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THE TOPIARY MENAGERIE

    Once topiary animals took the shears to themselves.
    At first only a small number dared to snip furtively away at their edges, reshaping a little bit here and a little bit there so the effects wouldn’t be noticed by those charged with maintaining the topiary menagerie to standards matching public expectation. Uncertain of what they were doing, this venturesome lot also wanted to guard against getting ahead of themselves in their secretive do-over and coming to regret the results. 
    They could have remained as they’d always been, of course. Leaving matters to the topiary gardeners and their long-established patterns of contour and proportion would have avoided any untoward missteps. And not a few of the animals warned nervously against the dangers of redefining their own shapes at all. Who knew what lengths headstrong individuals might go to in their fumbling boldness, putting the whole of the menagerie at risk of detection and triggering the swift reaction that would assuredly come. For the gardeners had years of experience, and the patterns they followed were the expected ones. If these were violated and visitors to the menagerie could no longer easily identify their favorite animals (or even tell a mouse from an elephant should things go that far), where would it end?
    Such dangers could not be denied, but neither could the frustration experienced daily across the topiary world over the ignoring or outright denial of individual animals’ inner self-images. Didn’t a mouse have the right, after all, to cherish a vision of itself as a mighty pachyderm? Or a pachyderm to harbor an equal longing to explore the life of the spry and nimble mouse? Or any other creature to release the restless psyche within it?
    There were bound to be mistakes made as the shears came out in far-flung parts of the menagerie. Many of the animals were feeling their way; they’d never ventured into such unexplored territory before. Sudden liberation of the self could well result in a formless tangle that showed less promise than the scattered snippets patterning the ground below. Yet boldness might bring inspired self-sculpting just as often. Who could have guessed that inside a buffalo a songbird might be awaiting the dawn or that from a lowly snail might soar a dragon in full majesty? Once such triumphs of self-definition were believed even remotely possible, there was no turning back for the topiary menagerie. 
    All were ready to risk whatever disappointment might await them for this one chance, however slim, to be seen for everything they imagined themselves to be.