The Sea Lions

An image of a sea lion within a bright blue zoo pool. It carefully balances a multi-colored volleyball upon its nose.

We decide we’re not worried about the heat and we’re going to walk to the zoo. My daughter loves animals. I try to ask her which one her favorite is, but it changes every time. “Giraffe!” she says. “Elephant!”

“What if you could only choose one?” I say.

“Horse!” she says without blinking, then runs away.

We go on foot because the zoo is close, and the path is shaded by the trees of spring. The leaves are brand new, without even the idea of falling.

“Just think,” I tell my daughter. “A bobcat escaped from the zoo not so long ago.”

She pretends to be surprised. “Wow!”

I smile. “But it’s okay. It’s back where it belongs.” I realize after I say it that the bobcat isn’t actually where it belongs - it’s in the zoo. But I don’t correct myself.

The street we walk on is empty because of the disappearances. No cars bother us on our way, no traffic worries us, no crossing guard stops us. We have some time before the day reaches 100. Our path is clear, the way is straight, and a nice breeze is coming by to relieve us slightly from the heat. I pass my daughter a bottle of water, and she clutches it next to her stuffed panda.

At some point she gets tired of walking and wants to sit on my shoulders, so I oblige her. She needs to save her strength for the zoo, which is really just one long walk.

We enter the main gates and together we look at the map. “What do you want to see first?” I ask her. “Sea lions? Monkeys?”

She doesn’t say anything, but shifts on my shoulders. She might be overwhelmed by the map.

“How about,” I offer, “we walk around for a while and you tell me what you see?” I feel her nodding her head.

It’s busier today than I thought it would be. This weekend is one of the cooler ones, and people must be getting in their outdoor activities before the summer comes.

We make our way to the first enclosure we see, the big cats, with the lions on one side and the tigers on the other side. My daughter asks if she can get down from my shoulders, which is good because I’m tired of carrying her. She runs up to the fence and looks down at the lion. She makes a lion face. “Roooooooarrrrrr!” she says to the lion. The lion doesn’t respond.

We walk around to the other side to see the tiger and pass by a woman who stands unmoving in the middle of the path, her arm slightly outstretched. She just reappeared, it looks like, and the process of coming back always takes a while. I think I heard it depends on the person. My daughter steps around her and I do too.

The tiger is up, pacing from side to side. My daughter is at the fence again. “Rooooooarrr!!!” The tiger sound isn’t very different from the lion sound. But I get in on it. We don’t care if anyone’s around. “Rooarrr!!!” I say to the tiger, who looks up at us just once then moves away.

We start to leave. I turn back to see the tiger one more time, but it has disappeared. I didn’t know that animals could also disappear, but there’s the proof. I hope it reappears.

“Let’s go see the sea lions,” I say.

She doesn’t say anything. I don’t know if she saw the tiger disappear or not. I feel bad about it, so when we pass by an ice cream stand I buy two ice cream sandwiches, one for me and one for her, and she unwraps hers, the cool vanilla between the two chocolate wafers, and takes a big bite and I can tell she’s happy.

I’m holding my daughter’s free hand as we come up to the sea lions. We go up to the glass and look at the bodies swimming in the tank. I tell my daughter, “Let’s go up to the stands.” You can look from above and watch them basking on the rocks, enjoying themselves, making their sea lion sounds. I put my hands against the glass. The sea lions are so big.

“What do you think?” I say.

I don’t hear my daughter. I turn to look, and she isn’t moving. Her face is looking at the glass, but her eyes aren’t seeing anything. The ice cream sandwich is on the ground, floating in a small vanilla pool.

It’s okay, I tell myself. The disappearance must have just been for a second. And she’s back. She’s here. I lift her up, carry her, not on my shoulders, in my arms this time. We’ve had enough of the zoo. It’s getting hotter. Together we head back through the silent streets.


Dan Schwartz is originally from Washington, DC, and lives in Arizona. He has been published in JMWW, Necessary Fiction, Flash Fiction Magazine, The Fabulist, and Joyland.