As part of the A to Z Challenge, through the month of April I’ll be posting a story a day based on photographs by Joseph T. Richardson and prompts given to me by blog-friends.
Writing Prompt: Forever was shorter than she expected.
‘They had warned me, but much too late.’ Mrs. Wallace tossed grain to her flock of lovebirds, ‘I had already married him by then.’
The lovebirds flew all around her in the cage, a whirl of peach and green and teal feathers and beaks, they settled once in a while in her curled grey hair with their tiny claws, screeched and called and tittered in a frenzy. In that moment I saw her, black tees torn in places and jeans spattered with bird poop, laughing, throwing her hands in the air like a mad dervish in ecstasy.
‘He used to do this each morning,’ she smiled as she scattered another handful on the floor lined with feathers and straw, ‘Close the door behind you, or they’ll fly off.’
Outside the cage, a wall stared at me, lined with shelves heavy with rows of books and knicknacks. A goat skull sat on a pile of dusty books, next to a Mexican painted pitcher. A bottle of amber liquid, a floating scorpion inside, pincers lowered. Weird–shaped stones in plastic bowls. Some hair braided with beads.
‘All his stuff,’ Mrs. Wallace had caught me looking, ‘go click them if you want. Things from everywhere you know, antiques.’
Antiques, really? I looked up at the Arizona Ash looming over the building that contained the reception area and a few glass cases with sundry bugs and a smattering of posters. Once I finished up with the interview, I would find myself a pint of stout and some of that shade.
From somewhere inside the park, a lion roared, making me drop my phone. A long, drawn out call, and then a series of breathy grunts, at regular intervals. ‘Don’t worry, it’s just their lunch time, is all,’ she smiled at me once I’d picked up my phone, fumbling over my camera bag in the process. Never heard a lion roar outside of a TV set before.
‘I married Nick because he was handsome, and big, and kind,’ she answered the question I had asked her ten minutes ago, ‘I thought it would last forever. We began with chuckwallas and rattlers, you know, and some of these birds, a desert tortoise and one lame coyote. I love animals and so did he.’
Forever was shorter than she expected. Nick Wallace’s lions killed and half-ate him the year before last.
I had come here to cover the story of the park’s struggle to survive, against litigation, against public opinion. The lion had gone quiet, but the bird noise behind me hit a raucous, hysteric note. I wanted to clamp my hands on my ears, run.
I had to stay and ask her questions though, so I made myself turn towards her and smile. ‘I’ll wait outside.’
‘Head to the big cats,’ Mrs. Wallace did not look at me as she spoke, ‘ I’ll find you. Go on, my husband’s inside with them. You might get a few good shots.’
‘Husband?’ I froze at the door of the cage.
‘I kept Nick’s surname.’ She bent to refill her bowl of grain from a small sack. ‘This is my second husband, Kevin Brenner. He’s managed the money side of this place these last twelve years.’
I had held the door open, and a few of the birds now flitted out, their wings whirring above my head. I began to close it back, but she walked up to me and opened it all the way. I turned without a word, and took off to find the lion enclosure.
I looked back once, to find her still tossing grain, as one bird flew out, then another.
Are you taking part in the A to Z challenge? Do you read or write fiction? Ever write based on a prompt? Ever been in a Wildlife rescue centre with big cats?