Winter had stomped down on the world when the door to her cage fell open, buckling under the weight of so many icicles. For the first time she saw the world without a lattice of iron, and she walked out into the place where the people used to stand and watch.
She knew her name in the roar of the crowd, their cheers and pointing fingers, but for a week now it had been silent. The last voice of the other animals had stopped two days before, dead of hunger and the cold. The giraffes fell first, their tall heads toppling from sight. The tents were empty except for rotting and frozen corpses, a zebra and a lion, next to each other as if for warmth. A leopard huffed its last breath, staring at her with its paws wrapped through the bars of its cage. She clawed at the door but it would not budge, the leopard’s eyes turned to dull glass.
Before she had played the harp. Seated in her chair in her cage, claws plucking the strings. The wood buzzed like a heartbeat, like something alive between her paws. With each chord the people cheered and laughed, small children rushed to the bars before their parents could pull them back and threw peanuts. She did not like peanuts.
At the front gate she sniffed the air, saw structures on the horizon and forests and hills. All was silent and snow-covered, even the sky was white. She could pace the edges of her cage, feel the bars against her fur, but out there she felt only the wind. She turned back, found her harp and chair inside a small tent full of many other objects.
She carried them between her teeth to a clear place and for the first time played to the silence.