|Rowena's Page, Rowena Gets a Life.||Rowena's Life, Part 8|
Rowena decided it was time to revisit the zoo. She had no particular aim in this, and no excuses in the form of young cousins or neighbor children to amuse. She just went.
Anteaters and guinea fowl roamed at large; it seemed a pretty trusting arrangement, but the creatures always slipped behind the railings when approached. Rowena saw monkeys, zebras, elephants, a group of vivid but lazy sun bears. A hippo snoozed contentedly in its pool, its huge snout thrust through a tire, silly-looking but buoyant. A group of gazellelike creatures with very long necks stretched up to her from their dugout pen; had there been no other people around, Rowena might have ventured to pet them.
She stopped in front of a cage labeled “Lemurs.” The cage contained branches, wooden sleeping boxes, old tires on ropes—but no lemurs visible. Rowena looked and looked, but failed to find a single one.
She was about to move on when the cage broke into a series of wild, ungodly shrieks and screams. Something was angry; something was afraid; something thumped sporadically against the lemurs' wooden houses. More voices joined in, and the screams grew louder and more fierce until Rowena put her hands over her ears. She half expected to see fur and blood flying, but for some reason continued to see nothing at all, however hard she looked.
Somebody behind her was yelling something; Rowena took her hands from her ears and turned to find that quite a crowd had gathered.
“What is it?” the person yelled again.
“Lemurs,” Rowena shouted back. She noticed she was standing in front of their sign and stepped to one side.
“Where?” he asked, and, not waiting for an answer, “What happened?”
“No idea,” Rowena said. “Maybe someone stepped on somebody else's tail.”
The racket stopped about as suddenly as it had begun. The crowd began to dissipate, but Rowena hung around a bit longer, still hoping to catch a glimpse of a lemur or two.
And, presently, a lemur ambled out from behind the screen of branches and over to the water bowl.
“So that's it, is it?” He was still there. Rowena turned back to make some remark comparing lemurs to humans when the stranger started.
“I know you,” he said. He wrinkled his eyebrows at her, peering into her face.
“I really don't—” Rowena began, when he snapped his fingers.
“The coffee shop,” he said, and started grinning. “Just after Christmas. You're the one with the loopy family.”
“Oh, God,” said Rowena. She remembered him now.
“No reflection on you,” he said, with good-natured amusement. “Anyway, a nephew of Aunt Lula's can hardly throw stones.”
“Allow me to introduce myself.” He gave a little bow, then put out his hand. “Sammy,” he said. “At your service.”
“Rowena,” he repeated. “Pretty name. Your loopy relatives have good taste.”
“Actually, my mom wanted to name me Ashley Alexis and my dad wanted to name me Hortense Alberta.”
Sammy laughed. “But for once, good sense prevailed,” he said.
They strolled to the next cage, where a huge Bengal tiger favored them with a magnificent yawn. Sammy whistled under his breath.
“Reminds me of my cat,” he said.
“He's a pretty big cat,” said Sammy. “I wish I could yawn like that. I'm jealous.”
They moved on. “Tell me about your Aunt Lula,” suggested Rowena. The zoo, she realized, was really not the best place to go on your own.
“Aunt Lula,” Sammy told her, “is the county's foremost health-food nut. She spends hours lecturing us on our diets and explaining how she's going to outlive us all by decades because she's so fantastically healthy. Aunt Lula,” he continued, looking as though he were trying not to smile, “weighs three hundred twenty-eight pounds.”
“What really gets us is she's the only one in the family who's ever been anything more than slightly plump.” Sammy himself was almost wiry. “We don't even know how she does it.”
They went through the bird house, marveling at toucans, parrots, birds of paradise. And when they left the green leaves and iridescent feathers, the orchids and birds' calls, and stepped into the sun—
When they stepped into the sun, Sammy asked, “Do you have any money?”
“No,” said Rowena flatly.
“Good,” said Sammy. “Then I'll have to buy you lunch.” He looked at her quickly, then away. “That's a joke,” he said. “It's not meant to be offensive or anything.”
Rowena was not offended so much as confused. “Well,” she said, “I'm really not very hungry.”
“I am,” Sammy said. “I'm starved. But I'd like to keep talking to you. Would you mind? You can just have a lemonade or something; you can pay for it yourself if you want. I don't care.”
Rowena had a blueberry muffin with her lemonade, but Sammy ate two hot dogs and an order of fries. And even after the food was gone they sat and talked—talked about all sorts of things.
Rowena didn't realize how late it was getting until a zoo employee stopped at their table to tell them the zoo was about to close.
“Is it really?” Rowena asked, checking her watch.
“It's getting kind of dark, too,” Sammy said. “I'll walk you to your car.”
Her car seemed to amuse him. “I knew you'd have one of these bitty little jobbers,” he said. He peered around at the back bumper.
“Well,” said Rowena. Sammy came back around to her side of the car, stopped and leaned against it, watching her.
“Now, if this were a perfect universe,” he said, looking at her with a comic solemnity, “you would fall madly in love with me and come back to my place to spend the night.” He shook his head mournfully. “It isn't a perfect universe, is it?”
“Sorry,” said Rowena.
“I knew it,” Sammy sighed. “If it were, I wouldn't have agreed to have dinner with my mother tonight.”
“When is she expecting you?” Rowena asked. Sammy glanced at his watch.
“Half an hour ago.”
“Oh, well,” said Rowena.
“The conniptions begin in five minutes,” said Sammy. “It'll take me twenty to get there, so she should be nicely warmed up by the time I arrive.”
“I shouldn't keep you, then.”
Sammy started going through his pockets. Presently he came up with a small card, which he looked at and then turned over and placed against a nearby signpost.
“This isn't my card,” he said, “so don't call the number on the front unless you need a glazier.” He produced a pen and began to write. “No pressure or anything, but I'd really like to hear from you.” He handed her the card; Rowena read on it his name and phone number, and below that, “Unofficial Zoo Tours.”
Rowena smiled. “Well,” she said again. “Have a nice dinner.”
“Thank you.” He held out his hand. “Have a nice evening—a beautiful evening.”
He was still standing there when she pulled out. He saw her watching, and waved.
Rowena waved back, then turned her car towards the exit and started for home.
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