Carnival of the animals
by Tom Conoboy
The melee started in earnest at three o’clock, Carlisle time. The cat-faced girl slapped the horse-faced woman for accusing her boyfriend of being fish-eyed. Gerald genuinely was fish-eyed, as well as bird-brained and kangaroo-jawed, but cat-faced Kate deprecated what she thought was a supercilious undertone in horse-faced Hannah’s voice and chose, for the first time in her life, to retaliate first. On seeing her horse-faced chum rocked on to her rump, owl-eyed Olga swung her fist in the general direction of rabbit-eared Rachel, but her hair, dyed white and brown in apparent homage to a sheep’s bottom, blinded her and she missed. Rachel, her ears a-waggle, screamed at gazelle-legged Glenda who collared puffin-mouthed Petra who cried to her snake-hearted mother who laughed.
That single laugh, a light, almost fragile sound like a shy nightingale seranading its lover, echoed across the canyon. It bounced off three thousand granite slabs, each one grimmer than time, and criss-crossed the airways between the opposing faces of the canyon more times than a parrot utters Polly, and on each occasion the sound of that laugh distorted and grew and gorged itself on the silence of the gorge until, by the time it reached the menagerie at the furthestmost south, it sounded like the concerted lamentation of a million widowed starlings. The noise swirled around the valley and in and among the congregation of mothers-for-lovers who were baking blackberries and making marzipan. It sounded to them like a war-cry, or a dirge, for the two sound very similar to people with no musical appreciation. It sounded to them like a challenge, and if there was one thing, apart from lovers, that the mothers-for-lovers liked it was a challenge. Aux armes, they cried, Allez, allez, and as a single body of bristling belligerence they headed for the hills.
Cat-faced Kate scratched at horse-faced Hannah’s elegant nose, drawing blood. She pulled her hair, gripped her arm around her neck and forced her to the ground. As she was about to pummel her into submission she was attacked from behind by Rachel of the rabbit-ears and chicken-liver. Olga and Petra tried to catch Glenda but Glenda stretched her gazelle-long legs and galloped into the dust of another day. Fish-eyed Gerald looked fish-eyed at proceedings and wondered what could have provoked such tumult. Must be something to do with sex, he thought. Violence always was, in his experience.
When he was hit by bull-necked Brenda he heard the sound of a sperm whale humping in his head. He looked round and saw two Brenda heads grinning above two Brenda necks which transformed themselves, as Gerald’s consciousness began to slip, into the colonaded entrance of the Coliseum. Beyond, he could see tigers and lions and bloody-backed zebras, horses and tortoises and his beloved Kate astride a bear chasing down a nose with yellow hair.
When the mothers-for-lovers broke through the barricades in a frenzy of ululation, they were confronted by a scene of carnage. People of every feature fought at random. Big eyes were hitting fat ears. Rubber lips screamed at mono-brows. Men who looked like dogs barked at women who talked like sheep and the whole damned village was bloodied and battered and tattered and torn and everyone was shouting at everyone else and nobody was listening and nobody knew, apart from Kate, who had forgotten, what had started the stupid conflagration in the first place.
It’s like a zoo, said the mothers-for-lovers, backing away cautiously. A very badly organised zoo. Moon-faced Monica, sitting on a stone beside the waterfall, quietly agreed.
Tom Conoboy has been published in a variety of journals and ezines, including The Harrow, WordRiot and others, and has won a number of short story competitions.