More NaNo

Another excerpt from my nanonovel (and an invitation to pitch some title ideas to me, if you got any):

Everyone has a life they would live forever, if they could just get back to it.

When we were six, Mom and Dad took me and my twin sister Marissa to the zoo. There were lions and giraffes and penguins and even a zebu, which at six years old was equivalent to meeting an alien face-to-face. In the big cats display, Marissa saw a leopard cub. It was romping around in its enclosure, behind chain link reinforced by what looked like chicken wire.

“Mom!” Marissa shouted, running to the cage. “Look at the cats!”

Mom chuckled. “Those aren’t cats, honey. They’re leopards. Baby leopards.”

“Kittens?” Marissa asked.

“Well,” Mom said, crooking her head, “they’re cubs. Baby cats are called kittens and baby leopards are called cubs.”

“Cubs,” she said, approvingly, turning back to the cage. “I want one.”

Dad laughed. “If you want, when you grow up you can work with them.”

“Really? I can have one?” She took Dad’s hand as we walked away.

“You have to learn how to take care of them and work at the zoo,” Dad answered. “And you have to grow up first. But if you work really hard, you can.”

“What do they call grown-ups who take care of cubs?”

Dad thought for a moment. “Leopard tamers,” he said, with a dramatic, round-eyed flourish.

Marissa started singing to herself, “Marissa, the leopard tamer, I’m gonna be a leopard tamer,” as she skipped along holding Dad’s hand.

“That’s silly,” I said. “Animals are smelly. Who would want to take care of animals?” But Mom shot me The Look, and I fell quiet.

Half an hour later we walked through the marine animal display, and I saw the otters. Any condescension I felt for Marissa’s childish excitement over the leopard cubs melted away at the sight of them.

“Whoooooa,” I said, dumbstruck, face in the glass. “Dad, what are these?”

“Otters,” he said, and rubbed my shoulder. I turned my back to the glass. All my awareness of potential embarrassment slipped away. “Do they have otter tamers?”

Marissa popped a pose that said, Are you kidding me?, with a hand on one hip and her head tipped sideways. Mom laughed.

“’Course they do,” Dad said, and that made Mom and Marissa’s responses worth it.

In the gift shop there was a display of two-inch-high animals made of porcelain. Marissa and I both sprinted for it the moment we saw it, which was the same moment we ran in the door. We also both stopped dead three feet away, then inched closer. “You break it, you bought it,” Mom always said. We were searching feverishly for our new favorites, but there were so many. A nice teenage girl came over, though, and asked, “What kind of animals are you girls looking for?”

We answered at the same time: “Leopard [“Otters!”] cubs!”

The girl smiled, reached out, and came back with a leopard in one hand and an otter in the other. Then she leaned down and whispered: “I can give you twenty percent off, if your mom and dad don’t mind.”

Five minutes later we were clutching our new treasures to our chests, safely tucked away in little boxes lined with tissue paper.

We had forgotten our egos by then, and we were united in our dream to become Leopard [or Otter] Tamers. We set our porcelain figurines on a high shelf in our room, to remind us. A few years later, when we moved and got separate rooms, we felt strange, somehow, about separating our figurines. But we also both wanted to see them (even though by now, we both wanted to be writers). It was her idea, finally, to go ahead and separate them, but opposite: I took her leopard, and she took my otter. That way, they were apart, but still united.

My otter stayed in her room, back home, when I moved out. And up until today, Marissa’s leopard has perched on the top shelf of the entertainment center in my apartment. I’ve thought about putting it away. There’s no reason that I need to see it every day, and I certainly want it safe. But I couldn’t. I didn’t. And just now, my roommate Abby, burdened and disoriented by a load of painting supplies, bumped into the entertainment center, knocking it off the top. “Oh, Ta –” she says, dropping her stuff and tripping over herself.

For the first couple feet of its fall, I don’t worry; it will land on the carpet, which is thick enough not to cause concern. But then I notice a vase one shelf below it toppling. It falls immediately behind the leopard, chasing it all the way to the floor. They land at almost the same millisecond with a tiny chink that I know signifies the leopard’s demise.

I inhale sharply, frozen for a second.

“Oh, Tara, I’m sorry,” Abby says, but it’s sheer politeness. She doesn’t care because she doesn’t know.

“No!” I cry, lunging for it. “Did it break?”

Abby is confused. “Yes – it did, didn’t you hear it?”

I lean down, pick everything up. My sister’s precious leopard is in three jagged pieces, but the stupid vase, a gift from my still-living aunt, is intact. I throw it at the wall. It shatters.  I turn and lean my back against my entertainment center.

I curse. Abby has never heard me curse before.

“Tara …” she says, kneeling down. I’m surprised to find I’m not at all angry with her.

“You didn’t know,” I whisper, a tear already hanging off my nose. Her hand settles on my forearm.

“I know that,” she says. “But …”

“It was my sister’s,” I say.

“Your sister’s? I didn’t know you had a sister.”

“A twin sister. Four minutes older. Marissa.”

“Is she …?” She knows, but she won’t say it. Polite of her, I think.

I nod. “She killed herself when we were sixteen.”

hate saying that.

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