“Promise me… promise me you won’t tease me, Freddy.” Katie Lynn swept blue fingers in latex gloves through large waves of short, blonde hair. Like a black and white actress Freddy saw once in an old TV movie… That’s how Katie always did it, like she was being careful not to put her fingers through white fire.
“Did you hear it?”
Now, Katie shivered. She checked again to see if they were the only volunteers in the cricket room, then squeezed the top edge of the glass tank with her nervous fingers. Freddy leaned in to listen as she’d asked.
“Please don’t laugh at me, Freddy. You do hear them too right? I know that you do.”
Freddy just nodded when she was so upset. Though, he was unsure…
“So, now you know. I am their queen, like you said. That day, you remember?”
“I was kinda… joking. Cause you like doing crickets, so you were the cricket queen or something, I dunno.”
He exhaled slowly. “You sure that you hear them?”
Yes, Katiebeth was being dead serious.
“And do you know what they told me yesterday, Freddy? In three days, all the animals here, each specie in Amazonia… they are going to die. Extinction.”
“Okay, K.L. killer, maybe you’ve been hitting that one of your books too hard.”
“The fate of an animal in a zoo, is really to die! What else can they do?” Katie Lynn got up on one of the green stools.
She raised her fist in the air, high above the cricket tanks, the spider webs, the pancake little baby sting rays in the aquarium behind tall Freddy. They swam over each other then, in a delighted, ignorant frenzy.
“Ki-ra! Ki-ra! Ki-raaaah!” screamed Katie. “For our crickets!”
A week later, and a sorrowful Freddy just sat down on the stoop in front of his apartment building, rather than go inside.
“My girlfriend is crazy.”
His mother was already there, a few steps up. She was finishing a cigarette. “Boy, calm down…”
“I didn’t ask to calm down, I just want to know how to say it… Es loca? Esta loca? She didn’t start out crazy…”
“Crazy is something someone has, who they are, it’s more permanent, so… Es loca. I think that’s how you say it. So, that’s
why you want to write to your father. You sure you’re not the one who’s crazy, being so hard on this girl you just met?”
“Mom!” Freddy lowered his voice. Two little old ladies with shopping carts passed by. He was distracted a moment too, seeing that they had mango slices and hot sauce for sale.
His mother waved and sang out, “Buenos tardes, Señoras Morenos…” the women smiled brightly and waved eagerly back in turn a brief moment before they went.
“It’s why I never tell you anything, Mom. You always accuse me.”
“Boy, where are you going now? Sit your butt back down when we’re not finished talking. And… I’m sorry. I wasn’t trying to make you feel bad about anything, because you already look so upset. Are you just… so sure that your girlfriend—thanks for telling me you had one, by the way—is she really crazy? Or, maybe she’s just crazy about you? I did raise a very handsome, very smart young gentleman. Told you I would.”
“Freddy, tell her to calm down the next time she acts weird. Don’t just dump her if she’s a good girl, you know? She’s not an empty Coke can.”
“Why do you say it like that, I would never do that to Katie Lynn. Why do you always accuse me like that?”
Another askew, “…Sorry. And, so, she’s a white girl? Katie Lynn?”
“Does she live around here?”
“Over on Ingleside… on the other side of Mount Pleasant.”
“Oh. Okay.” Freddy’s mother drew a breath. “Just wanted to know. So, tell me what happened to you.”
Freddy gushed about Katie Lynn at first. His concerned mother gained a smile. She even patted his back a little, proud of him. But then, as Freddy began to explain about the crickets, how Katie crept around when no one was looking, then sneaked back suddenly and gave him “reports” about how the animals were all suffering…. And, she confessed to taking one of them home.
“I don’t think you should date this girl.”
“Mom! You just said she wasn’t a used soda can.”
“But you can’t help her with this kind of problem, Freddy.”
“She watched her father cut up their dog when she was little, okay? That’s what she told me once. He’s not living there anymore, but… well, he died. But her new dad is a lot nicer.”
Moenna snapped at her son calling her name like that. “Okay, alright… one last question, then I’ll tell you what I think you should do. What we should both do… Freddy, does this girl have… medicine that she’s supposed to take. I only ask because, it sounds like she was kinda normal before, and now she’s not. And before you suck your teeth, I used to. I used to have to take stuff to calm me down. It was a very long time ago, I hated taking it, but then went I went off of it, I’d act kind of funny.” Moenna had another drag of cigarette. “Or, maybe she smokes something… you know.”
“No, I don’t know, Mom. Katie doesn’t do drugs.”
“And you’re not smoking pot again, either, are you? Not with this girl?”
Rather than react this time, Freddy saw Josh’s stoic face in his mind. He didn’t know why he let himself see it just then, but it helped. “I’m Freddy Guzman.”
“That’s not an answer for your mother, Freddy.”
“Mom. I want to help my girlfriend. If they find out that she’s crazy, even taking animals, she’s going to get banned from Amazonia, and that would break her heart. She really loves the zoo. She really does, and she’s been through enough already. I know that I used to lie and stuff, but Katie Lynn says Amazonia is the only place where she feels safe.”
He went and sat next to his mother on the stairs. “I know I’ve lied and stuff before, but I stopped doing that. Look, I walk her home sometimes, and she’s just sad. She is so sad, and she is this really, really nice girl. She really is. I have to help Katie. Please, help me figure it out. I was gonna write to dad, but—you’re a girl, right?”
“You know, Freddy,” she smoked a moment, “I’m not sure what to do. I think I’m going to need help too. Alright, I know that I said you had to write to your father instead this summer, but let’s break the rule, okay?” she hugged him. “You’re going to college, you’re already a good enough writer, of course. Let’s go call him now.”
“You can just practice your Spanish with him over the phone.”
Entiendo bien como sientes, hijo. Y cuando trabajaba en el zoo, y, trabajando en Amazonia especialmente, algunos de mis amigos, amigos muy simpáticos, y muy inteligentes—encantaban el espacio, los animals… lo que sentía come el Eden que no existe en ninguno lugar de DC… y con estrés de la familia y vivendo en un país nuevo… Amazonia era lugar virgen, perfecta.
Algunos extrañan mucho a sus países, y el campo, el bosque. Amazonia, proablamento parecía semejante. Es diseñado bien, no? Has visto.
“Yeah, Amazonia is beautiful. It’s really beautiful, Papa.”
Moenna snapped at her son, and he apologized, repeating his answer in Spanish.
Después de horas de trabajar, el bosque me recuerdo de Guatemala, también. Es poderosa, la naturaleza… sentía más comodo viviendo en esta país, entre la infuencia de Amazonia, y como segura y hospitaliario sientía el barrio. Y aquí, me extraño a mucho de Mount Pleasant, es curioso.
“Well, cause we’re here, and you miss us too. I didn’t know Amazonia felt that way to you dad? So, it was just like Mount Pleasant…”
Tenía suposición que los gringos no lo pueden sentir… lo que pasa con Amazonia…
“Dad, it’s weird, too. One time, Katie and I were going to the break room to have lunch with the zookeepers, but she made us stop. There were these creepy homeless dudes, you know, in the room with the videos.
Ay, si, a los me recuerdo…
“She was like talking to them and stuff.”
To those weird street guys? And in Spanish?!
“Sí, es que… she knows some. She’s good. She’s better than me, Papa.”
Moenna began laughing with Freddy’s father, through the phone. Their son grinned through it.
Visitaban el cuarto los jueves. Se sienten en la mesa, y visten el video mismo, cada vez…
“Yeah, Katie Lynn was saying that, she was asking them about that. She really wanted to say hello to them and find out why they watched the video. And you know what, they said it’s hard, sometimes, walking through the exhibit. They didn’t want to bother people, but maybe they didn’t want to get in trouble or anything like that… so they just liked to watch the video and remember a sus hogares. Como… Colombia, Brazil… es lo que se recordía, el bosque de Amazonia.”
Bueno, muy bueno, Freddy. Hablas bien conmigo cuando estas hablando sobre esa chica…
Another charmed round of laughter from Freddy’s mother. “I noticed the same thing earlier, Eduardo.”
Ahorita, tenemos problema con el alma. Tu novia tiene una fiebre del espiritu—la necescita, de verdad, lo que constituta el bosque—su serenidad, y ser convincente con su trabajo. Ya es biológa, zoóloga, algo asi… es frustrada, no?
“And she doesn’t fit in with the other girls, I don’t think she really does. Es sola, Papa.”
Freddy listened his father suck his teeth over the phone, and then his father was angry, asking for his mother. “Pero, Papa, la no haga nada—”
Moenna took the phone. “Yes, Eduardo?”
Freddy’s father delved into faster Spanish then, once his mother started listening. She nodded to most of it. His mother could understand Spanish well enough, if not speak it. At the end, they all said goodbye. Freddy worried.
“What? Do I have to tell on Katie now, too? I won’t do it. You guys would always talk in secret, before I got in trouble.”
“No, Freddy.” Then, his mother smiled, “We’re all going to Don Juan’s soon. For Katie. It’s what your father wants. You, me, Katie Lynn and her family.”
Then, “Uh… I don’t know… if Katie’s parents are the kind of people who go to Don Juan’s?”
“Well, they will. You said this girl and her family live in Mount Pleasant, right?”
“Well, if they chose to live here, then they’re going to eat at Don Juan’s and they’re gonna like it. I mean, I bet they will. Some of the best pupusas I’ve ever had…” then, Moenna disappeared into the next room.
“Also, I want you to invite that zookeeper you’re always talking about. What’s his name?”
“Please don’t be Josh, please don’t be Josh…”
“Mom! Please, please, don’t!”
“Tsk.” She began to go through the cabinets, pushing pots and pans around to get dinner started. “Just make her put the crickets back before we invite him, and then you guys will be fine.”
“No, actually… Katie stole one of the poison dart frogs she found roaming free in the forest. A couple of those. And, a toad. And, one of the cardinals that got hurt injured that the zookeepers were looking for.”
“What? So, this girl stole the bird after it was already missing? Damn! She’s smart.”
1, Busdriver Marlin :: 2, The Quiet, Angry-Faced Girl :: 3, Love, After the Deer Apocalypse :: 4, Moises “Emperor Crush” Romero :: 5, Screaming in Spanish :: 6, His Hoodie :: 7, Amazonia :: 8, Behind the Waterfall :: 9, The Cricket Queen :: 10, Don Juan’s