Someone Has to Heckle the Rhinos
by Noelle Schrock
In a far corner of the Bronx zoo, sits a dignified creature. Thick skinned and two-horned – the rhino is endangered. Leash kids, parents, and childish adults marvel at the creature – they “ooh” and “aweeee:” attentions only afforded to endangered animals in captivity. My friends and I do the same. Our curly haired friend approaches the fence.
“Hey! Hey rhino! Yeah, I’m talking to you, you sack of shit! Think you’re so tough? You’re just a grey bag of skin!” He points and laughs.
“But why?” We ask.
“Somebody has to heckle those rhinos.”
I sit in the far corner of my bed – knees to chest. My four-day hair is matted and sits in a semi bun on top of my head. I press the mascara stained sleeves of my red sweater to my eyes – trying to catch the tears before they fall. It has been twenty-four hours since my friend was declared brain dead.
I cry as I pull on any tee shirt I haven’t worn to bed. I cry as I pull on a pair of pants that pass as clean. Tears drip onto my shoelaces as I tie them. I stuff Kleenex down my sleeves. I pull on my thick skin and sharpen my two-horned wit. I go to work.
My boss and coworkers handle me with kid gloves. They speak in voices so soft I have to lean in to hear them. I field the “ah, I’m so sorry-s” and the “are you okay-s” with clenched teeth. My curly haired friend sits next to me on his couch – “this sucks. THIS SUCKS.” He shouts through rigid jaw.
Rhinos are hunted for their horns; folk medicine indicates a powder made from the horn of a rhino has healing properties. They are sprinkled over food as a seasoning; they’re brewed into tea. They feed one’s lust. They cure fevers, arthritis, and gout.
“What poor animals! What precious creatures! Hunters need to be stopped! These rhinos must be protected!”
“What a stupid looking horn. Big nosed idiot!”
On the drive to the hospital, we listen to sad music and don’t talk much. I take my two-horned wit and thick-skinned strength and grind it into a fine powder. I serve it as a condiment on the sandwiches we pick up for our friends who have been at the hospital all day. I brew it into the tea I hold with two hands because the warmth has been sapped from my body. We sit down the hallway from his family, laughing at things we remember about him, making sure everyone eats, taking turns crying and rubbing backs. They ask if we want to say goodbye. My throat closes up – I don’t know if I can. My curly haired friend takes my hand and says he’ll go with me.
You know in movies where the main character is standing at the entrance to a hallway that leads to a big plot development and the camera zooms out so it seems like the hallway is light years long? That’s what this hallway looks like. We walk with solemn slowness. As long as I could keep him as the squinty eyed, smiling, sassy boy I’d talked to on Thursday he’s still alive.
The sterile room is too warm. His face is still swollen from where his head met the hot, black road. My blood rushes from my head to my feet. His body is slowly being vacated of organs. The machine on my left beeps out a steady heart rate, his chest rises and falls – but it’s not him. He’s gone – I am saying goodbye to a machine.
I leave the room clutching the hand of my curly haired friend. Snot runs out of my nose – I use an entire box of Kleenex on the way home. It’s quiet until something not at all funny happens, but we laugh anyway. We get lost in suburbia and yell at the carbon copy houses.
Rhinos, depending on the type, live in grasslands, floodplains, swamps, or rain forests. They spend their days and nights grazing – but will sleep during the hottest part of the day, coating themselves with mud to stay cool.
“Ha! They’re covered in mud! Exotic PIGS!”
We spend three days in Dayton – with his family, with his friends. It’s an open casket. At his funeral, I think Marina is the most courageous person I know. Her best friend is dead but she gives a eulogy and only cries a little bit. At the reception afterwards we eat because it’s daytime and it’s the polite thing to do.
Afterwards we sit on the edge of the pool at the house we’re staying in, still dressed in our funeral clothes. One by one we all jump in, fully clothed. We create a whirlpool – grabbing each other’s ankles and pool noodles, pulling each other along. We laugh because it’s the hottest part of the day and our only mud is each other’s voices.
“He was the worst.” Marina says through tears and laughter. We share stories about him, even the bad ones. Someone has to heckle the rhinos.
The rhino is usually a solitary creature. But sometimes, they socialize with birds. It’s a symbiotic relationship, but a rhino will make a “mmmwonk” noise when it’s happy and a bird will perch on its back.
We’re usually solitary creatures. But sometimes a bird – well a bird lover – will bring us together. Because here’s how it ends: I can lose my friend in a bike accident. I can stand on the precipice of depression with outstretched arms ready to fall. But at the end of the day – as long as I have someone who will heckle the rhinos with me – their arms will grasp my waist and pull me back from the edge.
Noelle will graduate in the spring of 2017 with a B.A. in Writing and English from Indiana Wesleyan University. She believes in writing as a catharsis for the grieving and healing. She hopes to work for a publishing house or in the entertainment industry writing for SNL or Jimmy Fallon. Her work can be found in Indiana Wesleyan’s literary magazine Caesura. This is her first piece published in a real literary journal.