Bison Paddock, by Eliot Li
Manfred stuffed his blue hard shell suitcase with his underwear and toothbrush, and drove off in his car without knowing where he was going, because Marcie had said, in an impulsive rage while they were fighting, “I regret marrying you.” When he started packing, she fell to her knees and apologized. She wrapped her arms around him as he zipped up the suitcase. But he pushed her off, and said, “I just can’t be around you right now.”
It was night in San Francisco, and Manfred drove around the Haight, past neon Victorian storefronts still lit up with mannequins in feather boas and fishnet stockings behind iron security bars. Recently, he had an early stage carcinoma removed from his scalp, above his receding hairline (“You need to sunscreen your chrome dome every day, or it’ll come back,” his dermatologist insisted). He had been obsessed with death, terrified of it. But tonight, since his wife didn’t love him anymore, he felt liberated from the fear. Like, what’s the point of living if your wife doesn’t love you?
He checked into The Hotel Majestic, which was anything but majestic. There were clusters of black dots on the wall that could be either mold or bedbugs, and the room reeked of old cigarette smoke. It made him sick. So he went out walking.
The Red Vic movie house a few blocks down was playing a midnight movie. He’d never heard of the movie but bought a ticket anyway. Inside, his sneakers stuck to the floor, and the red upholstery of his seat was ripped open so that the beige stuffing showed. He leaned back anyway and watched. It was Perfect Blue, an ultraviolent surrealistic Japanese anime. There was a scene where a woman dressed as a pizza delivery boy gouges out a man’s eyeball with a screwdriver. It was the most revolting thing he’d ever seen in a cartoon.
He couldn’t sleep after the movie, so he kept walking until the city streets turned into the grassy rolling plains of Golden Gate Park. He came upon the bison paddock. He wrapped his fingers around the chain linked fence surrounding them, saw the black mounds of fur dotting the meadow. They looked like large muscular dogs, sleeping with their hind legs tucked under their bodies. He’d read that during the 1960s, homeless hippies living in the park would occasionally hop the fence and murder a bison, drag its body back to their tents, and roast the meat and feed everybody in the encampment. He felt sorry for the bison. They’re blind at night, and probably couldn’t defend themselves. He pictured skinny long golden haired men in paisley headbands and bell bottoms slashing at the bison with screwdrivers.
Manfred felt an overwhelming urge to be with the bison. So he poked the tips of his sneakers into the holes of the chain linked fence and lifted himself over the top. When his feet hit the ground, he felt a sting in both his creaky knees that he didn’t remember feeling before. A bison nearby lifted its horned head, blinked in his general direction, then rested its muzzle between its paws.
Manfred no longer feared death, but he also didn’t want to be on the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle for having been gored by a bison in Golden Gate Park, so he chose a spot in the meadow suitably distant from the bison. He lay on his back, and stared upward. Light pollution drowned out the stars so that they were only a subliminal flicker. It made him long for Yosemite. Decades ago, he and Marcie had lain on their backs in Cook’s Meadow, with the craggy majesty of Half Dome silhouetted by a gazillion stars more luminescent than they had ever seen before, the Milky Way a dripping open gash in the sky.
It can get so cold at night in San Francisco. Manfred’s East Coast friends always laughed at him when he told them this, but it was true. Wearing only a black cotton pullover, he started shivering uncontrollably in the grass. His mind clouded over and he couldn’t figure out where he was anymore. Maybe it was early hypothermia.
He wanted to be home, but this wasn’t home. Where was Marcie? It was so, so cold, and he couldn’t feel his limbs anymore. He needed to get warm.
One of the bison nearby lay on its side, a curly mop top of brown hair between its horns, its snout nuzzled next to a patch of dandelions. Manfred snuggled up behind it, rested his head on its warm hump. He buried his nose into a frizzy patch of fur, the smell of soft wild bodies in wide open spaces.
He wondered if this was still Yosemite. Marcie under the stars, rolling up on top of him, unzipping his pants.
Eliot Li lives in California. His recent work appears in Ghost Parachute, Cheap Pop, Emerge, South Florida Poetry Review, SmokeLong Quarterly, CRAFT, and elsewhere.
1/26/2023 03:14:12 pm
Hi Eliot! wonderful, engaging story and so well written. Suits the picture perfectly.
2/12/2023 10:03:21 am
Great story especially the way the subtle details were folded into the story. It pulled at my heart too. Very well written!
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