Excerpt from The Perfect Stranger, Chapter 15.
By Gregory SETH Harris
Doubling back & crossing thru an AGGRAVATED ASSAULT-FREE ZONE, Pearl led S- to a saw-toothed metallic structure, its windows glazed & shaded, its steel frame spiked w/ barbed wire & decorative smiley faces. Arranged in a circular maze of halls, dimly lit latticed rooms, stairwells & terraces, the MUNICIPAL ZOO claimed to offer an educational trek thru recorded time. Visitors were encouraged to begin w/ the Prenatal Period, then follow humane evolution thru the Pavilion of Prehysteric Times & so on.
Entering the first exhibit, S- stared transfixed @ a toothless man & an equally toothless woman displayed inside a crude cave. The couple moved slowly, bent over, their faces disfigured by what a nearby placard explained was old age & the ravages of life’s daily struggles. They dressed in loose-fitting fur, both hunched over a mock fireplace. One blew on the artificial fire while the other bowed to a stone altar around which lay scattered bones & the skulls of small animals.
In an adjacent display, Pearl gawked @ a similar scene, tho the cave was now the inside of a thatched-roof hut. Next they came to a house of mud, then one of stucco, followed by one of wood & finally of drywall w/ elaborate wainscoting. With each period, the human specimans acquired more teeth & stood straighter, their clothes less rough & ultimately synthetic. The fireplaces also grew less crude while the altars remained pretty much the same—save that the skulls were now of small children.
“We have to go in there,” Pearl pointed, insisting on skipping the bronzed, ironed & steel ages to go straight to the ATRIUM OF THE BIRD-BRAINED.
S- complied, pausing momentarily to read the sign above the entrance:
ALL SPECIMANS DISPLAYED WITHIN
VANISHED DURING THE “MIDDLE” PERIOD OF HUMAN HISTORY
(which transpired circa three weeks ago)
PLEASE WATCH YOUR STEP
as specimans within will be watching yours
S- entered apprehensively, he & Pearl warned by an attendant not to get too near the specimans as the zoo assumed no responsibility for lost or damaged gallbladders. While Pearl rushed thru the exhibit, S- strolled casually, taking ample time to read the eye-catching, informative plaques. He became particularly methodical when he entered the exhibit’s North American wing. He stared long & hard @ a chisel-chinned, immaculately dressed speciman pacing its cubicle, peering back @ him thru hard, devouring, watery blue eyes. S- bent low to read the corresponding placard.
After staring intensely @ the glowering speciman which seemed fond of displaying its middle fingers, S- moved to the next speciman.
At the next display, S- gawked @ a tight-knit family whispering among themselves as the children pointed accusing fingers @ him. As the young boy showed S- his tongue, the girl hid sheepishly behind her mother’s dress. S- stepped closer to read the corresponding plaque.
S- continued to gawk @ the complacent family, the mother wrapped in soft mink, the father hunkered over a game board, the children competing for their parents’ attention, resorting to smacking each other should all else fail.