeemaker. He knew he'd be late for work. He also knew nobody cared, himself least of all. His tardiness had become something, like weather or the price of gas, noted out of habit and not because there was anything to be done about it. He set his breakfast dishes in the sink, took three steps toward their bedroom and froze. He recovered the distance walking backwards until he was centered in front of the window above the kitchen sink. A rhino in one's yard, Howard thought, shouldn't go unsupervised. Separating the blinds farther to get a better view, he watched it shifting its tremendous weight. He considered calling out to the kids, or to Janet. But they were already gone. Out of the house on time, as usual.

Howard knew there wasn't a rhino-holding zoo for hundreds of miles, ruling out an escape scenario. He was also quite certain that rhinos were not native to northern California, ruling out everything else. The rhino raised its enormous gray head and stared in Howard's direction. For a moment, he hoped it would charge. He figured that the animal's tonnage could easily propel it through the wall and send him sprawled and broken into the next room. That, he thought, would be something. But before Howard could begin to contemplate the obituary that would run in the local paper, the rhino dropped its head and began to graze. Janet had been nagging him to mow the lawn. Now, perhaps, he wouldn't have to. As he watched the beast munching the overgrown grass, he thought about a recent conversation with his daughter. She was conducting interviews for a class project. When she asked him his favorite color he lied and said, blue. The lie pleased his daughter. Me, too! she said. Howard no longer had favorites. But when she asked him his favorite animal he said, without hesitating, rhino. Much to Howard's surprise, it was true. Rhinos are weird, Dad. Interview over.

Howard poured himself another cup of coffee and went out the sliding glass door onto the deck. He had neglected to close his robe, and the drizzle stung his bare legs. As he walked slowly toward the rhinoceros, he recalled seeing one in a zoo as a child. He remembered that something had excited the animal and it began loping around the enclosure. The ground shook with each hoof-fall. Howard grabbed onto his mother's leg but when she asked him if he wanted to go he shook his head, no. For a long time after, Howard could feel the animal's thumping strides in his small chest. All that summer, when no one was looking, he would jump and land as hard as he could, but nothing ever moved.

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