Hans Falls in Love
“Hey, you pay your quarter.” “You pay your own quarter,” yelled Hans, leaping over the fence. The mud was ankle deep. What will she think of this? thought Hans, wiping it off his sneakers with dead leaves. You pay your quarter, or you take your chance, he thought.
Maybe she isn’t there, but no telling what might happen. I’ll be ready for anything, thought Hans, wiping his hands on his pants.
Hans was seeing animals by the dozen. Worried, he bought some peanuts. She loves me, she loves me not, he said, dropping the shells.
Hans was hungry, feeding the ducks. The crowd was full of people. If variety is the spice of life, he thought, is the crowd the cook? And the guests? And love?
The hippopotamus looks all right, thought Hans, watching it in its cement enclosure. The birds were alive. All the world isn’t sad and dreary. The monkeys were copulating.
A man in two coats nudged Hans. “Birds do it,” he said with a leer. Hans looked again, but he couldn’t see it. Everything is only as simple as it should be, he thought. Now they were taking the man away.
Hans fell over a curb, looking up in the sky. Colors in the clouds. The balloon man was no longer a balloon man. Some things aren’t made to last forever. Hans had grass on his hands. It was so sweet.
“Do you have a match?” Part of Hans was realizing that he had himself. Love’s essence is in seeking, not finding, he thought. “Sorry, I don’t smoke,” he said. What a horrible thought.
Bang. It was inescapable. Either Hans heard it, or he didn’t. I can’t live on abstracts, he thought in front of the peanut vender.
If Hans weren’t talking to himself, he was talking more softly than he should. “A monkey’s life is for the birds,” he said, looking through the bars. When this was done, something else had already begun.
“You have to take the leap.” That’s what Hans had heard someone say. There’s nothing to fear but fear itself. There was the ditch between the people and the lioness. Nothing is sure but surety itself. Hans wasn’t sure about love. Nothing is sure but insecurity itself, he thought.
The zoo-key voice was telling Hans about the bearded white gnu. It has that surety that doesn’t need to know what it’s talking about, Hans thought. “Such a fine animal,” said Hans, looking for it. “Is that so?” said the blonde beside him. The voice was falling in love with itself. “You’re absolutely right,” Hans said. “Who asked you?” said the blonde.
Hans had that surety that location provides, although Hans was lost. “A sky, a piece of earth, and thou,” he said, alone somewhere behind the giraffe yards.
It’s not the same in a zoo. Hans had suspected it would be the same as it was, but it wasn’t the same. Love is change, he thought. Otherwise, love is just love.
What do you find in a zoo? What do you find that you do not discover? What never changes, and what, when it changes, isn’t what it was? What do you find in another? What do you find in love, or in the afternoon? What do you find that’s unexpected, or what else did you expect?
Maybe the swan is in love, thought Hans. The swan was in the lake, but it looked perfectly ordinary. Nobody is perfect, while the swan gave Hans that look that never asks questions, and never answers.
Love gives it all away, but makes no promises, thought Hans. The girl said,“I’ll be back in a minute, dear; wait here?” and went off to the women’s room. The guy had a beard, and he wore his high-school sweater. Hans watched him leave for the men’s room. The way of all flesh, he thought. Sometimes the time seems to go twice as fast as it does at any other time, and before you’ve had enough, you’re finished. That happened to Hans.
Hans had made it to the closing of the kiddie zoo park. They were all leaving with their mothers, but the animals were still there. Hans discovered there’s something more important in the world than selfish pity or personal spite, like selfless enjoyment and universal wonder. Hans was giving up the girl for the good of the world. “Bye-bye, pony. Bye-bye, lamb.” Where is she? thought Hans, looking for it all.