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Gondolia

Things writers think about while putting on their socks
Copyright © 2000 by James Paddock. All rights reserved.


1,385 words
Gondolia appears to be following me with his one good eye, the other asleep or just closed, or maybe damaged because an eight year old–a tourist escorting several big people around the proud little Charleston zoo–threw a sharp stick and damaged the eye to such an extent that the zoo employees had to capture the poor animal, anesthetize it, remove the infected organ, replace it with a ping pong ball and then sew the lid shut. Maybe it didn’t happen. Who’s to know to just look at Gondolia?

And what if the reason he's looking at me is that he thinks I am the one who put out half his lights? What if his secret plan is to quietly wait, 98 percent submerged, until I am within range and then pop the already loosened stitches, flop the lid open and then, like a 20 pound shot from one of the civil war cannons still appearing to protect the Charleston harbor, the ping pong ball–disguised as an eye ball, having been painted with several colors of waterproof coloring pens to closely resemble an alligator eyeball–will propel from the deep green socket at such a force that in my surprise at seeing this flying gator organ coming at me I will open my mouth only to be further shocked at how far down my throat it will proceed before coming to a complete halt. I dare not look away for I must keep an eye on the lid with the sew job, listen for the telltale sign of a breaking stitch, watch also the one good, unblinking eye for a twitch or any show of an ace up his sleeve, for I cannot see his sleeves, being below the water level and all.

Out of the corner of my eye, however, I sense a child, or a midget jumping up and down on a bench or some other object a foot or two off the ground. I fight curiosity, the urge to look at the short person and away from Gondolia, for it would be just such an opportunity to pop the stitches, arm the eyeball propulsion system and then wait for me to turn my head back to him.

“I don’t care! I want to go into the snake house,” the short person insists to someone just out of reach of my peripheral vision.

“Well I don’t, Joey, and you can’t go in by yourself,” a lovely little voice replies. My sixth sense judges the owner of the voice to be 5’ 2”, 110 lb, long blond hair, unattached and walking her nephew through the zoo. Some inner force over which I have no control starts my head swiveling toward the sweet voice. My eyes try to maintain vigilance on Gondolia’s deadly eyeball but unfortunately where the head goes the eyes must follow and to my utter amazement I discover the face of an angel and I hear harps and violins and other assorted string instruments, none of the names of which I can instantly recall. Immediately several things happen. My heart rate doubles as well as my rate of breathing and I hear the unmistakable sound of thread-like material coming apart or a bird calling or a squirrel chattering. At this second I cannot sort out the difference. My head snaps back around to face Gondolia whose eyes, much to my horror, are both open. There isn't much time but I instantly know what I have to do.

It is well apparent that if Gondolia’s aim is off, there is a fair chance that the deadly eyeball could strike the child beginning to raise more ruckus on the wooden zoo bench, or worse yet disfigure his beautiful young aunt whose perfume has already begun to fog my judgment. I shake it off and stare hard at the old gator, trying to scare it back down, force it to retreat, to regret ever considering using any kind of retaliation tactics on such an innocent soul as myself. I begin to count. I know not why, but beginning at one, I simply count upward, kind of like a teacher I had when I was still at a single digit age who would start counting if the class turned noisy or began getting out of hand—like throwing chalk or food or the girls’ purses—until she got to five at which time all the dickens would break loose. She never got to five and I never was able to discover what the dickens were. I sure wouldn’t have wanted them to get loose though, that’s for sure.

I get to fifteen and he still hasn’t backed down. At twenty-five he begins to move, but much to the dismay of my bodily waste storage and discharge system, he lifts to the full extent of his short but powerful legs and takes about a dozen quick steps out of the water before I am able to utter twenty-six. My mind and voice freeze solid like a million year old glacier. Then the sun explodes and instantly thaws the big chunk of ice and I step into quick action.

“LOOK OUT!” a strange voice much like my own yells as I throw myself toward and upon the body attached to the angel-like face, scoop the child named Joey off his trampoline bench and drop my own 210 pounds of bone, muscle and maybe a little too much flab, upon them in the grass and unidentifiable foliage, praying all the while that my body would be enough of a shield to protect these two delicate individuals from the onslaught of the justifiably angry, one eyed, and one ping pong ball painted unskillfully to resemble an eyeball, killer gator named Gondolia.

Confusion ensues as apparently I am the only one with the knowledge of the threat existing only a few feet from where people walk and stop each and every day. Zoo security is not aware. Neither is the animal control officer who has come on the run with a nonlethal sleep-dart loaded rifle and a lethal bullet-loaded pistol strapped to his side. The rather important looking zoo official with an unintelligible walkie-talkie stuck to her face certainly is surprised when I tell her of the magic marker-painted ping pong ball. The roving janitor, whose title I learn is the refuse control specialist, stands off to the side with his mouth flopped open, obviously rather shocked by the sudden turn of events. It makes me feel rather good that I am able to impart this most important information to these obviously ignorant persons, not ignorant in the way one would think being dumb or unintelligent, but ignorant to the dangerous situation lying await in the black waters and swampy corridors of Gondolia’s kingdom. I notice in the ensuing confusion that Gondolia has disappeared, undoubtedly resulting from his knowing that he was about to be found out, that is his scheme to terminate my breathing capacity at the same time ridding himself of the plastic covered air ball. He has retreated back down into the dark corridors of his castle dungeon.

The angel-face aunt sits on the bench with her arm around Joey, both of whose eyes have never left mine. I know they want only to run over and thank me but respect the fact that it is most important that I share my knowledge with the zoo officials as quickly as possible. A protective circle forms around me, the zoo official just in front, zoo security and the animal control officer on the sides and the refuse control individual on the rear guard, the angel aunt and Joey falling in behind. The quick response of the zoo readily impresses me as we make our way toward the main administration building where undoubtedly there are already being set up a debriefing room with coffee and donuts and maybe even some little finger sandwiches and such.

My stomach growls at the possibilities.

Isn’t it strange sometimes, when you get out of bed in the morning and while putting on your socks, you think about what type of day it is going to be and what adventures might befall you, that you never imagine something like this? I sure didn’t.


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