Rhinoceros

“Let’s skip this one,” said Clara.

“Well, it might be nice to see. Rhinos are pretty cool,” answered Paul with an unexpected, quiet confidence that poked through his nerves.

After a moment Clara slowly began to follow him up the path that led to the rhinoceros, her lips pursed and slightly frowning. As they walked, Paul thought of all the times he had yearned to make those lips smile and laugh, and he scolded himself for upsetting them, for taking away their shape.

“He’s pretty ugly,” Clara exclaimed when they reached the animal.

“You know, some people think unicorns were actually rhinos,” said Paul tentatively.

Clara let out a short laugh. “Huh?”

“Because of the one horn. And Rhinos seem like nice creatures. I mean, they fight each other with their horns sometimes, but they eat plants, go to watering holes, don’t hunt for food.”

Clara looked at him and then at the rhino. “Why do you know this stuff?” Her face remained disinterested.

“Guess I just think it’s cool. Plus the rhino probably appreciates us knowing he’s not some armored monster.” Paul tried to chuckle.

Clara shrugged. “He’s still pretty ugly though. Let’s go see the monkeys.”

Paul gazed at the rhino then, at his weak but sure eyes that looked like two chinks in armor, and he had the sensation the rhino was looking back at him. So Paul looked down sadly and turned to follow Clara, reaching for her hand as he began to walk. It felt dryer and rougher than it had a few minutes before, he noticed, and for a moment he found himself imagining he was grasping a rhinoceros paw. It made him feel a little better.

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