After an interminably long time, the Albino Rhino appeared from the back room and took his place behind the counter. The Goose immediately raced towards him from her place in the lengthy, meandering line, only to have the Albino Rhino clear his throat and point one of his hooves towards the sign that said, “Please Wait Until Called.” The Goose stopped in her tracks, and almost sheepishly—to the great amusement of the Ewe who was second in line—waddled back to her place at the beginning of the line, between the silver poles and red velvet ropes
The Albino Rhino removed the “Closed” sign from the front of the counter. He looked up at the clock on the wall, and removed and cleaned his glasses. As if counting each second, he returned them to the bridge of his horn and said, “Next.”
The Goose waddled more slowly to the counter this time.
“May I help you?” The Albino Rhino asked.
“Oh, yes, please, finally!” The Goose began. She weaved her tale of woe, telling the Albino Rhino far too many details about her seven good-for-nothing offspring, none of whom would lift a wing to help with what she perceived as the Mallard’s intrusion upon the spot between the two birch trees that she had, for as long as she could remember, considered hers.
The Ewe turned to the Snail in line behind her. “One of those. I’ve seen her kind before. We’ll be lucky to get out of here by noon, the way she’s rambling on.”
The Snail said, “Then it’s probably a good thing you’re ahead of me. I’m not sure I will be any quicker.”
“Seven gooselings. Can you imagine that?” The Ewe pressed on. “We sheep are far more pragmatic in that regard. One mother, one child. Lord knows how she handles them all. That’s what she should be complaining about, not the silly Mallard.”
The Snail wondered when the next counter was going to open.
“I’m sure you must have her beat by a mile. I hear snails lay hundreds of eggs. Even by sheep standards, that must mean—” The Ewe tittered in laughter at her cleverness. “A ‘gaggle’ of children!”
From his lower position relative to the Ewe, the Snail watched her teats shake from laughter. He found the sight repugnant and wished he’d come to the Bureau of Animal Affairs before shearing season. He would have remained stoic if the Ewe’s laughing and jiggling had not caused one of her teats to spray milk on his face.
“My dear woman,” the Snail said, “I would greatly appreciate it if, during this insufferable wait, you would refrain from actions which cause me to be subjected to your milk. We snails are vegans.”
“Well! I never! I might expect it from one of the others.” The Ewe surveyed the others in line. “Say, the 24-Hour Fruit Flies, or the Hyena. But from someone as conservative as you?”
“Just what the fuck gave you this misconception about snails? How dare you assume our relative slowness in travelling paces defines who we are in all other areas of our lives. Obviously, you’ve never been to a good old-fashioned take-off-your-shell snail orgy. We gastropods know how to get down and dirty.”
Luckily for the Ewe, the Panda Bear opened her counter and called for the next customer, sparing the Ewe from having to think up a comeback.
“Dirty little creatures,” she mumbled under her breath while heading for the counter.
The Snail moved up in line.
“I didn’t mean to eavesdrop,” the Swan behind him said, “but I think you handled that quite well.”
The Snail began the slow and laborious task of turning around to face the Swan.
Oh, no, let me!” The Swan offered, moving around the Snail so that he could see who was talking to him. She even squatted and lowered her neck in the way that only swans can. “Forgive my forwardness, but in all the times I’ve had to endure this line, I’ve never ceased to be appalled by the wanton gossip that is far too prevalent these days, and I wanted to thank you for stepping up and trying to put a stop to it.”
The Snail eyeballed the Swan, trying to discern if her feelings were genuine. Sensing nothing disingenuous, he extended his head out a bit further and replied. “You’re quite welcome. We snails believe in saying what we feel. We tend to have a lot of time for that while going from place to place.”
“Yes, I heard that about your type. And no, not like the Ewe, who probably got some second-hand story from an anti-slug group. Oh, no! There is quite a large number of snails in our pond. I myself haven’t approached them as they seem…well, I should say seemed now that I’ve actually spoken to one…a bit standoffish. Which is why I was so surprised by the example you used in your retort to our ovine friend there.”
“Example?” The Snail asked.
“Yes, the, well, the one about, you know, no shells.”
The Snail felt a bit superior to the Swan, the way she hemmed and hawed over the subject of group sex.
“Oh, that,” he said, as nonchalantly as possible. “Yes, that’s just one of the joys of life. Don’t swans engage in such things?
“Well,” the Swan hesitated, batting her long black eyelashes for effect. “I mean, we mate, of course, to propagate our species, but I’m afraid our pleasure comes mainly from other things. Having our picture taken, gliding across the water, and, of course, eating. But sexual activities for pleasure, no. I guess we’re just not wired that way.”
“It’s a shame,” the Snail said. “There’s nothing like lying in a pile with other shell-less snails, wet, slimy, excited.”
“It sounds…what’s the word…sexy?”
“That it is. That it is. Oh, and when you get the stray salamander in there—that’s when things really get rolling!”
“You’re into inter-species relationships?”
“Why, of course. I’ve done it with amphibians, a stray mammal, and a curious fish.”
The Swan craned her neck. “Really? And…that works?”
“Oh, yes,” the snail said. “It’s not the species that matters, it’s the act of rubbing things against one’s reproductive system.”
The Swan was beginning to blush. “I can’t believe all this has been going on, and I’ve never noticed.”
“Well, we don’t just get unshelled and dirty willy-nilly. We wait until it’s dark, wait until the sun sets so no one can see us. And there are always lookouts. We take turns. All those snails you’ve seen on branches? Sweetheart, if you only knew what was happening on the other side!”
The Swan’s tail feathers were now quivering lickety-split. “Have you ever…with a bird?”
The Snail eyed the Swan’s quivering tail feathers and wondered what it would feel like.
“Can’t say I have. But we snails aren’t prudes like those damn caterpillars. I think I wouldn’t mind trying.”
“If you’re game for it, me and my friends are.”
The Opossum stepped up to the next available counter. The Snail bid good day to the Swan and gave a little wink before starting to move.
“If–if, say, one were to want to get involved with such a thing, how would she go about it?”
To which the Snail said, “Under the willow tree on the northeast side of the lake. We’ll be there tonight in all our shell-less glory!
Finally, the Snail reached the counter to discuss the issue of baby barnacles.
The Swan was so excited that she left her place in line at the Bureau of Animal Affairs and went back to the pond. She gathered a group of close friends and told them of the carnal pleasures that awaited them.
“They all get out of their shells and roll around together, lost in wanton lust?”
“That’s what he told me.”
“This is going on tonight?”
“Yes! Near the old willow tree on the northeast side.”
“That sounds too good to miss,” one of the cygnets said.
After the sun set against a backdrop of chirping crickets on a steamy August night, snails upon snails shed their shells and joined together in a throbbing heap of naked ecstasy. When the Swan and her friends arrived, they saw the pulsating mass of snail flesh. It looked as delicious as described, and not a single swan went hungry that night.
Greg Urbaitis has stories in magazines around the country, such as Lynx Eye, Fuel, Poetry Motel, and Half Truth, where he appeared alongside Charles Bukowski. His collection Crossing the Bridge is on sale at select bookstores. His first one-act play, Uncovered, was recently performed at Winthrop University. Greg resides in Nashville, where he hosted “A Night For Fugitive Poets,” winner of Nashville Scene‘s “Best New Poetry Night.” He is also an accomplished musician, having played for various artists from The Queers to Magnapop, Dolly Parton to Tiny Tim.