Adam and Brian stood side by side in the Bronx Zoo, watching the lion’s tail swish back and forth.
Adam looked at the black sky. He’d come to the most crucial part of his argument, and he didn’t want to screw it up. “Look at that lion. He’s behind bars. It’s a perversion.”
Brian made a noise. “At least he’s safe. He would thank us if he could.”
“I’d take real danger over fake security any day,” Adam said. “They’ve stripped him of his soul.”
Brian waved this point away. “They’ve taken him from the wild and –“
“And made him a slave!” Adam hissed. “And what did Aesop say about that? Better to starve free than be a fat slave.”
Brian shrugged. “You’re just being philosophical because we’ve fallen into the lion pit and we can’t get out.”
Adam and Brian looked at the exit sign with longing eyes. The lion kept both very excited eyes on the two men who, in the midst of a debate about Proust, had gotten physical and tumbled off the viewing platform.
Adam sometimes wondered – privately – if these debates were worth the trouble. Tonight was a good example. Two hours ago they were watching Animal Planet. Brian had insisted that lions were nocturnal, and Adam had responded with his most contemptuous laugh. They ended up sneaking into the zoo to resolve the issue.
They had come here to find the lion very much awake, and Adam felt betrayed. Come to think of it, that’s probably why he’d started talking about Proust.
Brian snapped his fingers. “I’ve know! We’ll make lots of noise. Lions are more afraid of us than we are of them.”
The lion yawned.
Adam sneered. “You’ve never read Origin of the Species? You’re talking about bees.” Adam had never read Darwin, but he knew that Brian hadn’t either. He didn’t believe that stuff about bees, anyway. Adam was most definitely afraid of bees.
“Play dead!” Brian exclaimed. “We’ll lie here until someone finds us. Lions don’t touch dead meat. You see, millennia of stalking the African plains have bred in these hunters… ”
“Bears,” Brian glared in the direction of the grizzly exhibit.
“Okay,” Brian said. “One of us sacrifices for the other one. One man runs for the exit, and the other stays behind and distracts the lion.”
“You got it,” Adam said. “Let’s ask each other riddles. Whoever gets stumped has to stay. Ready? A SCUBA diver is lying dead in the forest. What happened?”
The lion coughed.
“Are you kidding me?” Brian didn’t wait for an answer. After all, it was one of those rhetorical questions. “I hate those riddles. Like that one about a man lying naked next to half a match. Three guys were in a hot air balloon that was running out of steam. They threw their clothes over to lessen the weight, and when that wasn’t enough they drew matches to see who would jump. Who’s gonna figure that out? It makes no sense!”
The lion growled. It started to roll its shoulders.
“Okay,” Brian said. “We’ll both run for the exit.” His eyes said the rest. At least one of us gets out.
Adam held Brian’s gaze. He nodded.
Brian’s voice became somber. “Just one thing. I’m not a spiritual man, but…”
“You want to say a prayer.” Adam smiled. This was why, through all the debates, they had remained friends. They understood each other.
Brian smiled back. “After that I’ll count to three and we’ll run.” He closed his eyes and began to mutter scripture.
Adam bowed his head and closed his eyes. He heard Brian end a sentence with a preposition and reminded himself to mention it later. He was still smiling as Brian started to count. It would all be okay. He got ready to run.
“One,” he heard Brian intone. “Two…three!”
Chuck and David were sitting in a cafe. A newspaper sat by Chuck’s elbow. Neither man had noticed the story recounting the five year anniversary of an incident at the Bronx Zoo.
David shook his head. “Wrong. A helicopter scooped up ocean water to dump on the fire, when it yanked the diver out of the water and dropped him to his death over the forest. Get it?”
Chuck scoffed. “That makes no sense. I’ve got a better one. A man is lying dead in a lion pen with his shoelaces tied together. What happened?”