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 rhinoceros come by a bruise at all, that was the question? Few creatures in the animal kingdom had a tougher hide. Thanks to this toughness, the rhinoceros had taken whatever life threw at it with indifference. Whether exposed on open grassland or hidden by the night, it had followed a path through life few dared cross, and those few only at a trembling scamper. It couldn’t recall the last time it had even been snorted at by another living being, 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 simultaneously. 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 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, but neither had it judged itself to be a glum hypochondriac. Admittedly, there were days when the rhinoceros felt every drop of rain that fell must be falling on its back, driven by winds from all points of the compass, yet its back hadn’t given way, and after a short period of listlessness, its spirits had always revived. Now no longer feeling safe from the worst life could inflict, the rhinoceros realized how close to the skin it had lived for years, unaware. It had grown confident of shielding itself from the world and the worst that life could bring 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 all the rest of nature’s bruising rule to reach deep within? Welcoming these, however uncertainly, rather than holding them at bay? Yes, the rhinoceros would have to think about that.
Copyright © 2020 by Geoffrey Grosshans