At nighttime, we felt the penguins come in. They padded down the hallway and filled all our dreams. Too many people lived in our tiny apartment: me, my husband, and our twin little boys. My husband was tall and narrow like always. He curled around the sleeping boys at night, who were plump as loaves of bread. The penguins were short and squat too. My husband had fantasies about lying on the floor with a bee-bee gun, waiting for them to slip in the cat door.
The penguins entered our apartment this way night after night. They barked and molted, mated and fought. They didn’t care when we watched them, standing shocked in our robes.
Did anyone else have nighttime penguins? We got a babysitter and went to a town meeting to find out.
The mayor rapped a hammer on a folding table. It was a real hammer, with a wooden handle and steel head. The mayor read the long list of agenda items then added that there would be an open-ended forum once the town had fully addressed everything else on the list.
It seemed we would be there all night.
The townspeople were very worried. They worried about things my husband and I had never considered.
The townspeople fretted over stipulations and the terms of their leases and the safety features on their cars and the squint in the town-approved eye doctor’s eye and teenagers, they were such monsters these days! The teens, they kept taking over. They bared their teeth, they growled, a few of them had skinned a donkey up on the hill. There’d been talk of Satan and talk of methamphetamines and then a big argument about which was more dangerous. Some said a person could protect him or herself from drugs by avoiding them but Satan entered everything, was impossible to stop. He was like those lunches that leaked no matter what kind of wrap or sealant you procured for your kid. Satan! He always leaked into you, infecting your heart, your mind, even your fingers, which would itch to skin a donkey belonging to a beloved but grumpy old man whose wife had died and whose hill the donkey once lived on had caught fire one summer before, the result of a lighter, an unsupervised second grader, and a brittle old phonebook.
My husband and I squeezed each other’s thighs.
The babysitter had already earned big bucks by the time the agenda ended. Finally we asked, “Does anyone have penguins?” The townspeople were outraged, because there were laws!
“We don’t want them,” we said. My husband eyed the mayor’s hammer. I added, “But we don’t want to harm them either. We have small boys and do not support violence or death.”
The mayor began a question with “obviously.” My husband cut him off and said, “Of course we tried taping up the cat door!”
We were directed toward Internet sites. Some decided the penguins could be an enriching experience for our boys. The penguins, they said, were lifelong fuel for our sons’ educational vehicle.
“We’ll see what happens to their vehicles,” my husband whispered, eying the hammer.
I smiled brightly and thanked everyone.
At the end of the night, we paid the babysitter and offered her a penguin bonus. She turned it down.
We bought earplugs and a noise-canceling machine. We cautioned the boys against touching the penguins. Sometimes, the penguins slept in a pile in the bathtub.
Of course we tried taping up the cat door. My husband suspected the cat’s ghost was clawing the tape down. He had fantasies of lying on the floor with a BB gun and shooting her ghost. We’d put the cat to sleep early on in the twins’ lives, after she scratched one.
The twins told a teacher they had new siblings, a bunch of penguins. We had a parent-teacher conference about enforcing the difference between imagination and reality. The teacher, not embarrassed at all by her assumption, suggested the town hall meetings. We already tried everything, we told her. Of course we tried taping up the cat door.
Read more about Jen here.
Read more about Shen here.