The following comes from the opening of Simon’s story “Animals”…
They buried my wife in a shoebox in Central Park. I like to imagine that the funeral was respectful, that her body was treated with a modicum of dignity. But of course, I’ll never know. I wasn’t invited to the ceremony. Instead, the guests of honor were the students of homeroom 2K.
When the children returned from the burial, they drew “tributes” to my wife in Magic Marker– maudlin scribbles of halos, wings, and harps. It was hard not to vomit as Ms. Hudson taped them up above my cage. I’ve never seen such tasteless dreck in all my life.
Hayley, I noticed, was crying as she drew. The irony. It was her responsibility to refill our water bottles last week. Instead, she spent all her free time with Alyssa, practicing a clapping game called “Miss Mary Mack.”
Miss Mary Mack, Mack, Mack!
All dressed in black, black, black!
It was that inane chant that provided the score to my wife’s final moments. She was dying of thirst, but never cried once. It was only later that I realized why: her body was too dehydrated to produce tears.
Pocahontas was her name.
My name is Princess Jasmine. I am a male, so this name is humiliating, but I’m aware that my situation could be worse. The other homeroom, 2R, has a guinea pig named Stimpy and an elderly turtle named New Kids on the Block.
Pocahontas left me with three sons, and it’s for their sake alone that I keep up my struggle. Every weekday morning, when the monsters come screaming through the door, I hide my babies under scraps of newspaper. Whenever food and water are scarce, I give them my whole portion. Their faces are exact replicas of my wife’s, and when I look at them, I remember how beautiful she was. Their names are Big Mac, Whopper, and Mr. T.
Mr. T was born with developmental problems. He was so small during infancy that we had to shelter him each night, wrapping our bodies around his shivering frame so that he could fall asleep. I’ve been through a lot. If I lose Mr. T, I’m not sure I’ll have the strength to carry on.
It’s morning now. The square of sunlight on the blackboard grows and grows. Soon the gremlins will run in, howling, hopped up on Pop-Tarts and primed for violence. For months, I assumed this school was reserved for juvenile delinquents, but during Parent-Teacher night, the mink coats and bespoke suits told a different tale. It turns out that this school is a private one, an “elite” institution for the children of millionaires.
I can hear the nannies muscling their way through the lobby, dragging their little terrors towards my family. My sons are still asleep. I lick their faces and conceal them as best I can.
The bell clangs harshly. The nightmare begins.
“What time is it?”
My fur bristles as Ms. Hudson takes out the jobs board. This laminated poster, with its seventeen colorful squares, rules my family’s existence. I rub my paws impatiently while Ms Hudson assigns the week’s tasks.
“Pencil organizer this week is… Dylan! Line leader is… Max! And our two table wipers are… Kristen and Sophie!”
Eventually she gets to the one job that matters.
“Hamster feeder is…”
I scan the room. There are still some good candidates left. Maybe we will luck out and get Caitlin? Last month, she gave us double portions. If her name is called again, Mr T might gain some weight in time for winter. It’s while I’m enjoying this fantasy that Ms. Hudson clears her throat and– with one little word– sentences my family to death.
My eyes widen with horror. Simon Rich is 2K’s “class clown”– a pudgy, hyperactive boy, with some kind of undiagnosed emotional problem.
“Hamster feeder?” he shouts. “Whatchu talkin’ ’bout, Willis!”
The other children laugh hysterically.
My god, I think, This is it. This is how it ends.