Let the games begin.

Hi Dad.

Pretty good. How are you?

That looks like a nice hunk of meat right there. Very juicy. The keepers really must have shelled out for that. Weather’s looking grand too, what with all those clouds. Should be some nice shady spots around two o’ clock. And wow, is your mane styled differently today? It’s flashier, combed neater. They must have given it a decent grooming today.

No, not that it normally doesn’t look good. I only meant…

Never mind. Geez. Forget I said anything. 

Look, I didn’t mean to interrupt you. I know it’s your feeding time. I’ve just had something on my mind for a while, and I’m kinda anxious to talk to you about it. Really need to get it off my chest.

Chest, belly, stomach, whatever. Not the point, Dad. I’m not worrying about semantics right now. Can you stop stuffing your face and just listen to me for a second?


I didn’t really know the right way to bring this up. Privacy isn’t really a concept here, what with the people circling and staring and taking pictures every minute of every day. Not that we ever seem to be in one place anymore. I mean, think about it: the cave renovations, the keeper cleanings, the new round of vaccinations, those jerkoff “educational” sessions they drag you to that the humans seem to like so much... Oh, and let’s not forget that sleep cycle crap you pulled last week.

You know what I’m talking about, Dad. You said that the reason we never get to hang out is because younger and older animals have different sleeping patterns? I got up six hours early just to make sure I could catch you awake, and when I asked if we could wrestle what did you say? You said you needed to take a second nap outside, and that I should go roll around in the mud with the other cubs—

Look, I’m not saying you don’t work hard! I know you have long days and you get tired. I wasn’t trying to imply that—

I’m not babbling! Just… just gimme a second. Please.

Okay. Right. Here goes.

I’ve been thinking long and hard about it, Dad, and I’ve made up my mind. I don’t want to live in a habitat anymore. I’m going back to the wild.

Stop laughing! Do I look like I’m joking here?

What do you mean, why? Dad, we live in a prison. It’s a nice-looking prison, but it’s a prison all the same. They feed us processed protein twice a day and hose us down with pressurized water. There are literally bars around the outside of our exhibit.

Yeah right, Dad. Go leap over that moat without falling twenty feet and breaking your legs, and then tell me again how free we are.

No, I don’t think I could either. What’s your point?

I don’t know, I’ll find another way! The keepers come in whenever they want, right? So they must be able to get out whenever they want, too.

They’re our jailers, Dad! How can it be wrong to—

When did I say I was going to attack a keeper? I only meant—

Oh, like your frigging morals are so much better than—

Shit, he was already losing. Maybe he needed to come at it from a different angle…

You don’t get it, Dad, you wouldn’t get it unless you were my age. Things are different now then they were ten years ago, look at all these people walking around with laptops and smartphones and iPads and Google Goggles—

Google Goggles, Google Glass, whatever the hell they’re called. We’re cats, Dad; we’re not even supposed to know technology stuff. That’s a primate thing. Stop changing the subject.

The point, Dad, is that you’re content. You’re contained. You don’t care about any of it. Not like me; my soul is out there in the savannah, roaming nature, chasing down herds of wildebeest and antelope and battling packs of hyenas and angry elephants. Yours is here, munching on an overfed pork chop and taking a piss on trees that don’t even look African. You’ve never dreamed of the wild.

So what if I haven’t been there? It’s a spiritual thing. You wouldn’t understand.

Of course I have! Their exhibit’s just two down from ours. Just because I’ve never hunted one before—

Oh, you don’t think I could? You’re so full of it. You’ve never supported me, not in anything. You know what? I’m gonna prove you wrong. I’m gonna show you what I can do, and then you’ll see, you’ll be sorry you ever doubted me, I don’t care if the keepers skin me and make me into a rug, I’m gonna show you—

Wow, okay, went a little too far there. Scratch, rewind, pause scene. Breathe in and out, nice and slow, focus on the stillness of the watering hole (if you could even call it that). Just make it about the animals. All about the animals.

Time for a different approach.

Look, I didn’t mean to interrupt you. I know it’s your feeding time. I’ve just had something on my mind for a while, and I’m kinda anxious to talk to you about it. Really need to get it off my chest.

Blah blah blah, Dad, screw the choice of synonyms. We did this part already. Just bear with me here and skip ahead a little bit.


I’ve been thinking long and hard about it, Dad, and I’ve made up my mind. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life basing it on your opinions. I’m joining the circus.

You’re not laughing. Why aren’t you laughing?

No, it’s not a joke! I just…you don’t think it’s weird? You’re not angry or upset or anything? You’re not gonna tell me I’m wasting my life, or that you’re disappointed in me, or that I need a real job for when I get out of the zoo, or that circus work isn’t very stable and doesn’t pay well, or…

You’re not worried about me at all?

Yeah, right. Like you would ever be okay with me jumping through flaming hoops and putting people’s heads in my mouth. Like you’re really, all of a sudden, just gonna accept this kind of thing. What’s your deal?

Well I didn’t know I wanted to then, but I know now, don’t I! One day can make a lot of difference. Anyway, stop sidetracking me, Dad. Why don’t you care that I’m basically throwing my life away—

Wait. That’s it. That’s it exactly. You don’t care. It doesn’t matter to you if I end up dead on the streets, begging for table scraps, or mounted on some psycho’s wall. You just want me out of your mane for good. I bet it doesn’t even matter if I do what you want, and follow in your frigging footsteps—oh come on, I know that’s what you want, Dad, that’s what you’ve always wanted, don’t try to deny it!

Don’t you give me that look! See now, that’s it, that’s it right there: that look that tells people what you’re really thinking, the one that tears them up inside. You never had to tell me what you wanted, Dad, because that one look says it all for you. Spells everything out, plain as day. Well I don’t care what you want! I need something more out of life, something besides lying on these stupid rocks all day while people point and laugh at how big my fangs are and how much weight I’m putting on—

I am not being ridiculous! Either I’m a success story for you to be wildly proud of, or I’m a washed-up burnout that you can use as a cautionary tale. Just so long as you have something to tell the world, right Dad?

Because I know you don’t care! You’ve never cared about me. You’ve never even seen me, not really. To you I’m just the same dumb little one-year old, the kid who can’t stop screwing up, who’s never going to make anything of himself, who just wants to finally do something that will make his Dad p—

Damn it! Damn it. Shut up, brain, shut up. This was pathetic; he couldn’t even carry on an argument in his own head. Maybe he should just cut his losses and move on over to the zebra pen (or something easier, like the goats in the petting zoo).

No. He could do this. He had to keep trying. For Pete’s sake, he’d tried it enough when it was with people instead of animals.

This was the only way he could win.

I’ve been thinking long and hard about it, Dad, and I’ve made up my mind. I don’t want to stay in your shadow, and I don’t care if you’re the oldest male in a fifteen-mile radius. Layla and I are getting hitched.

I know lions don’t technically get married, Dad. It’s just an expression. We’ve been talking for a while now and we’ve decided we’re in love. I know it’s sudden, but I just feel like I get her on this whole different level…and I know that you’ve probably gotten her on a similar level because we’re all animals here, let’s be frank, but I don’t care. I love her and I want to spend the rest of my life with her.

Dad, she’s my future now! That’s the whole point! How am I wasting my life by devoting it to her? To raising a family?

Oh, so just because I haven’t known her that long you think it’s meaningless? This is so like you, Dad, to just disregard what I’m saying and chalk it up to me being young and naïve. You might as well be penned up with the rhinos, you’re so frigging stubborn, with your “I’m always right, I know what’s best for you, listen to what I say, as long as you’re in this house you’ll abide by my rules—”

I’ve been thinking long and hard about it, Dad, and I’ve made up my mind. I want to finally tell you the truth, and I don’t care if it hurts to hear. I’m going to just come out and say it: Dad, I’m gay.

I am. I’m completely serious.

I don’t care whether you believe me or not. I don’t need your acceptance or your pity or whatever it is you think I’m asking for right now! This is just a truth you’re going to have to learn to live with, Dad.

So what you’ve never seen me with a guy? There’s a first time for everything. You going to make some dumb joke about me being a virgin now?

Well maybe I just haven’t found the right guy yet. How would you know? It’s not like you understand me, like you’ve ever paid attention to who I am or what I really want. You can’t even say “I love you” without me dragging it out of you, like I’m ripping your jagged teeth out of my own fucking mouth—

I’ve been talking to my friends, and I’m converting to Islam—

Liar, there he went, lying again—

I’ve decided I’m an atheist, and I don’t care if it pisses you off—

Yes he did, that was the whole point—

I know that you don’t want me—

He knew less than that, less than nothing— 

I don’t think our lives have meaning—

Begging for help, pleading to be noticed—

I’m sick of trying to set an example for them—

Proving how easy hypocrisy was—

I’m going to live at home for the rest of my life, or at least until you’re d—

That stupid lump in his throat, why wouldn’t it go away—

I think I’m depressed—

He wouldn’t want to hear about that, nobody would—

I hate you—

No he didn’t—

How could I ever hate you—

SHUT UP! Shut up, shut up, stop it, too close to the meaning, to the reason, to the truth, he couldn’t say it, not to the world and not to himself, no matter what kind of animal his father was, he couldn’t do it, couldn’t give him the satisfaction of hearing, of understanding, of knowing—

I want you to be proud of me.

Why can’t you just be proud of me?”

I want you to care about me. I want to talk to you about my life and know that you’re going to listen. I want you to ruffle my hair when I succeed and hug me when I fail. I want you to already be at the table, waiting for me to get home, and laugh when I tell you all the little tedious details that make up the days. I want you to take the weights off my shoulders: all the “it’s your faults” and the “you can do betters” and the “you’re not good enoughs” that you taught me how to make for myself. I want you to watch me treading water, out in the deep, and instead of pulling me back I want you to applaud as I swim to shore. I want to catch you beaming at me, so you have to hide your smile—but not too fast, just gentle enough that I can catch a glimpse of it at the end. I want you to take me off the shelf, the one you put me on years ago when I was shiny and new and brimming with praise and you didn’t count on all the dust I’d end up collecting. I want you to look at me with the eyes of a father loving his son. I want to know that you’re proud of me.

“Isn’t that enough?”


No answer. Not that he’d expected one, but…well, multiple personality disorder might have been a welcome relief at this point. Either way, he’d tried. He’d done his best, as un-therapeutic as his efforts might have been. Time to go. He could see Dad waiting.

The lion lying near the edge of the moat, the big guy, was sniffing the cub. He supposed he didn’t know whether the two were actually father and son. Hell, he didn’t even know whether the little one was male. He’d never taken a class in cat genitalia before.

The lion wasn’t paying attention to the cub anymore. It was looking right at him. He wasn’t next to anyone, so it had to be looking at him. It was standing off of the ground, legs slightly bent and paws curled around the rocks, as if poised to leap out of the prison and pounce on him. It was staring him down, unperturbed and unmoving, yellow pupils boring into him and past him and through him all at once. He felt fear, and discomfort, and a strange sense of familiarity as well. Its expression wasn’t softening at all—its eyes spoke of hunger, and anger too—but it was almost as if he could sense something behind the glare. Past the creature’s confusion, past his own insecurities and doubts, there was something connecting them. Maybe, on some level, a basic form of understanding?

Or the possibility, however slim it might be, of acceptance.

The lion blinked a few times and the moment was gone. It spun on its heel and padded gracefully off, undoubtedly heading towards one of the more expansive (and shady) trees. He considered a moment before turning and leaving as well. Back towards the world of regular conversations and normal animals. Back to his Dad.

He didn’t know why, but it felt like some of the weights on his shoulders were gone. He shrugged, and smiled to himself. Perhaps the two of them would have something to chat about after all.