THIRTY-FIVE, 2.0

The cage beside hers was empty. She only really cared about it this morning. All of this time, she never knew what it meant, just that there as a space next to hers that she longed for but could never reach.

That didn’t mean she actually hated her area. Hers was pretty substantial, enough room to gather a few steps at an even pace, and even a tree to climb. Once at the top, she could see the entire floor, the grass and dirt and leaves. She tried eating the leaves once, but the taste was unpleasant and left her feeling ill, such that she threw up a short time later.

Then the room got quiet, there was a buzz, and she fell asleep. When she awoke that day, she found herself underneath the tree asleep, and a banana at her feet. She obviously loved bananas, which the strangers knew. But it was always a disconcerting moment to come awake to a banana at her feet.

Her days were otherwise plain and uninteresting. Mornings would come with the smell of bananas and the smell of cinnamon. Cinnamon covered bananas, just like, well, like she’s always known. She’d run around in her cage, hang upside-down, do all of the things that she’d loved to do for her entire life, and through it all she could hear things.

Sometimes a she heard a loud “clap-clap-clap” when she’d performed a flip. Sometimes she’d dance and hear the sounds of of voices “ha-ha-ha”-ing, a strange sound that created a warm feeling in her chest and on her face, and made her want to replicate that feeling.

Nights were cold and dark, and lonely, and occasionally she saw the shadows of the Strangers just before sleep came. Last night was the oddest time she’d had in her lifetime here. She had smelled something rotten before sleep took over. An unwashed banana peel was her first thought, or the bottoms of her feet if she stepped in her own poop. But no, that wasn’t the cause.

Just when she was about to fall into sleep again, she heard a noise. A cough, an exhalation in pain and troubled. She went towards the sound, cautiously, noting that it was coming from near the wall of her cage, near where the emptiness was.

The empty cage she could never reach. There was a shadow, and at first she ran up the tree, away from the Stranger that had likely entered that Other Place. She waited, heard nothing, and descended and stalked towards the wall between cages. Then there were grunts, and noises, and a paw suddenly dashed out and grabbed hers.

She screamed, kicking at the caged and the arm holding her. She scratched and clawed, but the paw would not let go. Finally there were voices and the metallic CLANG of doors opening in the other cage.

Strangers surrounded the other… she didn’t know what to call it. The paw holding her suddenly pulled back, and there was a distorted scream that she recognized as pain as the Other was then dragged out of that cage.

She stared at the cage all morning, and even now, as there is no sound of laughter today.

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