He loves the smell of the popcorn, the soft pretzels with their chunks of salt, hot sun against the pavement. He loves the sounds echoing across the pathways – kids playing, parents shouting out directions, deep throated growls of bears or lions. The heat of the day presses against his skin like a weight, the sun high overhead. His brother walks or rides in the stroller that his mom pushes and uses as a cart to hold all their bags and snacks and toys. She keeps offering him gulps of water from his cup, the water increasingly warm and metallic. They pass under a machine that shoots out a mist of water above them. It lands on his face and the backs of his arms and for a minute he almost feels cool.
He sits in the baby carrier, tucked into his dad’s chest, which he likes because he can see all the animals while his brother complains from the ground how he can’t. His mom picks his brother up when they reach each habitat, but it’s still never high enough. His brother asks if he can be in the carrier, but his dad tells him he is too big. His brother throws himself on the ground crying, and his mom offers to carry him for a few minutes. His brother begrudgingly agrees. When they visit the elephants, he feels like he can almost reach out and touch their long trunks. Their skin looks rough and scaly and he watches as they roll on their giant backs through the mud. He wishes he could roll through the mud with them, let it stick to his skin and cool him off.
His dad offers him a pouch of baby food that tastes like bananas and strawberries. He sucks the whole thing down and his dad gives him another one, that he accidentally sprays across his dad’s shirt, which makes him laugh, but not his dad. Next, they visit the monkeys, which are his brother’s favorite. The monkeys are in constant motion – jumping, running, hooting. He watches them pick through plastic plates piled with fruits and vegetables. A small, long-haired monkey grabs a piece of banana and nibbles the soft part. He wonders if the monkey would also like a pouch of baby food, but neither his mom nor his dad thinks to offer him one. The chimpanzees have long sticks that they use to scrape up ants. The ant hills are piled against the glass so that visitors can watch the chimps poke their sticks in and suck the ants off like a lollipop. His brother presses his nose and hands against the glass, and it looks like there are ants crawling around his head like a halo.
His favorite animals are the lions. They stand there and watch them lying in the shade, their bodies draped over an outcropping of rocks. Their tails flick slowly across their backs and every once in a while, one of them shakes its head or yawns with its thick tongue curling outward through its sharp teeth. After the lions, they see ducks and flamingos and fish that look like rocks. They walk down a row of bear habitats where the inhabitants are all sleeping, half hidden in the back, hiding from the sun. They see zebras and big pigs with horns and rhinos that cluster together like they are having an important conversation. They watch the giraffes lumber around on their stilt-like legs, sticking out their long, grey tongues in search of leaves.
His brother and his mom ride the carousel. His brother sits on the figure of a monkey that looks like it is running, and his mom sits next to him on a horse with a horn on the top of its head and a mane that sparkles in pinks and purples. He and his dad watch as they spin around, waving each time they go by. At some point, the heat and the motion lull him to sleep and he rests the weight of his body against his dad’s chest. When he wakes up and pulls away, they are both wet with sweat; his muscles feel heavy with contentment. On the way to the exit, his dad buys them all ice cream cones that melt in rivers down their arms as they walk to the car. They leave, sticky with sweat and smelling like sugar.