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New Fiction


by Kate LaDew

penguin who longed 1

      Fred asks Sam and Leonard to walk with him as far as the sea and each agrees. It’s slow going for awhile and Fred stops, looking back at Sam and Leonard. Sam is looking at the camp. Leonard is looking at the mountains.
       “Come on,” Fred says.
       “I’m going back to the camp,” Sam says.
       “How will you get fish at the camp?” Fred asks.
       “Never mind,” Sam says and begins walking back towards the camp.

penguin 2

       Fred and Leonard go a mile towards the sea when Leonard stops, and turns to his left. “I’m going to the mountains,” he tells Fred.
       “Why?” Fred asks.
       “Because they’re there,” Leonard says. “Because they’re there.” He begins walking towards the mountains.

penguin 3

       Fred watches him for a moment. “Well I’m hungry,” he says to himself. “I’m going to the sea.” He does.

penguin 4

       So Leonard is walking towards the mountains and it’s slow going for awhile. The mountains are very far away. But he can see the blue and pink of them glitter in the yellow of the sun and this makes Leonard want to get to them even more. He walks and he walks and he walks. He thinks he walks farther on his way to the mountains than he has ever walked to anywhere before. And he’s not even there yet. He walks and walks and walks some more and walks right into a people camp. The hammer of hammers and sawing of saws is very loud to his ears and Leonard almost stops. He can smell fish. But there will be fish in the mountains, he thinks. Then he thinks, will there be? Then he thinks, it doesn’t matter. I’m going to the mountains. So Leonard starts walking again towards the mountains and walks right into a person.

penguin 5

       “Hey, penguin,” the person says.
       Leonard nods and steps around him.
       “Hey, penguin,” the person says.
       Leonard nods and keeps walking towards the mountains. He makes it fifty yards before the person calls, “Hey penguin.”
       Leonard stops and turns to nod at the person.
       “Where are you going?” Asks the person.
       Leonard points to the mountains, and begins walking towards them.
       “No, no, no,” the person says, and catches up with him. “Penguin, stop.”
       Leonard does not.
       “Penguin, you must stop,” says the person, and steps in front of Leonard. “Do you know how far away the mountains are?”
       Very far away, Leonard thinks. I am walking towards them.
       “Look,” says the person. “You won’t get there. You’ll never get there.”
       Leonard doesn’t know if he will get there, but he is walking towards the mountains, and resumes doing so.
       “Hey, penguin,” the person says. The person shakes its head. “Penguin,” it says, putting a hand on Leonard’s shoulder. “You’ll never get there.”
       Leonard nods and begins walking towards the mountains. He does not get very far when hands suddenly pick him up and begin walking with him in the opposite direction of the mountains. Leonard is too surprised to do anything else but be carried and in a short while finds himself sitting on a sofa in a very warm place. He looks around at the quilts covering the walls, a whirring machine next to him. It must be where the warmth is coming from, and this must be the person’s home. Fred had once told him about homes.
       The person is sitting down in a chair opposite Leonard, two coffee mugs in its hand.
       Leonard holds up his flippers and shakes his head. The person seems embarrassed and puts the mug on the low table in front of them. On the side of the mug is a picture of a penguin.
       “You have a picture of me on your mug,” Leonard says.
       “I don’t think it’s you.”

penguin 7

       “It looks just like me.” And then Leonard says without hostility, “How do you know it’s not me?”
       The person bites its lip. “I don’t know. Do you remember having your picture taken?”
       Leonard says nothing and crosses his feet with some difficulty. He looks out one of two windows situated directly in the middle of the wall. He can see the mountains. The blue and pink of them glitter in the yellow of the sun. Leonard hops down from the sofa and begins walking towards the door.
       “Hey, hey, hey,” the person says, stepping in front of him. “Where do you think you’re going?”

penguin 8

       “I’m going to the mountains,” and Leonard keeps walking.
       The person picks him up again and deposits him on the sofa. “You are not going to the mountains, penguin.”
       Leonard crosses his feet and looks at his picture on the side of the mug.
       The person begins pacing in front of the whirring machine where the warmth must be coming from. “What is in your head, penguin?” It says. “Why do you want to go to the mountains?”
       “Because they’re there.”
       “Because they’re—” the person breaths out through its mouth. “Well that’s no kind of answer.”

penguin 9

       Leonard shrugs and looks at his picture on the side of the mug. He looks out one of two windows situated directly in the middle of the wall.
       “Oh no,” the person says, following his gaze. “There’s no way you’re leaving this room before we have a talk, penguin.”
       Leonard shrugs again. He really wants to walk to those mountains.
       “Look,” and the person kneels down next to him. “I’ll be honest with you if you’ll be honest with me, okay, penguin?”
       Leonard nods.
       “I’m not even supposed to be talking to you. I could get in trouble, actually. But I’ve seen this kind of thing before.”
       “You could get in trouble?”
       “They tell us not to stop a penguin. Not to hold a penguin up, even if we know the penguin is in danger.”
       “You’re holding me up,” Leonard says.
       “I know,” the person sighs. “But it’s only to help you.”
       “If you want to help me walk to the mountains, you can open that door.”
       “I’m not opening the door, penguin.”
       Leonard says, “Who told you not to hold me up? Another person?”
       “Yes, another person,” the person answers. “A few other persons. They’ve been here much longer than me, so they know what's what. But I couldn’t let it happen again.”
       “Yes. Not again. See, a few years ago I saw another penguin walking towards the mountains. I didn’t stop it, even though the mountains are hundreds of miles away and I knew it wouldn’t get there. I didn’t stop the penguin.”
       Leonard blinks his eyes. “What did they look like?” he asks.
       “Well,” and the person doesn’t say anything for awhile.
       Leonard taps his fin on the arm of the sofa. “My father told me my mother once walked to the mountains. He never saw her again but he was sure she got there.” Leonard looked out one of the two windows situated directly in the middle of the wall.
       The person continues its silence for another while. “Penguin,” it begins hesitantly. “You say your father told you your mother walked to the mountains?”
       “Yes. During my incubation. My father said my mother walked to the mountains. He’s sure she got there.”
       “But he never saw her again?”
       “No. Never.”
       “I see.”

penguin 11

       Leonard looks at his picture on the side of the mug.
       “Penguin,” and the person is sitting beside Leonard now, not looking at him. “If your father never saw your mother again, then how can he be sure she got to where she was going?”
       “He is sure,” Leonard says. “She told him she had decided she must go to the mountains. And my father said that when my mother decided on something she meant it.” Leonard nods to himself. “She decided to go to the mountains. My father’s sure she got there.”
       “So you never met your mother, penguin?”
       “No, but my father drew me a picture of her.”
       “Mmhm,” the person says.
       “She looked very nice.”
       “I’m sure she was nice. I’m sure your mother was very nice, penguin.”

penguin 12

       Leonard nods and looks at his picture on the side of the mug.
       After more than a few moments, the person says in a very sad voice that makes Leonard look up, “I’m sorry you never met your mother, penguin.”
       Leonard blinks his eyes. “It’s okay.” He puts his fin on the person’s knee. “She got to where she was going.”
       “Yes,” says the person and stands up quickly. It walks towards one of the two windows situated directly in the middle of the wall. “Before, you told me I could help you, penguin.”
       “Yes,” Leonard says. “I said if you opened the door you could help me walk to the mountains.”
       “And I want to help you, penguin. I really do.” The person spends a few seconds looking out the window. Then, with a deep sigh that raises its shoulders up and down, the person reaches out its hand and opens the door. Stepping away, it keeps its head down.
       Leonard looks at the person. He looks at the door. He looks at the mountains glittering outside the window. He looks back at the person. Leonard uncrosses his feet and hops down, walking over the threshold and into the cold.
       The person watches the little penguin waddle past the rows of huts and generators, past the muddy tire tracks and into the pure white of untouched snow. Every few yards the penguin falls to its stomach, sliding with determination, tiny feet propelling the shiny black body forward. Beyond, the person watches the blue and pink of the mountain glittering in the yellow of the sun. The person gives one last sigh, and turns away, closing the door. Picking up the still warm coffee mug, it holds it up to its eyes, looking at the picture on the side of the mug. “Maybe it is you,” the person says. “Maybe it was you all along, penguin.”

penguin 14

Kate LaDew is a graduate from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro
with a BA in Studio Art.

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