Rut, a work of short fiction, appeared in Revolt Daily in June of 2014. Revolt Daily, unfortunately, appears to no longer be online.
The ass Brian slaps first thing Friday morning is not Beth’s. He thinks it is, from the moment he spots her, alone and counting her drawer in her khaki shorts, until the moment she squeals and turns around. It isn’t a quick smack, it’s a heavy whole-palm slap, ending with a squeeze. Beth’s been fucking him for three weeks: Tuesday and Thursday afternoons after her shift and before her mom gets home, once on a Friday night in the movie theater parking lot, and three times when his parents went out and he called her to come over. Zoo uniforms make the admissions girls hard to tell apart, especially when they tie their hair back, and the ass in his hand is not Beth’s, it’s Natalie’s.
Fifteen-year-old Natalie, who came for her interview in her Catholic school uniform and who Brian discussed in filthy detail with Matty from the maintenance department. Natalie who looks like the banner girl on a barely-legal porn site and who starred in three of Brian’s last seven jerk-off fantasies. She spins, her black-lined eyes wide, and she says much too loudly, “What the fu–“
“Oh my God, Natalie.” Brian recoils like he’s laid his hand on a griddle. He speaks so fast his words run together. ”I thought you were Beth, I swear to God, I am so sorry.” He remembers the security camera aimed at the register drawers, and resists looking up. Natalie looks straight at the lens.
“Seriously, I didn’t mean… it’s just… mistaken identity.”
Natalie tosses her pony tail and lays a hand on her cocked hip. She looks about to smile, but Beth shoves past in a rush.
“Supervisors meeting in five,” she says. “Natalie, I need you to cover both windows. Sorry.”
Beth wears loose green slacks. Her coffee-colored pony tail ends just between her shoulder blades. Natalie’s is blonde and barely reaches her collar. At least they’re both in flip-flops, though Natalie has a toe ring and white-tipped toenails instead of Beth’s pink.
Beth signs off on Natalie’s drawer. “You coming?”
“Yeah, sorry.” Brian leaves Natalie with an apologetic grimace and a glance at the security cameras.
This morning’s prayer has an acerbic edge. Dr. Paul must have skipped the Y. The managers keep their heads bowed, though a few of them–Brian and Beth, Parker who runs the Kritter Kitchen, and Teddy the animal curator—-exchange frowns.
After “Amen,” Dr. Paul sips his coffee and says they need to talk about uniforms. He tosses his dog-eared copy of the employee handbook across the table to Beth. Her head snaps up.
“Beth, would you read the section about shorts for female employees? Specifically, appropriate length?”
“Read the section first, Beth, would you please?”
Beth’s face is red. At last year’s Christmas party Janet from finance made Beth open a present, and she barely got the paper off before running to the ladies room to puke.
“Shorts may be worn from May to September thirtieth, provided they are olive green or khaki and of an appropriate length. Female employees’ shorts should end not more than five inches above the knee, measured while standing. I’ve told–“
Dr. Paul points toward the admissions area. Brian isn’t in a position to see what he’s indicating, but he’s pretty sure it’s wearing a toe ring. “Does that young lady appear to be in uniform? Read the part about footwear. No, it’s all right. The policy is closed-toed shoes only. It’s a safety hazard.”
In the credenza behind Dr. Paul’s desk is the fancy VCR that records security footage. Brian helped install the system. All the cameras used to be plastic decoys, but then there were a couple overnight break-ins and now only half our cameras are fakes. The ones in admissions are real. They’re on a seventy-two hour loop. If Natalie keeps her mouth shut until lunchtime Monday, Brian’s home free.
“Dr. Paul,” Beth says, “I’ve tried telling my girls. They can’t find shorts that long.”
“That’s how they dress these days,” croaks too-many-cigarettes Janet.
“This is a family attraction,” says Dr. Paul. “It’s indecent.”
“It’s how the visitors dress,” Beth says, with a bit too much edge.
“Guests can dress however they want. Staff have to be in uniform. If it’s that difficult, I know some stores that carry longer shorts. Or they can wear pants.”
Beth starts to protest, but Dr. Paul holds up a hand. “I don’t want excuses. I want you to get it done. Okay?”
“If you want me to send Natalie home, I have to leave the meeting because there’s no one else to work the window.” Beth stares at her notepad. Dr. Paul offers a conciliatory smile.
“Stay put. She’s okay for today. I just don’t want to see it again.”
Dr. Paul asks Teddy about Dakota. Teddy says the big bull elk’s massive antlers are still in velvet. Soon he’ll shed it and go into rut, and he’ll have to be confined to a private pen so he doesn’t hurt the other animals. Their last bull elk, Roosevelt, went into rut early and took on Tatonka, the bison. Tatonka ripped him open from groin to sternum, but not before Roosevelt gored two female elk.
Brian tries to catch Beth’s eye to see how she’s feeling, but she sulks for the rest of the meeting. Beth never lets go of things quickly.
After the meeting Beth has a private talk with Natalie and hides in the basement doing gift shop inventory for the rest of the day. Brian visits at lunch, angling for a quickie among the plush toys, but with her short sentences and her back always toward him it’s clear he’s not wanted.
“I don’t understand why he has to yell at me,” she says. “I try my best.”
“I don’t think he yelled,” Brian says. Beth growls.
“You could have stood up for me.”
“And drag out the lecture? I thought you’d just want it over.”
She slams down a box and moves to a back corner.
On his way out Brian passes through the kitchen. Parker is on his laptop while two teen boys Brian has never seen sling burgers for the guests. Their baggy shorts sag low, revealing several inches of striped boxer shorts.
“Beth’s Aunt Flo in town?” says Parker. He’s short, skinny, and as obviously gay as anyone Brian has ever met—which he tries to cover by dressing and acting like a thug. He wears high-top Jordans as red as a brand new fire truck, khaki shorts big enough for three of him, and a white visor turned sideways and upside-down. His uniform shirt is open, revealing his tight wife-beater and enormous gold crucifix.
“She doesn’t like being the center of attention,” Brian says. “Freaks her out.”
“She need to get them bitches in line. You don’t see my boys messing with no uniforms. This Italian bull don’t play!” He punches the air. The crucifix hops and thumps his chest.
“She doesn’t deserve that,” Brian says. “She tries really hard.”
“Doesn’t like Father Paul’s prescription for change? Girl oughta chill, she’s only here for summer and Christmas.”
Beth has one more year of school. After that, she’ll either be managing guest services full-time or moving away. Brian hopes for the latter.
“You’re crazy to be messing with them girls, bra. When you gonna come see Sweet P? I make the boys holla!”
The chat window on Parker’s laptop displays a thumbnail photo of an erection.
“Someone wants your attention.”
“Oh shit!” Parker shouts. “Bull’s swinging pipe! You take care, son. God bless.”
Beth works late on Fridays. Brian considers another visit to say goodbye, but figures he’ll call after work. When he reaches the employee parking lot, Natalie is waiting on his car, texting and dangling a flip-flop from one toe. Her hair is free from its pony tail, and her untucked uniform shirt conceals her shorts entirely.
She hasn’t noticed him yet, and Brian considers bolting. He can walk home and come back later for the car. It’s only eight miles. Then she raises her eyes.
“Me and my friends are having a party.” Her flip-flop hits the gravel. Brian bends to retrieve it, and she holds out her foot like Cinderella awaiting her glass slipper. Brian slides the thong into place.
“Natalie, I don’t think I should–“
She snaps her gum.
“Can you get us some beer?”
Brian calls Beth twice after her shift, but gets no answer and no return call. Natalie said her parents would be gone by eight, so he stops at the distributor at seven forty-five and buys a pack of beef jerky, two lottery tickets, and a case of Natural Light. He waits in the parking lot until eight ten. The lottery tickets are losers, and the beef jerky leaves his mouth dry. He wishes he’d bought a soda–he’s not about to risk opening a beer in the car.
At eight fifteen Brian creeps along Natalie’s street and squeals the brakes when he sees a police car in the driveway. Brian double-checks the address. It’s definitely hers.
He texts: POLICE CAR???
The reply is immediate: MY DADS DONT WORRY THEY R GONE
Then another: BRING 2 BACK YARD
Brian parks at the curb, then on second thought pulls up beside the police car. The neighbor houses are awfully close. He wishes he had a bag for the beer, the case is so ostentatiously blue and silver.
A stockade fence surrounds the yard, the kind designed to keep the neighbors from watching you in your pool. The gate is closed, but unlocked. Behind it is a kidney-shaped pool with a cement patio. Natalie lays on one of the white chaise lounges, wearing a white string bikini. She smiles when Brian enters, her eyes hidden behind bug-eye sunglasses, and points a toe toward the blue and white plastic cooler in the grass. Brian swallows hard.
He sets the case in the cooler, wiggling it to settle it into the ice, and stands over her, breathing harder than he should be.
“Is it cold?”
Brian shakes his head. “Sorry.”
“It’s okay. It’ll get cold.”
“I should get going. Your friends will be here soon.”
“Stay. No one’s even showing up ’til eleven. Have a beer.”
Brian’s blood surges in his veins like water through a fire hose. His body swells with each pump of his heart.
“I have to drive.”
“One beer.” One eyebrow arches above her sunglasses.
Brian retrieves two warm cans that froth when he pops their tabs. Natalie slurps the foam and licks her lips. Brian holds his in one slippery palm. “Here,” she says, cradling her beer so she can turn. “Get my back.”
Her hand works the knot behind her neck, and before Brian can protest, the strings fall to her sides. “There’s oil under that table.”
“Natalie, it’s eight thirty.”
“So what? It’s summer. Take off your shirt. You can take off your pants too if you want, no one can see.” Three of the houses have windows visible above the fence. “I can only tan naked when my parents aren’t home, which is, like, never. Take off your shirt! I’ve never seen you not in your uniform. It’s sexy.”
She begins to rise. One pink nipple pops into view, a pencil eraser on a mound of soft flesh.
“I have to go,” Brian says. “I have a date. With Beth.”
Natalie looks him over, doe eyed. “You didn’t drink your beer!”
She stands, slowly. Brian can’t help but stare, hypnotized by her breasts, her stomach, her lean legs. She’s all bare unblemished skin, interrupted only by that single thin string of her bikini.
“I bet you’d like to fuck me.” Even in her fantasies, she never talked dirty. Brian’s throat closes. He thinks again about that soda.
“I bet you’d like to eat my pussy, spread my legs, and make me take it all.”
Too late, Brian realizes he’s hard. Natalie already knows.
“Too bad.” She wiggles the silver ring on the finger of her left hand. “I can still suck your cock though. Can you get me some weed.”
“Tonight?” Brian chokes.
She looks worried, but it’s fleeting. She coos.
“How about tomorrow? Say, six o’clock?”
She’s close enough to kiss. Brian smells her strawberry lip gloss, the banana and coconut of the tanning oil. Heat radiates off her.
“Tomorrow,” she says, and gives his cock a squeeze.
Saturday morning Brian meets Mildred at the Grabner Farm for a walk. Grabner’s is a popular spot for walkers and runners, a working farm preserved by the county so residents can recall the idyllic days before strip malls and cookie cutter tract housing bulldozed all the big farms. Brian sometimes comes with Beth, sometimes with Anne who quit the zoo to work at Walgreens, and sometimes with Mildred.
Mildred, the stripper-hot vet tech, who never goes by Millie and who hates when people make fun of her name. Mildred, who strutted into the office on Brian’s first day and sent his jaw careening to his desk like the wolf’s in a Tex Avery cartoon. Mildred, who every man at the zoo, including married, born-again Dr. Paul, would absolutely sell their mother to fuck, except she’s all but married to Ray, the bearded zookeeper who cheats on her and tells her she’s shit and no one else will ever love her, but who she won’t leave because he’d never actually hit her.
On their walks they usually talk about Ray, and Brian tries to fuck Mildred. Today, though, Mildred wants to talk about Dr. Paul and how he won’t let the education department mention evolution.
“We get complaints from schools,” she says. “For fuck’s sake the man runs a zoo.”
“Last summer,” Brian says, “I wrote a thing about prairie dogs for the web site. For the exhibit opening, you know? Part of it was about how ranchers and farmers used to kill them all, and because there were no prairie dogs the ground dried out and that caused the dust bowl. He made me take that part out.”
“Let me guess. It wasn’t the prairie dogs that caused the dust bowl, it was God.”
“Yes! He said God gave man dominion over the beasts of the Earth, or however that bullshit goes.”
Mildred laughs with her whole body. When she smiles it splits her face in a way that might be weird if it weren’t so pretty. She and Brian wave to an elderly couple who recognize her uniform. She works an early shift on Saturdays, so she’s still wearing her short shorts and hiking boots, with just a few traces of mud on her knees.
“I know what you’re trying to do,” Brian says. “You want to rally me to some uprising against Dr. Paul and his crazy Christian wackiness, but I won’t be any part. I’m not denying he’s nuts, but I like my job more than I like Darwin.”
“It’s not even really him, you know.” Mildred’s eyes get wide. They always do when she tells stories. “His wife converted him. That’s what Ron says. He was probably a drunk frat boy before they met. I bet he’d go right back without her. I could totally seduce him.”
“He has a ton of porn on his computer,” Brian says.
“Oh my God! No he doesn’t! How would you know that?”
“I had to get a virus off it, like a month ago. Really sick stuff. Some web site called Old Enough to Pee.”
“You’re lying!” Mildred shoves him. Her hands linger on his waist. Sometimes on their Grabner’s walks they make out, just a little, and sometimes they talk dirty. It’s never gone anywhere, though Brian once told her he wanted to take her into the cornfield and fuck her from behind. She reminds him about it often, but when he takes her hand she never follows.
Before he can over-think it, Brian tells Mildred about Natalie. Every detail, including his jerk-off fantasies. She laughs at all the right parts to reassure him he’s not a creep.
“Are you going to do it?”
“I would. She’s hot. Are you going to get her weed?”
“I think I have to, don’t I? Until Monday, at least, she has me by the balls.”
“Literally, maybe. And how does Bethany feel about this?”
Brian wrinkles his nose. Beth hates that name.
“Beth doesn’t know yet.”
“Oh my God, you’re totally going to do it!”
Brian gives her a shove, and then pulls her body against his. She angles her head just so, but when Brian moves in she pulls away.
“You’re ridiculous,” she says.
The weed isn’t a problem. Parker is a well-known local hookup, and has in fact been selling out of the zoo’s Dessert Delights snack bar for a year. No one on staff except Brian and Beth seems to have noticed the sudden interest from single male customers ages sixteen to twenty-five on Wednesday and Friday afternoons.
Brian has smoked pot maybe three times at parties, and he’s never bought it, but everyone–including Beth–says Parker sells great stuff. Parker doesn’t work Saturdays, so Brian calls him at home.
“Dawg,” Parker says, his voice very relaxed. “Just knock, I’ll hook you up. I’ll give you the good green, not the shit I sell out the Double-D!”
Parker lives in the basement of his father’s house. Brian descends the concrete stairs behind the rusted cellar doors and knocks. There’s a shout from inside, a delay of about a minute, and Parker answers. The mingled smoke from marijuana and cheap incense filters out.
“What up?” Parker blows a gray cloud. He’s shirtless, his eyes bleary and red, and his head weaves like a boxer’s in slow-motion. Rumor says Parker does harder drugs than what he sells. “Come in, B-Dawg.”
The air brings tears to Brian’s eyes. Parker’s wood-panel walls are festooned with Christmas lights and cut-out magazine photos of rap and hip hop stars, bikini models, sneakers, and undressed celebrities of both genders. Above the big-screen television is an enormous crucifix.
“Sit,” says Parker, and drops onto a sagging black leather sofa. Every surface glistens under a sticky film.
Parker rolls a blunt, caressing it suggestively with his fingers and tongue. They watch an hour of 80’s reruns and a half hour of rap videos, inching closer until Parker swings his skinny, hairy leg across Brian’s. Soon they are naked, pressing their mouths into one another as their erections duel. Parker doesn’t speak, and makes no eye contact. He finds a rhythm he likes, impaling himself in the crease between Brian’s thigh and abdomen, and then gasps and their stomachs go slick.
Brian doesn’t cum. Parker shoves him up and hustles into the bathroom, squealing about how gross semen is. Brian leaves light headed and holding a plastic baggie, his face hot and raw from Parker’s stubble. He scoops a drip of semen from his navel and wipes it on his jeans. On the way out he notices the portrait of Jesus on a shelf near the door, turned to face the wall.
Brian tries calling Beth on the drive, but there’s still no answer. It’s probably best, she’d know right away he was high. The text from Natalie says DOOR OPEN CUM UP. She waits on her bed in her school uniform, laptop open between her legs.
Brian has, for the last twenty minutes, been rehearsing how he’ll say no.
“Why are you wearing that?”
“It’s my school uniform, duh.”
Her white socks have frills around the ankle. He can’t tell behind the laptop, but he suspects there are no panties under her tartan skirt.
“I just like to wear it.” She slaps the laptop shut and Brian averts his eyes. He tosses the baggie onto the bed. Natalie grabs it up and holds it close, admiring the little red hairs that Parker made such a big deal about.
“I have to go,” Brian says. “Plans. With Beth.”
“You’re not taking me up on my offer?”
Brian shakes his head. “I’m flattered, Natalie, but it’s not right. Maybe in a few years.”
He feels like the good guy saying it. She smiles, and Brian sees he gave the right answer.
“At least smoke a bowl with me,” she says. As she twists to retrieve the glass bowl from her nightstand, Brian gets a good look at her bare ass.
“I shouldn’t,” he says.
Natalie has no hymen. She rolls her pelvis like a bull rider and tells Brian to spank her, and says things like, “Oh yeah, you like that tight teen pussy,” and when he cums, inside her and astoundingly fast, she says, “Oh yes, oh yes, oh yes,” and her pelvic muscles milk his cock like a dairy farmer on a cow’s udder.
They smoke again after. She wants to talk, and presses into him so his body closes around hers, and rests her head on his chest. On the windowsill across the room rests a collection of stuffed dolls and a framed photo of Natalie, smiling, in her braces.
“I did three guys at once, one time,” she says. “One in my mouth, one in my pussy, and one in my ass. They called it an Eiffel Tower.”
“Wow,” Brian says. He wonders if she’s on birth control.
“That was the only time I took it in the ass,” she says. “It hurt, and I bled after.”
He wants to ask when she lost her virginity, and to who. He wonders if she’d remember.
“Will you hold me?” She snuggles deeper into him. He doesn’t say anything, but he wraps his arms around her. One hand falls on the curve of her ass. He moves it away.
On Sunday the calls come, and Brian ignores them and collects the voice mails. The first three are from Natalie, to follow up the seven texts she sent after she woke up alone. There’s also the two angry messages Beth left while he was asleep beside Natalie with a dead phone battery.
A few hours later the voice mail from Dr. Paul arrives. He sounds very somber, and says he and Brian need to have a private talk first thing Monday morning, and that Brian should have a blessed day.
An hour after that is the call from the police Sergeant, who also suggests he and Brian have a conversation, and that Brian come to the station as soon as possible, and definitely before eight, or they will have bigger problems.
Beth’s phone is off. He knows she’s scheduled to work Sunday, so he drives to the zoo, but she isn’t there. A dark gray sky has brought steady rain, and the zoo is empty. Beth left Courtney, another of the summer girls, in charge. Courtney says Beth was crying.
Brian walks toward the back of the zoo, hair matting as rain streams along the concrete path. Many of the animals have retreated indoors. The prairie dogs are underground, away from the rain. There is only their empty pen, slowly turning into mud within its glass confines.
Dakota the elk chews cud in his yard, unfazed by the rain dampening his fur. He approaches, nodding with each step under the weight of those massive antlers. His velvet is beginning to tear, hanging ragged from strips of exposed bone tinted pink by blood. Brian sits in the wet mulch, tears up a clump of grass, and holds it out for the elk.
“You and me, pal,” he says. “Fucked from the start.”
Dakota’s tongue is slick and sticky on his hand.