Last Day at the Zoo by Claudia Piepenburg

“You’re crying.”

“I can’t reach mom and dad. They’re not answering. Not their cell or their landline.” 

“Honey, we knew it was going to happen. Down there, close to the equator like they were: the electricity probably went off for the final time. No more air conditioning. 

“I know…I know…just…”

“They were together. That’s what matters, right?”

“I know. But…”

“But what? You didn’t want to be there to see them suffer, there’s nothing you could have done. We only have four pills. You know that.”

“But, I could have told them that I was…I don’t know…that I was…”

“Sorry? Did you want to be there to tell them you were sorry that you’ve known for two years that they were going to die, either from extreme heat or a tsunami-like flood but you kept it a secret?”

“I could never. Why? What would be the point?”

“Because you feel guilty.”

“Yes. Don’t you?”

“Hell yeah, I do. But what good is feeling guilty? What a stupid useless fucking emotion. Now especially.”

“But you do. You just admitted it. You feel guilty, just like I do.”

“Jesus, we all do. All of us who knew what was happening and what was going to happen. We all feel guilty. That’s why those five guys on the NOAA team blew their brains out as soon as we knew for sure. Lucky the media didn’t create a big stir over it. Most people never connected the dots.”

“Almost a year ago, seems like so much longer than that.”

“They were the smart ones, didn’t stick around to see the die-off in India. Two million people dead in six days.”

“But don’t you think that if we’d, you know…maybe…told some people?”

“Come on, honey. Told who? Your parents? My parents? Your brothers and sisters and their families? My brother and his wife? The neighbors? And if we’ve told even one person what we knew, you don’t think that it would have gotten out? You think that one person would have kept it a secret? No. He or she would have told friends and neighbors and his or her family and it would have spread. Spread like wildfire. Pardon the horrible pun. And what good would it have done? Just caused panic. There would have been worldwide panic. Panic over something inevitable, something that was going to happen no matter what anyone did. All the prayers, all the begging, the pleading and atoning, was never going to make any difference. It was too damn late. Too god damn late.”

“I want to believe that you’re right but why should everyone else suffer that way while those of us who knew, who knew all along and kept quiet—why do we get the easy way out?”

 “Damn it. I’ll take the easy way out. Would you rather we have to watch our kids crying out for water? Begging us to make the heat go away? Begging us, the smart scientists, to make winter come again so they can make snow angels…”

“You’re crying.”


“There’s nothing sadder, there will never be anything sadder than all of this. Than what’s happening. Than what’s happening now. All over the world.”

“I love you.”

“I love you.”

“And our kids. Above all else…our kids.”

“The zoo is closing next week.”

“The kids love the polar bears and penguins.”

“The last ones left, they’re the last ones.”

“We’ll go, we’ll take them. One last time. They’ll be happy, and we’ll be happy.”

“And then…when we get home…”

“We’ll all be happy. We just spent the day at the zoo.” 

 Claudia Piepenburg spent the majority of her career as a copywriter, editor and journalist. Currently she works part-time at an assisted living facility in the memory-care unit where she spends several hours a week helping the residents remember, and encouraging them to talk about, the stories of their lives. Her debut novel Letting Go is scheduled for publication by Adelaide Books in the summer of 2020. In late 2018 she began work on her second novel. Her short story Where Do We Go From Here was awarded an Honorable Mention in the Glimmer Train May/June 2018 Short Story Award for New Writers. Her short story Ambivalence A Love Story was published in the February 2019 issue of Adelaide Literary Magazine. Her short story First Day of School was published in the summer 2019 issue (Number 41) of Writer’s Block. Her short story Grandma’s House was published in the June 2019 issue of Literary Yard.

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