The peacock arches his neck with grace, opens his beak and lunges at the sandy zoo floor. Someone has dropped a whole ripe pear from their lunch. A girl wails and parents shuffle her away, and now the peacock will feast. The juices flow and are so sweet, better than he has tasted all season. When he finishes, his bright eyes blink. The other beasts are caged. They mock him from their bitter glass houses. Their meals are brought to them on platters. Their cages are warm but they are cages. The peacock and his beloved alone can wander free. The lion might howl power but she lies surrounded by a moat not for her protection. The peacock rules supreme.
Across the park now, the girl is dominating a conversation that her parents intend to have without her. Should they stay for dinner? Stop along the way? Buy a bag of chips and eat the leftovers in the fridge? She shouts her preferences and the two who control the car and the purse and the menu cannot think. They don’t always bend to her will. But it was such a long and lovely day. Why force it? For the sake of peace. For the sake of love. They will dine in the food court, and the girl will have an ice cream in the shape of a chimpanzee.
This scene is surrounded by blue vines. They snake the corners of the page, in and around the girl’s ankles and the peacock’s neck. There are thorns at the intersections, none yet close enough to bite. But they are growing, the vines, the girl, and the peacock, and soon there will not be enough space for all three. Which one will be struck first?
Here is the problem: the vines do not decide. They will continue to grow, so long as they have sun and water. They will grow and thorns will appear on the whims of chance.
The girl will feel them first. She will note the tension around her feet and know that she can no longer move. This will enrage and confuse her and she won’t be able say why. When she tries, her parents will sigh and share a look. “Even after the chimpanzee?” they will say, and the girl will wail because it is so unfair, because the vines have nothing at all to do with the chimpanzee.
The peacock feels it second but reacts quicker. Some instinct tells him of danger beyond a restriction of movement. He sees the thorns closer than they should be, and his breath catches, his throat tightens, his chest heaves. For a moment his wings twitch as if to fly, but when he lunges even slightly upward, the vines tug at his neck and he dare not go further. So he settles. He sits in the sand of the food court and waits.
Catherine Buck lives in Jersey City, New Jersey, with her partner, pets, and plants. She holds an MFA from Rutgers University Camden and was a member of Tin House YA in winter 2022. Her work has appeared in or is forthcoming from Rougarou Journal, FlashFlood, Cotton Xenomorph, and Vestal Review. In her free time, she attempts to bake bread and explore new places. You can find her on Twitter at @buckwriting.