From that first day we saw them, we always visited Honey Badger and the beautiful squirrel whenever we went to the zoo. This practice continued for almost a year. And then one Saturday everything changed. As we went down the familiar little walkway toward Honey Badger, we anticipated his black and white pelt and the permanent sneer across his muzzle. We stood in front of his enclosure and sensed its desolation. Honey Badger was gone. The back door to his enclosure was even left wide open as if the keepers who had removed him had expected no one to ever use it again.

Daisy and I were disheartened as we walked away, but we knew still had the energetic and most beautiful squirrel in the world to console us.

I could have simply stopped to ask a zoo employee if Honey Badger had been moved to a different enclosure or if he had passed away. But I didn’t want to know. I didn’t want to find it had been the latter. In ignorance there is always hope that one day I’ll find him pacing back and forth, guarding another enclosure within the zoo. It will be as though I’ve accidentally run into a friend I haven’t seen in years. “Honey!” I’ll exclaim. “How are you doing, old man? Long time no see.”

Honey Badger will glare at me, make disagreeable noises, and then shamble off. And though he will never admit it, I will know he’s glad to see us because I will briefly see the look of pleased recognition in his eyes

We near the beautiful squirrel’s cage and can see large unfamiliar white birds in the cage; hardly anyone is gathered around the cage, both bad signs. We look into the cage and face the inevitable. All hints of the most beautiful squirrel in the world having ever existed are gone. His bowls and the plaque detailing what continent he is indigenous to have been removed. Even the hollow in the tree now has a bird’s nest in it. What an awful disappointment. This day has been too much for Daisy and me. I hoped, as I did with Honey Badger, that the beautiful squirrel didn’t die, but I also hoped he hadn’t been moved; I hoped he had escaped. Maybe he was living in Balboa Park at that very moment with the native red squirrels, and maybe he even had a native red squirrel girlfriend.

I had to hope, because the reality of our favorite missing animals was almost too much for us to bear; both gone in one fell swoop. The beautiful squirrel’s cage was now just another boring aviary. Aren’t there enough goddamn birds in zoos already? If I want to see a bird I can just go outside and stand in the driveway and, within minutes, get my fill until I’m just sick of birds.

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