‘When walking around the zoo I must remind each and everyone of you not to rattle the cages as it upsets the animals and makes them angry. Feel free to refer to the black and blue manual book if you want to learn more about the animals. If you happen to get lost, keep calm and look for a large dragon statue. These dragons are information points so keep an eye out. Now for all you youngsters I know it’s tempting to run around imitating animals and that’s fine, in fact I find it very funny. However I would ask that you keep off the grass. It’s a lovely shade of green and we would like to keep it that way. Our first stop will be at the otter enclosure where we will hopefully find one of the passionate creatures frolicking in the water. It is a purple area of the zoo, which means we have to be especially quiet so as not to frighten any of them off. If you want to learn more about the otters refer to the manual. I would recommend the section on the rare red otter as it makes for good reading. If we are lucky we might see socks the otter who enjoys lying in the sun. Look out for games and puzzles like the typewriter challenge at the batcaves which asks you to enter the place where the bat in question originated. I’ll give you a clue, it’s the country that invented the ukulele. Finally if you have any rubbish please dispose of it in one of the wolf bins. You can’t miss them. They are bright yellow. Thank you for listening and I hope you enjoy your zoo experience.’

Amanda Plant clasped her hands together and put on her professional, albeit fake smile to the small crowd of visitors huddled in front of her. A deep silence followed. It was apparent that both the adults and children had become bored with her unnecessarily long speech. Some of the adults were so uninterested that they appeared to have fallen asleep whilst standing up. The children were equally fed up and tugged on their parent’s trousers, anxious to be set loose around the zoo. Amanda was also bored. She didn’t want to stand there in the freezing cold, regurgitating the bloody office protocol but she had no choice. Last time she deliberately neglected including information on the bins and grass an irate and red-faced Mr. Bakewell cornered her in the monkey enclosure. Apparently all the nicely preserved lawns had been ruined, scuffed up by sugar infested children. Not only this but all the paths were littered with rubbish. Mr. Bakewell had raised himself to his full height of 5 foot 3 and jabbed a purple finger in Amanda’s face.

‘Do the speech properly next time or your out. This is your final warning.’

Amanda had been half tempted to grab the short man by his stubborn finger and twist it around until it broke. But instead she had done what she always did when Mr. Bakewell told her off. Bite her lip and accept her punishment. She hated herself for letting him talk to her like that and she hated her stupid job but she would never leave. She maintained her smile as she stared at the dumb creatures in front of her, looking forward for it all to end so she could return to the enclosures to be around more intelligent primates.

Amanda stood in the tightly packed carriage, slowly suffocating from the dwindling levels of oxygen. The train slowed to a halt and Amanda groaned as she caught a glimpse of more commuters on the platform, fighting each other to get to the train doors first. As they elbowed and shoved their way on board Amanda felt herself pushed up against the other set of doors. In the heaving mass of bodies someone’s hand brushed her breast and she searched the crowded faces for the groper. Passengers either stood with earphones glued in to their ears or awkwardly reading newspapers and books. No one returned her gaze so she gave up trying to find the perpetrator. The stomach churning smell of B.O hung heavy in the air. The backs of her legs were wet with sweat. It was just reaching the point where Amanda couldn’t stand it anymore when the train shot out of the tunnel and arrived at her stop. She half fell on to the platform as the doors slid open behind her. Other passengers eager to get out of the steel cage as quickly as possible, scuttled out the doors like rats being chased from a tunnel. Amanda dived and weaved her way to the escalators and leapt up them, two at a time. The cool air of the outside world above swirled down to her and she pushed on, glimpsing the night sky at the top the stairs. She burst out of the railway station and felt an immense pressure lift from her head. Ever since she had been a child Amanda had always hated travelling underground. It wasn’t claustrophobia. Spending each and every day climbing in and out of animal cages and enclosures wouldn’t have been possible if that was the case. It was the close proximity to another human beings that disturbed her so much. Amanda had decided a long time ago that she preferred animals to human beings and hence why she had been single for the last four years.

Amanda plodded up the granite concrete stairs attached to the grey, drab council estate that she regrettably called home. Two heavy shopping bags weighed her down, making progress excruciatingly slow. To make matters worse the stairwell smelled strongly of urine. Probably one of the neighbour’s dogs or worse one of the neighbor themselves. It was a hell of a classy joint. She reached her door just in time. The plastic handles of the bags had begun to dig into her fingers, leaving the skin red and sore. A car engine backfired, making her jump. She hurried inside, desperate to get away from the outside world. Closing the door behind her she let out a sigh of relief, relaxing for the first time that evening.

Amanda dumped the shopping bags on the table and straightened herself up, wincing from the back pain. The soles of her feet ached, the blisters on her heels rubbed against the shoes. Halfway through the laborious process of packing away she got fed up and started stuffing the shopping anywhere and everywhere. All she wanted to do was to collapse on the settee and sleep for a hundred years but first a shower and dinner.

The hot water rained down on Amanda, massaging her stiff joints and muscles. The cold, sticky sweat that clung to her skin was washed away, baptizing her anew. Amanda spent a long time in the shower, lathering every inch of her body with soap and washing her hair twice. She wanted to get rid of every trace and memory of her traumatic train journey home. Closing her eyes she took a deep breath. Her mind was still in panic mode from the hectic day she had had. Anxious thoughts flicked through her mind, causing unnecessary grief. After a few minutes of deep breathing, her heart rate began to slow to a steadier beat and her anxiety began to lessen. It was at this time that the shower decided to turn freezing cold.

Amanda lay sprawled across the settee in a long purple dressing gown, pajama bottoms and rabbit slippers. A large tabby cat lay curled at her feet, dozing quietly. On the low coffee table in front of her sat a half eaten ready meal and a generous glass of red wine. In her hand she held a long, thin TV remote that she repeatedly pressed, unable to settle on any channel of interest. Eventually giving up she heaved herself out of the settee with a groan and dug out her DVD copy of ‘Any which way but loose’. It was her favourite film and one she could rely on if there was nothing else on the telly, which was usually the case.

Feeling a bit chilly she boiled the kettle and filled up her teddy bear hot water bottle. As she stood in the kitchen carefully pouring the hot water into the bottle spout she thought back to the previous weekend. Her best and only proper friend Sue had set her up with this office worker called Dave. The date had gone alright. They were both as socially inept and awkward as each other but between them they had managed some small talk. Amanda found him a tad dull but it had been her first date in a long time so she had given him the benefit of the doubt. Afterwards they had gone back to his place and both having had a bit too much wine ended up in bed. The sex was clumsy and awkward and the next morning Amanda left feeling unsatisfied and dirty. Her grip slackened and boiling hot water scorched her hand.

‘FUCK!’ She exclaimed.

Amanda wearily dragged herself to bed. Her whole body ached, each muscle protesting as she staggered from the bathroom to the bedroom. She didn’t bother brushing her teeth and instead climbed fully clothed under the duvet. Her blisters throbbed dully and her hand tingled and itched where it had been burnt. Pulling the covers right up over her head she let out a deep sigh and fell asleep. After what felt like a five-minute doze she was woken by the six am alarm. Her hand shot out and swiped the alarm from the bedside table. She listened to it still ringing for twenty seconds before she sat up with a reserved sigh and prepared herself for another day of her miserable existence.

© [Daniel Ashby] and [Ashby Tales], [2014]. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to [Daniel Ashby] and [Ashby Tales] with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.



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