Once a rhinoceros noticed it had a bruise. The mark was only a small one at first, nothing more really than a slight mottling of the skin. But how could a rhino come by a bruise at all, that was the question? What creature on the face of the earth had a tougher hide? From youth, the rhinoceros had taken whatever life threw at it with indifference. Whether exposed on the open plain or hemmed in by the night, it had followed a path few dared cross, and these few only at a trembling scamper. It couldn’t recall the last time it had even been snorted at in jest, let alone actually challenged. Nature’s follies did not extend to suicide by rhino, apparently. So what could have caused the bruise? And why was it spreading? For it was undeniably spreading, at the relentless pace of blood on the move. And spreading in all directions at once. At times the rhinoceros felt such slow but mounting pressure from within that even if its flanks held firm, a simple nosebleed might bring it low. But its flanks weren’t holding firm. Now tender to the touch, they rippled sluggishly as though the rhinoceros was being pushed and scraped around the inside of its own body. At this rate, might it soon be just one enormous bruise, two tons of black and blue on wobbly legs? This couldn’t be happening! Not to a rhino in its prime! A wave of unaccustomed anxiety overtook the rhinoceros at the prospect of such a change from its familiar self-assurance. It had never been known for being particularly light in spirit, of course, laughing at jokes that weren’t funny or putting on a gauche pretense of camaraderie, but neither had it judged itself to be a hypochondriac. Admittedly, there were days when the rhinoceros felt all the rains of the world must be falling on its back, driven by winds from every point of the compass, yet its back hadn’t given way, and after a period of melancholy listlessness, it had always recovered. No longer safe from the worst life could inflict, though, the rhinoceros realized how close to the skin it had lived for years, unaware. It had grown confident of shielding itself from the world, from the worst life could do, by hardening its senses and stiffening its nerves, and yet there, just out of sight all the while, lay a weakness in wait. A dark vulnerability. Now that it had welled to the surface, what protection was left? Or was not being safe from bruising actually the price of being alive? The rhinoceros would have to think about that. How prepared was it to suffer whatever might come of allowing the winds and the rain and the heat and the cold of life to reach deep within? Of welcoming them, however uncertainly, rather than holding them at bay. Yes, the rhinoceros would have to think about that.
Copyright © 2005 by Geoffrey Grosshans