The March and the Ides of the Penguins

— Mathew Serback

Did you know that penguins die?

I didn’t know that penguins die.

Of course, hypothetically speaking, I know that everyone and everything dies. But, in a more concrete sense, I didn’t know that penguins die.

Think about it.

Penguins just don’t die. No – no, that’d be too easy. A decent portion of penguins will die clenched between the jaws of a predator. Those jaws – all ribbed and shallow and jagged – grind up the muscles and bones and cartilage of the penguins.

You’re nothing but chewed up and spit out.

It’s sad to think, right?

That’s what actually happens when penguins die, and I don’t like it.

I don’t like how it makes me imagine my own death. My death feels so distant and too future – like the consequences of some actions that haven’t occurred yet. What jaws of life and death are coming for me?

Is death quick-painless or elongated and unnecessary?

How do you find the answers? Did you skim through the rolodex of Tarot cards in your head and trivialize their meanings?

I forced those cards to represent the repeated testaments of my shortcomings; I drum them around my brain until their words and my words and the metaphors are an echo chamber in my heart.

I write some riddles to myself on my phone while I’m at work and thinking about what I remember about penguins dying: There’s a hierophant inside of a wheel of fortune. There are ten pages of unanswered questions.

I translate the riddles to myself – so I don’t forget what they mean: The traditions of society are inside of the up-and-down cycles of your life – just like those rock-built nests of the penguins and the inevitability of being swallowed – half-whole – by a predator. I self-sabotage without thinking – just like the journey of 75 miles that ends with 1 out of every 18,000 surviving the trip.

I wonder why it’s so easy to remember the meaningless meanings of the Tarot cards, but why, sometimes, I can’t remember the address to my apartment.

I just can’t determine when something becomes important.

I remember that the scientists said that the penguins had to travel further for food because there were unusually high amounts of ice that persisted late into the feeding season. Those are the basics of cause and effect.

When winter comes around, I’m reminded of how much I hate the sound of my shoes digging into the snow. Do you know how many people have told me how amazing that sound is? I think those people’s brains are hardwired backward. As I scrape some ice from my windshield, I’m reminded of the penguins – and, to a certain extent – the riddles, but I’ve also forgotten more of the data and hard facts than I ever knew.

I’ve forgotten how things get put together.

I know that penguins die, but I also hope my car starts.

Did you know it’s going to be a long drive to wherever you’re going? Did you know that you won’t get there fast?

And do you remember how we die?



You can find Mathew Serback’s fiction in MAP Literary, the Dime Show Review, Juked, and many other terrific publications. An editor once said his writing made them squeamish, and he’s not sure if that’s a good thing.