It was my sister Anja who suggested the Erie Zoo. We were on the rocks so I took my girlfriend for a lunch date. I wanted it to be magical for us. Walking the open gravel paths a warm breeze playfully ruffled my hair. Sunlight dappled and winked through the trees as if saying, “We got this, Mike. Roxanne is going to love it.” I stuffed a few bills into the donation box and Roxanne kissed my forehead, murmuring a low thanks. I wanted to hold her hand but she was already walking toward the main building to see the animals behind glass.
“Do you think they’re happy?” she had asked me, watching the exhibit.
“Do you think wild animals are happy?” I asked her back. “To know they are wild?”
“No,” she had agreed, “happy isn’t the word.” Roxanne moved closer to the glass, counting the black and white ruffed lemurs perched in a tree. She had been asking me something and I had been looking at her hand, but I didn’t think to grab it then and later wished that I had. “Do you think they feel a pull? To be something else? To go… to go somewhere else?”
In that melancholy moment I realized my mistake. I was trying to cheer up Roxanne using trapped animals. Her loneliness enfolded her and she pressed her forehead to the glass as my Roxanne but something happened. You feel magic when you witness it, but only later does your brain allow you to accept it. When she moved her face away from the glass she came back as something else.
“Am I out?” she asked herself. She crouched down to tap on the glass, teasing a curious little black-faced lemur that had come up to inspect us. I can’t remember what I was doing, something stupid and helpless no doubt. At the time I still thought the woman in front of me was my girlfriend.
“Roxanne, is it?” she asked the orange-eyed lemur. “Watch out for the fat one. His stories are so boring and he just wants to get laid.” She stood up and stretched languidly, teetering a little and throwing her arms out for balance. She had been used to the weight and luxury of a tail. “Oh, wow! I’m enormous!” she laughed and then offered me her hand, “Come on, boyfriend! Show me around!”
She began calling herself Roxxy. I called Anja while Roxxy was taunting the gibbons, filling her mouth with popcorn and making gluttonous chewing noises.
“She’s amok,” I told Anja. “My girlfriend is a lemur and a lemur is my girlfriend. The zoo is closing soon and I don’t know what to do. I can’t leave her now, she’s already gone!”
“Handle the wild one. Take her home and I’ll come by as soon as possible, okay? Your Roxanne will be safe with the others.”
But Roxxy didn’t need my help. By the end of the week she was locking me out of her apartment and flirting with Anja. They dated briefly, but even my sister couldn’t contain a wild animal for long. Last I saw on Facebook, Roxxy was an acrobatic burlesque dancer. She seemed happy.
I changed jobs so that I could go to the zoo every day on my lunch break and visit Roxanne. I read to her the entire Harry Potter series, sitting on a bench while my girlfriend occasionally boxed with or groomed other lemurs. Anja came by as well and used an iPad to show the latest Game of Thrones episodes, pausing to explain the plot since Roxanne’s attention span was weak. We worried that one day Roxanne would be missing, or that she wouldn’t recognize us anymore.
One winter afternoon something worse happened. I noticed Roxanne interacting with a zoo patron and my heart broke with jealousy. He was sitting on my bench, bent over with his elbows on his knees and his hands clasped, talking to her. Handsome and groomed in a way I never was: trimmed beard, polished spectacles, fashionable scarf and tailored jeans. I watched them from a distance. When she put her little lemur paw to the glass, beckoning him toward her, I knew I had lost her. The man stood up and walked closer toward the glass, taking off his gloves. I turned to leave but stopped when I heard my name.
The man was kneeling by the exhibit and making calming noises to the jittery lemur.
“Gather your strength,” he said. “And then beat the shit out of the fat one. The tallest feeder will give you extra play time. Night is the best, and I will bring you music during the day.” Then he stood, losing his balance, and bracing himself against the glass. When he looked up at me I felt the magic again. It reverberated through me.
“Mike,” the man said, stepping cautiously toward me. “You stayed with me.”
I had thought I wanted things to go back to the way they were. But in the “before,” Roxanne had been trapped and I had been helpless. I found my Roxanne behind new brown eyes, a little taller than me. When she kissed me her beard was scratchy and ruffed, but I sensed Roxanne behind it. Embracing her, I knew that in my quiet way I had been her hero.
“I will always stay,” I promised her.
On weekends Roxanne and I go to the lemur exhibit to play music for our friend. We found the iPod on his desk, next to a goodbye letter and a gun. Roxanne sits on the floor between my knees and I comb my nails through her balding hair while she reads to me. A little black face with orange eyes watches us sometimes or just sleeps. I think the three of us are about as close to happy as wild animals can get.
Aubrey Scheffey is a Chicagoan and a traveler. She wrote her flash fiction with the help of some friends on a Midwest to New England road trip. Scheffey has studied Latin & Italian, and the title of this story is taken from Roman mythology. You can find her on Twitter @Aubariah or Aubrette at nanowrimo.org
Lemures is a 2016 Fiction War Fall Finalist entry. Please do not reproduce without permission from the author. Originally published at fictionwar.com. Image credit: @glenncarstenspeters