penguins swim around
"I'll take you to the zoo to see the penguins," I tell Jackson.
Jackson doesn't say anything. We are in my little Honda listening to an NPR broadcast about quantum computers or something and Jackson thinks he wants to be a computer engineer and go to MIT and be a genius and leave Idaho forever so he ignores me and listens to the radio.
"The penguins live in a dirty little pool in the back of the zoo and nobody ever visits them."
Jackson holds up his hand. The NPR interviewer says something clever and Jackson laughs. I don't laugh. I start my car.
At the zoo, I tell Jackson to listen.
I say, "Jackson, the truth is you are half-penguin. Mom never told you because she knew you'd freak out or something and go on a penguin killing spree and be arrested and put in jail until you die."
Jackson leans over the rail and looks down at the penguins. The penguins swim around in their dirty little pool. The penguins glide through the water swiftly and silently, sometimes hopping out of the water onto their dirty little island and waddling slowly to the other penguins and rubbing the other penguins before plopping back into the dirty water. Jackson looks at the penguins.
"Anyway, your chromosomes were genetically spliced with a penguin's by a doctor at the University of Idaho, the first splicing of its kind, and that's why you're such a good swimmer."
"Your chromosomes were genetically spliced with a naval orange by a horticulturist from Seattle, Washington," he says. "Mom never told you because she was afraid you might try to peel yourself and eat your pulpy inside if you knew. But I think you're old enough to trust with this knowledge." Jackson stares at my eyes and puts his hand on my shoulder and says, "'Whatever you do, don't eat yourself."
We watch the penguins swim around for a while. I lightly punch Jackson in the shoulder and Jackson pretends to be hurt and I pretend to be sad and we both pretend to be sad and then we stop because it is hard to tell if we are still pretending or if we are really sad.
I buy Jackson and me an ice-cream cone from the ice-cream cone vendor and we eat ice-cream and watch sloth bears lay around in their rocky enclosure. Jackson turns suddenly and stares away from me. I look where Jackson's looking and I hear shouting and screaming. Jackson runs towards the sounds and I follow Jackson but I think that we shouldn't run towards shouts and screams because shouts and screams usually mean danger and I don't want to face danger but I also don't want Jackson to face danger alone at the zoo.
Jackson stops. I stop. I see a man in a mask. The man in the mask holds a knife. The man in the mask holds a zoologist. The zoologist is crying. The man in the mask holds his knife near the zoologists face. "Stop," Jackson yells.
The man in the mask waves his knife around. He shouts, "They spliced my genes. I'm a sloth bear. They spliced my genes."
"Its okay," Jackson yells. "We're all mutants."
The man in the mask waves his knife. "Admit it," he shouts. "You spliced my genes."
The zoologist cries harder and moves his head up and down and tries to say, "Yes."
The SWAT team takes up position behind the man in the mask and they shoot him with bean bags and tasers and the man in the mask falls to the ground screaming and drops his knife and the SWAT team subdues him and handcuffs him and drags him out of the zoo.
The zoologist sits quietly in the grass and looks at his knees.
I follow Jackson over to the zoologist.
"Are you okay?" Jackson asks.
"I'm okay," answers the zoologist.
I wonder if he really spliced the masked man's genes. "Do you splice genes?" I ask.
The zoologist cries some more. He stares at his hands and cries and turns away and refuses to look at me and Jackson and after a while Jackson and I walk away.
Jackson seems to be walking slowly but I have to run to keep up. "Wait," I say. "You're going too fast." Jackson keeps his pace and I run, and now we are out in the neighborhood near the zoo and it is dark but every house has many lights and these lights are bright and warm and not like the zoo at all. I don't know where I parked my car. I think my car must be far away but I hope that Jackson remembers, but he's still walking too fast and now he's almost a block ahead of me, so I try to run faster and my side hurts and my lungs hurt. "Wait," I tell Jackson. He turns the corner and I run as fast as I can even though my side hurts and I turn the corner and I find Jackson there, sitting on the sidewalk. He is sitting on the sidewalk and holding his knees. I sit next to him and we look at all the houses with all the lights in the neighborhood and I wonder why there are so many lights everywhere and I ask Jackson, but he doesn't know the answer so we sit there some more and we don't say anything and we don't find my car until later when it doesn't matter anymore.