Zookeepers

Fiction
Minh-Tam T. Le


Photo Credit: Dan Weisz/Flickr (CC-by-nc)

Kalisa straightened the black silk ribbon wrapped around her red straw boater. Pinching the wide-brim edge, she balanced it on her silver head and smiled as it found its usual landing. She waved at the director—a man young enough to be her son.

“We’re almost ready Mrs. Lomidzei. One minute,” said the director holding up an index finger.

She nodded and turned to fix Hubert’s bowtie—ocean blue with diagonal red stripes. Even in their seventies, she still wanted them to look splendid. After all, the animals were counting on them.

Hubert grinned at her through a suppressed yawn. He had stayed up late with their great-great grandson Leo working on a tropical rain forest diorama.

Staring out at the crew around them, Kalisa felt like a coral reef fish in a glass bowl. She was used to being in front of crowds, but this was different. The audiences would be invisible, tucked behind their screens.

“Let’s lock it up,” yelled someone.

“Pictures up,” said another.

“Rolling, rolling, rolling.”

A girl with a pixie haircut and crew uniform held up the clapperboard in front of the camera. “This is scene 1, A, take 1.”

Kalisa made a mental note to google some terms. Hot brick. Clapper loader. Strangely, that reminded Kalisa of the flappers. Her grandmother was a flapper. Always with a neat bob and an almost tangible Georgian accent. Although she didn’t touch alcohol after pancreatic cancer became a thing, Bebia hung onto the Slims until her last breath.

“Marker.” The pixie hair girl snapped the stick shut and moved swiftly from the camera’s view.

Kalisa smiled at the camera, despite the butterflies in her stomach. She leapt into her rehearsed intro. “Good morning animal lovers. I’m Kalisa Lomidzei.” After a few seconds of silence, she glanced at her husband, snoring loudly beside her in the velvet loveseat. Nudging him, he sat up straight as a board.

“And I’m Hubert Lomidzei.”

“We’re the zookeepers of Bonnie and Clyde.” They grinned as practiced in front of the bathroom mirror at least three dozen times.

Kalisa watched the subtle shift of the camera onto the two songbirds.

Hubert tugged at his bow and smiled. “We’ve been the proud zookeepers of the Grand Adventure Zoo for forty-three years and we can’t wait to see you during the next three Sundays.”

Together, they animated the discussion of their roles with Bonnie and Clyde singing and hopping from one shoulder to the next. They repeated it in segments another three times before the director was satisfied.

“Cut. That’s a wrap. Good job everyone,” said the director. He sprang from his black chair and shook their hands. “My children are fans of your bird shows.”

Kalisa sighed with relief as the air lost its tense vibrations like the exhale of a child after spotting a ruby-throated hummingbird over honeysuckles.

After the director left, she turned to Hubert. Kalisa’s eyes softened. He was already asleep. The birds were nestled in his silver waves. Well, more like silver strands. She missed those days, running her fingers through his wavy mahogany locks. They were once thick and soft like plumes of a young ostrich. Leaning down, she kissed his nose.

Hubert stirred and opened his eyes. Moonlight broke on his lips. “The show’s over already?” he murmured.

“Yes, darling. Let’s go home.” Instead of driving to their bungalow at 21 Privet Drive, Kalisa parked their Volkswagen van in front of the zoo. She grinned as sunlight burst from a flock of clouds onto the zoo’s entrance. They were blessed as the zookeepers, aka “badass guardians of Grand Adventure Zoo.” That was Leo’s name for them.

Hubert puffed out a burst of air between snores as if in agreement.

Kalisa leaned back, feeling the soft hum of their love and chuckling at the image of them in a squad with Jane Goodall and Steve Irwin.

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Minh-Tam Le is a primary care physician assistant in Winston-Salem, NC. Her most recent publications are in Brilliant Flash Fiction, Down in the Dirt, and Literary Juice. She won a place in the Writer’s Digest’s 87th and 82nd Annual Short Story Contest, Mainstream/Literary category. From 2012-2019, she served as a blogger and then a board member of Sparks Magazine, a student-run, mixed-media platform for the Asian and Pacific Islander American (APIA) community. Twitter: @takikoazn Email: tamle.nihon[at]gmail.com

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