Search for Supple Buns
Robert Long Foreman
I had to find them, the supple buns, the supplest ones I could find.
I went looking in the likeliest place.
I went to the zoo.
Our zoo is so fucking huge. The animals have their own neighborhoods: Australia, Africa, North America. South America’s a concrete bunker full of monkeys that hate people and a shark that floats in a shallow pool and watches your face like it thinks it knows you but can’t put its fin on where it saw you last.
What a goddamn nightmare.
I had no interest in human buns. You can find them at the zoo, but they’re not supple. They’re anything but. They’re round or firm, too flat or too much.
If it’s supple buns you want, you have to broaden your horizons. You have to get post- or pre-human.
I was going pre-. It was like I told the girl who took my ticket on the way in.
She nodded and smiled. She knew exactly what I was talking about.
I strode into the zoo on that sunny September day, my ticket stub clenched in my fist, for I was proud to have bought it, to support my zoo. They give their animals food, water, and sudsy baths. They’re damn good. The best of the best.
I rented a wheelchair at the wheelchair stand. I thought I’d push it in front of me, so people would wonder if I’d brought a disabled companion to the zoo and left him there. Like my old boss, maybe. They’d think I’d left him in Africa.
Maybe at the lions?
Maybe in the lions’ den.
Really the wheelchair was for me to sit in once I’d found the supple buns. I expected to be floored by them, to be wiped out.
I knew they were at the zoo. The buns, I mean. I’d seen them there in a dream, the night before. I’d gone to the zoo and found them in the dream. So now I was there.
Look. I didn’t ask to be fired from my job at the modeling agency. I’d been a talent scout, but now I wasn’t one. I’d lost everything. I’d never go back.
But with the loss of my job I had gained the dream of buns and the walking quest I’d seen in the dream.
The first animal I saw? Otter.
I had a great view. Otter was swimming in his pool of water, and through the glass I could see his tail switch back and forth as he played with a floating toy. Every job has its perks.
Otter had an anus and that tail, but no buns to speak of.
I wasn’t worried. The zoo has hundreds of animals. Literally hundreds.
The next animal had buns. Polar bear. I could see the buns as she paced back and forth across her patch of concrete. Children marveled.
But the buns weren’t right. They weren’t supple. I moved on.
I got my face painted for twenty dollars. I couldn’t believe what it cost, but money is a construct. When I emerged from the face-painting booth I had the image of a zebra on my face—not just its face, the whole zebra—and I invented a story to tell the artist. It concerned my mother. I said I’d left her at the sea lion amphitheater, where she would fend for herself. With the wheelchair, I’d go back and find her, later, wherever she was. Maybe at the lost and found?
I was kidding, I assured her.
I don’t think she cared. I think she stopped listening when I asked her what zebra buns were really like.
Next on my stroll was the stingray exhibit. Those monsters have their own building, with a big, shallow pool that takes up most of the space inside. You can reach in and touch the stingrays, but on my way in someone announced that we could feel the stingrays only on their backs, with two fingers.
It was all right. Stingrays don’t even have buns. If it’s buns you want, then for god’s sake, steer clear of fish.
On my way out the door of Stingray Central, I heard someone say, “Buns? Supple buns?”
I turned around.
It was a young man, maybe twenty, with a buzzcut, beard, and tie-dyed shirt. He was walking in the other direction. I hadn’t seen him.
I caught up with him. “I’m sorry,” I said, “but did you say—”
“I said buns,” he said, not looking at me. I had to hurry, to keep up. “You’re looking for buns?”
“Yeah. Supple buns. How’d you know?”
He scoffed. “You were shouting about them at the face-paint station.”
“I didn’t shout.”
“Damn, dude, keep up.”
I walked a half-step behind him, pushing the wheelchair.
We neared the penguin shack. Surely, I thought, there are no supple buns in that building.
I followed him in, past the adorable fucking penguins, to a public restroom. Not the men’s room, a family restroom.
“But this is for families,” I said and went in after him.
“I have a family,” he said. He locked the door and turned to face me. “I’ve got to feed them somehow. Fifty dollars.”
“You want supple buns? I’ve got the supplest buns around. Fifty dollars.”
I had my doubts. Really, I did. But I reached into my thin, leather wallet and produced three twenties. “Change?” I said.
“I’ll never change.”
He took the money and unbuckled his belt. His gaze was locked with mine.
He unzipped his pants.
I looked down.
His boxer-briefs had cartoon trains on them. In them was a huge lump.
Oh no, I thought. His dick is enormous. It’s like the size of a giant guinea pig. I can’t deal with that.
It was a giant guinea pig. Furry and round. He pulled it from his train undies and held it close to my face.
“Feast your eyes on this bitch,” he said. “I bred her myself. That’s right. I breed them to have lumps where lumps should be, and the supplest buns you’ll find at any zoo, any pet store. She’s six pounds, can you believe that? Can hardly walk, these buns are so supple. And just look at those eyes, that face. Eh? You like it? Sure you do. She looks so innocent, you can hardly believe it.” His words poured out and kept pouring. “Another fifty dollars? I leave you here with her for ten minutes. No questions asked, my friend.” She was the most docile guinea pig I’d ever seen. She didn’t try to scramble out of his grip. He tilted her and showed me the buns. “Would you look at that?” he said. “What do you think? You ever seen a thing like that?”
I took a deep breath. I whispered, “Sir, indeed I’ve never seen this before. Not anything like it. I believe, with all my heart, that this is what I came here to see.”
He grinned like a proud father. “What did I tell you? Nothing like her anywhere else in the zoo, and here she is. What do you say, my man?”
I said, “I’m having a flashback.”
“Whoa, boy. When’s the flashback from?”
“Man. That’s a fresh one. You’re gonna make me jealous, standing here.”
“I still had my job. I was a talent scout, for a modeling agency. Sir, if you want to hear stories of buns, I can tell them to you. But it’s not the same. Those were human beings. Girls as young as fifteen, sixteen, from all over the world. And when I learned my boss was taking advantage of those girls, in the worst ways of all, I could not stay silent.”
There was a knock at the door. A hard knock.
“Greg!” another man shouted, outside the door. “Who’s in there with you?”
“A client!” shouted Greg. “Go away, Mike, I saw him first.”
“You did not! Open up.” He banged the door again.
“You’re scaring the penguins, Mike!”
“Open up!” Mike screamed.
I opened the door.
I saw a man my age with a balding head in a cheap, brown suit and a plain, navy blue tie. His face was red. He didn’t look at me, he looked at Greg.
“What the fuck is this about?” Mike said.
“The man wants supple buns,” Greg said. “He doesn’t want your chickenshit prairie vole.”
Mike came in and locked the door behind him. He said to me, “Don’t listen to Greg. He’s a liar.”
Greg said, “Fuck you, Mike.”
Mike stepped close to me. I stepped back. I fell into the wheelchair.
From the inside pocket of his suit jacket, Mike pulled out the prairie vole Greg had trash-talked moments prior. He must have cut a hole in the pocket, so the prairie vole would fit in his jacket’s lining.
He struggled to keep the prairie vole from scrambling out of his arms.
“Her name’s Betty,” he said, nearly dropping her. “She’s a bitch.”
“You’re such a goddamn amateur,” said Greg, watching from beside the toilet, guinea pig clutched against his chest.
Someone new knocked on the door, and shouted, “Open up! This is the police.”
Greg said to me, “Fuck! Is this a setup? You a cop?”
I said, “I don’t even know the police.”
There were no windows. I couldn’t get out.
With one hand, Mike held the prairie vole. With the other, he tried to pull me out of the wheelchair.
I kicked him away. I almost kicked the prairie vole. Not on purpose.
“Come on, man,” he said. “I have a family.”
The cop pounded again.
Greg looked at the door. He looked at the guinea pig.
He stroked the poor girl one more time and said, “I’m sorry, Janet. I’m so sorry.”
Mike tried again to pull me up. I heard a splash.
The toilet flushed and I looked at Greg. He looked stricken. His guinea pig was gone.
“What did you do?” I said.
The door banged open and in a flash cops in uniforms pressed both men against the floor. Mike dropped the prairie vole, who scurried out. I cowered in my chair. I was terrified they’d push me to the floor, too, and smear the zebra.
I shut my eyes. I heard screams. The men fought and made lots of noise.
When the police dragged Greg away, he cried, “Janet! I didn’t want to do it! Oh dear god, I’m going to hell!”
Then it was silent, in there.
“It’s all right, sir,” another man said to me at last. “That man is indeed going straight to hell.”
I opened my eyes. It was a cop with a moustache. Tall. Cheekbones. If I hadn’t been fired, I might have recruited him for the agency.
“What did he do to you?” the cop said.
“He said he was looking for buns,” I said. “He said he was going to take mine.”
The cop wheeled me out of the family restroom and took me in his arms.
He said it would be okay. He whispered into my ear, “Sir, you have been through too much. That ends now. We’re going to take care of you.”
Someone took a photo of us, hugging by the penguins. It went viral.
With some effort, I pulled myself together. That beautiful cop asked if I was ready, and when I said yes he pushed me before him in the wheelchair, out of the penguin den.
I cried. Tears streaked the zebra, making it only more beautiful.
Robert Long Foreman’s debut collection of short fiction, I Am Here to
Make Friends, comes out this March from Sundress Publications. His first
novel, Weird Pig, won the Nilsen Prize for a First Novel, and comes out
October 2020. His first book, Among Other Things, an essay collection,
was published in 2017 by Pleiades Press. He has won a Pushcart Prize, and
his work has appeared in Crazyhorse, Agni, Harvard Review, Kenyon
Review Online, and elsewhere.