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  • Avery Reed

Teeth and Zoology: A Fable

By Avery Reed

Illustration by Betel Tadesse

Auburn, New York, 2022

It’s Sunday afternoon and you’re knitting again. The oxygen machine whirs and you swat the air as a fly passes. You remember how to knit but you don’t remember much else these days. Your fingers know the stitches but when I ask you to hold my hand you look confused, as if this steps out of bounds somehow, or you can’t remember the significance of this gesture.

It’s Sunday afternoon and I’m reading a book about another, more complete, love story. 

New York City, 1963

When you found me, I was called Rayan, but ever since, I’ve been Ray. It must have been nearly one in the morning in a dark club in downtown Manhattan. I lay there on the floor covered in thick wet dance, when your stiletto pinched my finger between the concrete and my eyes stung for a second until they met yours. You smiled your apology. I saw your teeth and knew I would need a new name, as if my old identity was perhaps too lazy to entertain such extraordinary company.

The Rabbit & The Swan

The rabbit meets the swan on the edge of the pond. They are both late, but elegant nonetheless. They exchange niceties as old friends and embrace with the ferocity of lovers. They fly together—the rabbit perched lightly on the swan’s left wing. One long leap into the ether where they’re ensnared in a swamp of stars, as if trespassing on their own love story.

Moral: Love looks better in the moonlight.

New York City, 1963

I didn’t see you again until two weeks later on the night shift at the zoo. You worked the Birds of Prey and I cleaned the cages in the Himalayan Highlands. That night, my foxes were sick so I asked the walkie talkies if anyone had extra pine or cedar shavings. You said your birds had some to spare. Then you picked me up. 

“No way! Ray, right?” 

We walked the length of the zoo, up through World of Reptiles, down Tiger Mountain, up and over Congo Gorilla Forest, and back to the Himalayan Highlands. The animals paced, their tongues lashing. 

We lay down in the cedar shavings and laughed until morning.

The Parrot & The Eagle

A parrot and an eagle walk into a bar with first date nerves. They chat for hours. He mimics other lovers and she makes jokes. He can only respond off topic (the man next to him is a contractor of sorts and is conversing about wood and other physical materials). She thinks this is hilarious and takes him to bed. In the morning, it is just the two of them. There is no conversation to copy. He is silent. She plucks her feathers absentmindedly and asks him, politely, to leave. 

Moral: Love is funny when you’re drunk but very serious in the morning. 

Auburn, New York, 2022

You let me hold your hand tonight on the way to dinner. I tell you about the time we took our lunch break to kiss in front of the tropical birds. You laugh. You say you wish you’d been there to see it. You were there, Vera.

The Shrew & Her Shell

A shrew dreams of life at the bottom of the ocean. She dreams so hard that her fur turns to scales so she can swim in tandem with the fish. The shrew finds love there and wants to stay forever in the dense silence. Eventually, she wakes up. Of course, no one believes her about the colorful fish or the silence. When they laugh at her ocean story, she opens her paw to show them the sand and shells gathered there. 

Moral: If you are waiting for someone to tell you the moral, read the story again.

New York City, 1967

In November you told me I was “forceful.” Or, more accurately, that I “forced you to get the canaries.” 

Looking back, I agree it was not a good decision, but in the heat of a very dull moment in our relationship, I had no idea the canaries would escape, or that you would cheat, or that I would be left standing in the living room with an empty cage and nothing to say.

Yes, of course I would stay with you.

No, I did not want to know the details. 

Yes, I knew who Tori was. 

No, I did not care that she was “an artist.” 

I’ve kept a meticulous record of our arguments. My lines are always the same, but yours keep getting faster and more complex.

Auburn, New York, 2022

We walk the same path every morning. Some of the other couples have walkers, some have large rubber bands tying them together at the wrists so they don’t get lost. You and I walk just far enough apart from each other that our hands don't brush. We never get lost. 

But today, you were gone. 

After hours of searching, I found you in the field, alone, surrounded by a flock of small yellow birds. From a distance, it looks like you are frantically beating the air, threatening to snatch their wings. Your legs are bent but your face is turned upwards. You’re screaming. As I get closer, I realize you aren’t screaming, but singing. You’re reaching for the birds as if begging them to stay. I stare until you hold my face and point to the birds. 

“I told them you were coming. I found them, Ray.” I don’t know how you remember my name. 

When the birds are gone, you let my hand drop. Our bodies are limp and far enough apart to tell me the moment is no longer happening.

There is, very rarely, a moral to this story.


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