The Zoo Man, Pt. 7

Hannah looked nervously from her little brother, his face lit up with a grin like it was Christmas morning, to Clarence’s, still smiling that inscrutable smile. She could just imagine the consequences of saying no. The disappointed look on Clarence’s face. The petulant anger on David’s.

If I say no, Mama’s definitely going to find out we snuck off. He’ll scream and cry the whole way back. And if he doesn’t, he’ll just walk right up to her and say, “Hannah and I went to go see the Zoo Man when she was supposed to be watching me.”

She smiled weakly. “Okay. But just a quick peek.”

“Wonderful!” Clarence turned and began walking at a brisk pace towards the center of the showgrounds. “Now, if you were to return tomorrow you’d find a grand tent set up, and we’d have a man at the entrance charging a nickel for entry.”

“A nickel?” David cried out.

“Yes, little one, a nickel. I think that’s fair, don’t you? The show is here to enrich the mind and spirit, but at the same time, we must eat.” Clarence paused in mid-step for a moment, then spun on his heels to face Hannah and David. He pointed a finger down at David, and poked him gently in the nose. “Plus, little one, you must consider this. You would spend a nickel on candy, would you not? But it is such a quick thing to eat a bag of candy. A minute or two, and it is gone, save perhaps for the calories if one doesn’t properly exercise. But the experiences you could have in that tent would last a lifetime. You can leave and they would stay with you forever, as fresh and as sharp as if you’d just experienced them.”

Hannah smiled and laughed softly. “You’ve got a real gift of gab, don’t you, Mist– Clarence?”

“I suppose I do,” he said, rubbing gently at his chin and look up and away somewhere, as if Hannah were a philosopher whose words merited careful consideration. “But that doesn’t make my words any less true.”

He turned, and the children followed him. He led them to a carriage with curtains covering the windows from the inside, and he said over his shoulders, “I’d like to introduce you to the one of the stars of the zoo.”

Hannah blinked. “You keep your jars and stuff in there?”

“’Jars and stuff,’ Miss Haller?”

Hannah looked down at the ground for a moment then back up. “You’re not the first show to pass through Barrow Springs, you know. We’ve seen folks come through with baby pigs floating in jars trying to pass them off as aliens and monsters.”

Clarence smiled at her again. It was the kind of smile her father used to give her all the time when she was David’s age, a smile that said she was adorable and mistaken about something and he was about to correct. “Those folks were charlatans, Miss Haller. I am not. I have a Harvard education. I have been a doctor, a surgeon. A master of sciences both natural and unnatural. We have preserved specimens in the zoo’s cabinet of curiosities, of course, but I don’t see the need to lie about their nature.”

“What are natural sciences?” David asked.

“Oh, you know. That which deals with the stars, the Earth, the creatures and substances found thereon, and the laws that govern them. Astronomy, geology, biology, chemistry, and physics.”

“’Sciences unnatural?’ What are the unnatural sciences?”

Clarence said nothing. He just looked down at Hannah and smiled, and then he opened the carriage door.

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