A Day at the Zoo

A short story about you, me, and us

Tinh Le
5 min readSep 13, 2022


Photo by Wilkins Morales on Unsplash

They walked into the Leaping Lemur Cafe to get some drinks. The space was rounded and had a vaulted ceiling that tapered off to a triangular point. There was something about the cafe and he felt good there. The music played loud and clear. He liked the acoustics in the cafe.

He walked up to the cashier and said, “Could I get a black tea?”

“We don’t have that,” the cashier said immediately.

He looked at the tea selection and pointed at the stack of earl grey tea bags.

“It’s that one,” he said flatly.

The cashier said nothing and handed him the tea bag and a plastic cup.

“Thanks,” he said.

The cashier grunted in response.

He walked over to her and said, “I just had the best customer service experience.” I told her about my purchase and she enjoyed the story.

“I bet he was part of the Yakuza or something. Did you see the tattoo on his arm?” she whispered.

She bought a coffee and got an extra cup for water. She walked over to the soda fountain to fill her water cup. He noticed the nozzle for water was also the same one for Fanta. The last person to use it had gotten soda, and there were still a few drops of light orange soda on the nozzle. She contemplated the drip for a second and pushed the tab for water in for a second to flush the soda and then filled her water cup.

She took a cautionary sip to make sure the water didn’t taste sweet and was satisfied. There were two kinds of people in the world: those who noticed and those who didn’t. She noticed most of the time.

That’s her best quality. He liked that she was particular about things and cared about the truth. When they would run late for parties or gatherings and friends would call to ask how much longer they would take, she would never pad the time. One time he was on the phone and said “Our ETA is twenty minutes” when it was actually twenty-five. She interjected and said, “Our ETA is 1:30”, correcting for the time and the proper usage of the phrase at the same time.

“Twenty minutes is not an estimated time of arrival,” she said, and lightly tapped me on the arm.

They had been dating for two years now but there was no future with her. He was awfully fond of her and wanted things to work.

She watched him from a distance as he bought his black tea. She smiled when the cashier told him there was no black tea.

There were two kinds of people in the world: those who eat breakfast and those who don’t. He ate breakfast every day. Not only that — he ate the same breakfast every day. Rain or shine, happy or sad, he would wake up and prepare a bowl of oatmeal along with eggs. The only variety was the kind of fruits in the oatmeal. Even the day after his mom passed, he still ate his oatmeal and eggs. She was sure he wasn’t going to eat breakfast but he did.

Most people didn’t think much of eating breakfast every day, but she saw it as his greatest strength. If you can eat the same thing every morning, you can put up with a lot. He put up with her and she was happy enough.

They sat down in the middle of the cafe.

“Three nights at the motel, under street lights, in the city of palms,” she sang. He thought she was singing rather loud. An older couple sitting two tables away looked at her.

“The bears were pretty sick,” he said. “I was really feeling the bears.”

“I did like the bears,” she said. “Their fur was so black and inky.”

“Remember how the one sitting on his rock swatted his paw when his friend came up to him? That was funny.”

“Yeah he was like, ‘Not today Bob! I’m having a bad day.’”

“I thought the insect exhibit was cool too,” I said. “I liked the beetles. They reminded me of this Hemingway story I read recently where the main character walks up a hill and stirs up all these beetles.”

“Oh I think I read that one,” she said. “It wasn’t really about anything.”

He frowned. “A story doesn’t have to be about anything. If someone wrote a story about us going to the zoo — people would read it.”

“No one would read that story. We’re not likable characters,” she said.

“Speak for yourself. Characters don’t have to be likable anyway — they’re there to serve the story.”

“Oh come on, I’m just kidding.” She reached for his hand. “Don’t be so serious.”

“I like being serious.”

He wrapped his hand around hers. Her palm was soft but the finger pads were hard and calloused.

“Yes you do like being serious,” she said. “Just like those koalas. They were very serious.”

“The koalas were sick. The plaque said they live solitary lives and all they do is eat and sleep and move slowly. I liked that they spend several weeks on a single tree before moving to a different one.”

“Straight up birth and then retirement!”

“Imagine your crush being on a different tree — they probably wouldn’t even try,” he said.

“Are we going to try?” she asked.

“Come on, I don’t want to talk about that right now.” He sighed and swirled the remains of his drink. “This was a fun day — let’s just plan our next trip. We’re going to take a tab and see the San Diego zoo, remember?”

“I don’t want that anymore.”


“Let’s talk about it. It’s the only thing we don’t agree on.”

“It’s not something to compromise on,” he said.

“But don’t you want to? Even a little?”

“You have to be all in with that. You can’t want it a little.”

“We’d be so happy together.” She started tearing up. The clouds parted outside and a light breeze blew in.

“Mags, stop it. Mags.”

“Forget about it. Let’s go look at the turtles.”

The turtle pond had two turtles. One was swimming in the water and the other stood on the bank craning its neck to the right. A girl sat on a bench next to the pond and was listening to music.

The swimming turtle reached a log that angled up to the bank. It started crawling up the log. Halfway up the turtle lost traction and started struggling to move up.

“Come on, get up the fucking log. Go!” She knelt down and started crying.

“Mags what’s wrong? Did you take too much?”

“No I didn’t take too much. I just want this turtle to get up the log. He wants to get to his friend and I just want him to get to his friend cant you see that?”


“Mags nothing!”

He sat cross-legged on the ground and pulled her in closer.

“Stop it,” she said. “Go help the turtle.”

“I don’t think we’re supposed to touch the animals,” he said.

He stared and the pond and saw the old waterline that marked the edge of the bank. The pond had dried up considerably in the summer. The turtle kept trying to walk up the log then stopped. It laid there and looked at the other turtle on the bank. Maybe the turtles weren’t even friends. He wasn’t supposed to touch the turtles anyway.