Little Julia has just gotten over the chicken pox. To celebrate, her doting parents take her to the Big City Zoo to see the pygmy elephants, which their local zoo does not feature.
Julia does not like the Big City Zoo. It is crowded and the animals look upset. Julia wonders if the angry gorilla pounding at the glass is contagious, like her sickness. Contagious, she knows, means giving something bad to someone else, even if they don’t want it. That was how she got those chicken pox, and how she got rid of them. She clings to her mother, worried that getting too close to a hideous, wrinkly grandma will make her ugly and old, too.
They leave the zoo and descend into the subway. While they wait on the platform, a rat scrambles out of a trash bin and across Julia’s red sneakers. The child is inconsolable; Father springs for a taxi and must bribe the driver to bring them the entire way.
The next day, it’s just as Julia expects: the pink, skinny, hairless appendage sticks out just above the elastic on her underwear. She grits her teeth and summons contagion.
As a high-schooler, Kelly Luce worked at the Brookfield Zoo, home to the first okapi born in the United States and the first wombat born outside Australia.