Foolish Creatures

Frank O’Connor

When the war was over and all the shelling stopped, Dan Barley set up a balloon animal zoo in a broken chemical factory. He displayed them on carefully labeled shelves: a fine translucent African elephant in blue, a red and green giraffe, infinite sausage dogs. He kept them tethered with string and fed them regular doses of helium from a baby bottle. Pins, knives and all other sharp objects were banned.

Children arrived, hesitant at first. They trailed in from disused cellars, rubbish dumps and sewers. They came from the burning remains of other people’s houses. They were dusty, heartbroken and frightened. Dan took requests: sheeps! moo moos! His elbows carved the air while he worked on the new ones. The children squealed and squeaked in imitation. ‘And he will never deflate’ he whispered as put the final knot into a shimmering gorilla named George.

One morning the children knocked against the corrugated sheeting and were answered with silence. They pushed into the zoo to find it ransacked, destroyed and empty. Dan’s pocket watch lay crushed under a boot print. Tiny cogs glittered in the dust. The children had been expecting this. They weren’t surprised. They just set about hunting for any remaining animals.

Everywhere was checked: the pipes and rusting vats, the machines, ovens and bathrooms. It was some time before anyone thought to look up. And there they all were, still alive. A mass of colors, floating against the grimy glass ceiling, trying to escape to the sky and freedom. Foolish creatures.

The children used scaffolding and intuition to coax the animals back down. They slipped them under tiny arms, held them tight in grubby fingers and squeezed them into plastic bags. They brought them home and looked after them forever.

Even when they got smaller and smaller.

Even when they wrinkled up and collapsed.

Even when nothing remained of the whole project but dreams and patches of rubber.

Frank‘s work has appeared in Flashquake, Pequin and Monkeybicycle, among other pages. E-mail: frank[at]

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