It looked like a pig crossed with a possum. Or an extra-snouty armadillo stripped of its shell. The bottom of the hot-dog cart pressed its long, donkey-like ears to its back.
Shifting tones of neon, brake lights, and turn signals washed against its straggly brown fur and its long, rat-like tail as the creature licked a shiny foil wrapper pinned to the sidewalk by its right front foot.
Edo wiped his eyes. He’d hit the Red Bull way too hard the last day and a half, two days, afraid to fall asleep hitching into the city. Now he was exhausted, anxious, maybe hallucinating.
He zoomed his phone’s shitty-ass camera as much as he could and thumbed the digital shutter. The image on the screen matched Edo’s reality.
He sent Freddie the pic. Made it. Look. The world’s biggest possum crawled out of the sewer.
His big brother hit back instantly. That’s an aardvark, you idiot. It’s a long way from home.
So am I.
It’s 117 here and I’m staring at cactus and cholla.
The aardvark stopped licking the candy wrapper. It moved its head from side to side then curled its tail tighter around itself and hunkered down.
Cactus and cholla sounds nice right now. The city is cool and all…but it’s just too much, you know?
Seriously, Edo, what the fuck. You’ve been there, what, five minutes?
I guess it’s that old deal about wherever you go, there you are.
I’d smack the shit out of you if I could. The amount of time I spent listening to you run your mouth. New York this, New York that. Yankee Stadium…Fuck you and Aaron Judge.
Edo shoved his phone into his back pocket then took it out and put it in a front pocket. He ran his fingers over his wad of bills, still a pretty good stash. Somewhere deep in his brain, a little voice whispered: Enough for a bus ticket. He closed his eyes. If he bailed now, Freddie would never let him live it down. Probably the only reason Edo’d gone through with the whole deal was so he didn’t have to listen to Freddie tell him he was the world’s biggest pussy. What had it gotten him? A rotten stomach, a dry mouth, and a headache. Was this the famed New York state of mind?
Edo watched the light, crossed the street. Kept his eyes on the aardvark under the cart the whole way. His phone buzzed.
Freddie: You in the Bronx?
Bronx Zoo has aardvarks. Maybe they’re missing one.
Edo didn’t know what to say to that, so he sent his brother a thumbs up.
“You wanna hot dog or you wanna play on your phone?” The vendor was looking at Edo. A large nose in the middle of a worn face, dark gray eyes. Acne scars on his temples. Closer to old than middle-aged. Neither friendly nor unfriendly.
Edo shoved his phone into his pocket. “This is going to sound nuts, but there’s an aardvark under your cart.”
“You’re shittin me.”
Edo wondered if the guy’s accent was from New York or some country in Eastern Europe. He showed him the picture. “I think it escaped from the zoo.”
The old man stepped away from the cart and bent over slowly, holding the edge with one hand. “I thought you were fuckin with me.”
Edo said, “I think it’s hungry.”
The vendor straightened. “What you want me to do about it?”
“Call the Zoo? Animal Control?”
“I gotta buddy’s a cop.” The vendor pulled out his phone, waited a couple seconds. “Mikey, yeah, you’re not gonna fucking believe this.”
Edo bent over. The aardvark ducked its head, scrabbled its claws against the sidewalk. They were worn down, abraded away by the concrete. The aardvark backed up, ran into one of the cart’s wheels, and hunched deeper into itself. A tremor ran up its snout.
Edo stood before he scared it any more.
The old man slipped his phone into an apron pocket. “My buddy’s calling a guy he knows. Somebody’ll be here.” The vendor looked down at his shoes again. “Hope the little fucker doesn’t decide to attack me.”
Edo shook his head. “It’s scared. It’s trying to dig a hole in the sidewalk so it can hide.”
“Says you, the aardvark expert.” The vendor looked at Edo. “You want a hot dog?”
“Yeah. Please.” He shrugged. “With everything, I guess.”
“You just get here?” The old man’s hands flowed from compartment to compartment. Bun, dog, sauerkraut, onion sauce, mustard, celery salt.
“Hitched from Tucson.”
“Long way.” The old man passed Edo the hot dog. “Five bucks.”
Edo handed over a bill. It was a good hot dog, nothing wrong with it, but it wasn’t anything like a Sonoran-style dogos with the dog wrapped in bacon, then grilled, then stuffed in a bolillo and topped with pinto beans, onions, tomatoes, and salsa. Edo took another bite. Nothing like it at all.
And the city…Brick apartment buildings all around him, pressing in tight, skyscrapers looming up into the night sky. No stars. Just streetlights and clouds. A car horn sounded, shouts hurried through the damp air. The aardvark’s claws scraped against the concrete. The hell with Freddie.
“Could you make me another?”
“Sure, kid. Anything else?”
“Yeah. Where’s a bus station?”
“Where you trying to get?”
Jim’s Taco Fund (Trying not to be a starving artist)
Prompted by Ash (aardvark, chocolate bar wrapper, New York City).
Leave a comment with a living thing, an inanimate object, and a location and I will write a story based on your prompt and tag you when I publish it.