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#thesideshow March 14 2016 Kuwait Zoo by Heather Rounds-Flash Fiction

photo by Hunny Alrohaif


by Heather Rounds

Farwaniya, Kuwait 1990—Over 400 animals at the Kuwait Zoo lost their lives during the Iraq Invasion.




Songs at the zoo ceased before the walking arrived. All tongues rested in trapped skulls. Even those still breathing stayed quiet.

The walking came from the coast. The oily black line between land and sea. It gathered and moved inward, leaving behind the curdling shore, pressing down tar balls, the blue eggs of turtles.

A bitter brown flood of light broke and the zoo’s breathing felt something nearing. They knew not what, only that it couldn’t be songs. It caught the noses and went in hollow.

Reaching the zoo, the walking began by skirting the small openings in walls, cages, what glass there was. In some spots it found the breathing. In some spots it tore the locks away, pushed the breathing toward openings. Some breathing nosed out quick, some hesitated at the edge. Eventually much of it move passed the walls, cages and glass.

The walking watched the breathing nose new paths. The walking steadied a trigger on the breathing. The walking flicked grenades, let bullets go. And much of the breathing stopped and collapsed, deflating.

The walking made piles of the collapsed and deflating, split apart the wood of fences, built fires between erected tents.

The walking shoved the unbreathing though wood, let it spin over fire. Everything rose as ash. The walking had walked in hungry.



Songless, unable to escape itself, struggling to measure distances.

Some breathing nosed the air, felt the smoke of the walking, the rustling of erected tents, kept distant paths, collected in shifting lines.

Some breathing nosed around for songs, thinking they might appear on the tracks, near bushes, up from holes, through a strained citrus light.

Some breathing returned back through the openings in cages, walls and glass, sleeping in pieces, measuring through bars the slow buildup of all hours’ color, the warming and cooling.

The day hard at its shell and songless.

And still some breathing.

The deadening of blood.

A night then a hand.

The hand first appeared with the sound of wind. It slipped through the bars where some breathing lay. It swung down, unballing spotty bananas and cornhusks. The hand rose over the breathing, briefly, trailing an acrid smell, sharp in familiar ways, indicators of fields beyond near paths.

A night then a hand.

Some mornings when the breathing rose the hand would, too. It came with the sun, between splits in the tree line, when the walking kept a distance and the breathing breathed most hungry.



The walking brought unfamiliar songs—nothing the breathing knew. The walking’s songs got loudest with the moon. They clicked from the tents, grainy and static, quick to start and end. The breathing kept far but never so far to lose the walking’s songs, attempting to measure the distance.

What could fly off from this tried with deadening blood and ingested feathers. So much dropped in the effort. The walking looked up from the tents and caught the wrong direction in progress. Sometimes the walking shot the flying down. Sometimes the flying flew on. Sometimes it dropped on its own.

Sometimes the walking came for the breathing. It dragged what it could back towards the tents. And what remained, what the walking couldn’t drag, pressed further into bushes, the holes under cages, the walls, the glass, what dark collected along the tracks.

Where did the songs go?

Some breathing questioned with noses, continued tracking for pockets of undiscovered songs. It nosed toward growing piles of collapsed and deflated, found at the base of browning palms and carefully placed stones, or charred in clumps gathered deep inside dry marshes. The breathing persisted, stopping to nose each point, waiting some time for a song not there.

Some breathing and the hand.

The sun and the hand, quietly downward, dried berries, ripe dates, spotty bananas. The walking, at its furthest distance. The breathing nosed the hand and scanned for songs along the fingers.




First go songs then the memories of songs.

The breathing followed this natural direction, collecting dark in the tracks, thinning through slow hours. Eventually the breathing looked less for songs, stayed far from the piles and clumps.

A pressure began weakening in the cells of the breathing. The cells fell inward, one by one, spun down toward unknown locations, narrowing and no longer rapid. But still the breathing continued, knew there was something to seek, turned what directions it could from the darkening.

The nights then the days.

The hand. Some hands.

Songs, eventually.

Songs began again when the breathing had turned enough directions, slowed enough in the tracks.

First the simplest sprung from the patterns—rhythm found in the breathing itself.

The opening and closing.

The opening and closing.

The in and out.

And then those past songs.

Bits of them falling from trees.

A night then a day.

A night then a day.

Remembering to look for songs.

A day.

A hand.

The opening and closing.

The cells, expanding outward, back up.

The songs aligned slowly, began collected near that untouchable, vibrating edge only breathing knows. A hole to climb out, up and away from tense, tight dirt—softening when meeting the air, nearing the trees.

The opening and closing.

The in and out.

The hand.

Songs springing from patterns.

The count of time passing.

Cells expanding on branching paths.


The hand was there the day the walking gathered and walked out the zoo’s entrance

The walking left behind the erected tents, the split wood and fires.

The walking dragged the brought noises outward, pressing the ground into ridges, back toward the oily black line between land and sea.

The breathing breathed.

The bugs found their places and spun in points around piles of the deflating, unbreathing. And one more bird flew over. A black dart with wind over songs, the rhythms of still piles, the clumps, the cages, the walls, the glass.