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Monday, 22 February 2010


Yesterday I sat watching my daughter watching TV. She was completely still, numbed by the cathode rays that buzzed out of the box. I wanted to speak to someone about what had happened to me that day but wasn’t sure how to approach the subject or whether it was an appropriate thing to talk about with a fourteen year old girl. I sat fidgeting.

‘How was your day?’ I eventually asked

‘Ok,’ she replied not turning from the television.

‘Oh well that’s…’ I trailed off and continued to fidget. I huffed loudly. My daughter didn’t seem to notice.

‘Mine was pretty bad actually.’ No response ‘There was an… incident at work. I seem to have developed a fear of animals.’ My daughter turned around, frowning.

‘What animals?’ she asked.

‘Well… All of them I think.’

‘What about lizards and things?’

‘Lizards are animals,’ I said

‘No they’re not they’re reptiles,’ said my daughter. I sighed.

‘Well I’m afraid of them too.’

‘But you work in a zoo.’

‘Yes. Yes I know that.’

‘How are you going to work in a zoo if you’re afraid of animals?’ This, I thought, was the problem. ‘Maybe you should go and see a shrink. Molly’s mum sees a shrink.’ I winced at the Americanism

‘A psychologist? No I don’t want to see a psychologist.’ My daughter shrugged, her attention already lost back to the TV.

George had worked at the zoo for nine years. He didn’t apply for the job because of an interest in animals (he lacked the over active imagination required to relate to them in the way so many people do). He applied for the job because he liked to watch people. He enjoyed watching people interact, watching children standing, gawping at the lions or adults on ironical dates spooning ice cream in the ‘Safari Café’. There was nothing filthy about his interest. He was simply lonely. It is common for a man left without regular company to become a voyeur in this manner. Humans are naturally voyeuristic; what defines whether our natural observation is perverted is our proximity to those we’re watching. George watched innocently everyday for nine years, in between shovelling gorilla shit and feeding marmosets. Two weeks before his first meeting with Dr Woolf a young boy fell into the bear enclosure and was killed by a mother grizzly. George watched.

George imagined the boy was about seven or eight. He watched as the boy’s dad hoisted him up showing him the deep pit below where a mother grizzly sat in the shade with her two young cubs. The boy’s hands were gripped firmly onto the railing and his mouth gawped open wide. There was no sound when the rail gave way. A rusted screw silently crumbled and the rail swung out over the enclosure, the boys hands still firmly gripped to it. George stood and watched as the boy lost grip and dropped, flailing, from the rail to land firmly on the adult bear’s back. The boy managed to ride the bear for a moment as she bucked and twisted, both his hands grappling with her thick fur. It was a strange sight, this bizarre rodeo. It may even have been funny if it was accompanied by a different soundtrack. George watched as the boy was finally flung high off the bears back. The bear turned as the boy fell, swatting him mid air. The boy’s spine snapped. Above, 'concerned strangers' held the dad back as he tried to climb over the barrier; through the gap in the rail his son had left. In nine years george hadn't heard a more guttural sound than the one that man made telling everyone to 'get the fuck away from him'. George watched as an over zealous ranger arrived and shot the mother bear through the head. He was excited and also shot one of the cubs as it padded towards its dead mother. He had not been properly trained for this type of thing. When the boy's body was eventually recovered out of the pit his body was wet and slick with the bear’s blood, his dad had stopped crying but still shook, the lines of his body were blurred by the spontaneous spasms of his muscles, he was out of focus.

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