It was early and it was quiet. The gates to the Philadelphia Zoo had just opened and thanks to the crisp fall air, there were not many attendees waiting to get in. The zoo always felt like its own little world, a place away from the city, despite its location deep in its depths. Amongst the few families that had found their way in, a single individual came patiently behind, watching as the kids in front of her were nearly vibrating with excitement. As they moved on, the woman stepped forward and greeted the zoo volunteer warmly, chatting briefly as she pulled a membership card from her back pocket. Charlotte came here so often that the price for a yearly membership was money well spent. She liked the atmosphere, the softness of watching animals meander or sleep in the habitats.
Like clockwork, she walked to the zoo’s cafe, where they sold everything from drip coffee to slurpees, and ordered herself a green tea. She slid over exact change, dropping an extra dollar into the jar on the counter, before she swiftly disappeared down one of the less travelled paths. While it wasn’t snow-cold yet, there was certainly a nip in the air, and Charlie was glad to be holding the hot drink. As she walked towards the enclosure with the maned wolves, she nuzzled deeper into a soft teal scarf that she had proudly knitted herself. It was obviously hand made, one of her harder projects, as it was an infinity scarf - but she was proud of it nonetheless. It was one of many hobbies she was trying to keep up, ala her therapist. The woman always preached that it would be good to keep her hands busy and her mind occupied, and Charlotte couldn’t help but to agree.
Tucked into a back corner of the zoo, far from its entrances, she found her usual bench and settled into it. She slid her small messenger bag to lean against the opposite arm rest and crossed her legs up from the ground. She adjusted her pant leg when it tried to ride up, and once everything was in place and her drink sitting in between her legs, Charlie reached for her bag. Inside she shifted some books around before finding and pulling out a ball of yarn and a half done hat. She turned the thing over in inspection, trying to remind herself which stitch she had left on. She had created her own stitch pattern, interlocking seed stitches to knit, and creating an interesting back and forth pattern. It was coming along nicely, with only a couple dropped stitches, and Charlie settled back into her bench to work on it.
After about thirty minutes, the ambience of local birds, wind, and the faint sounds of traffic was interrupted by a woman yelling after a child. The boy was running full speed away from his mother, who was yelling his name on repeat to get him to stop. Charlotte didn’t know what would have led up to the moment, but it had been enough to ruin her concentration. She sighed and rubbed at her eyes, thankful she hadn’t put on any make up. Her softly tanned skin was covered in freckles and she liked them well enough that she didn’t like to put on heavy foundation. As she carried on rubbing at her tired face, the sleeve of her sweater started to slide further down her forearm. The tiniest hint of inked letters began to peek out from the underside of her arm. Dropping it to her lap, Charlotte looked down at the small, scratchy handwritten letters and offered it the smallest of smiles. It was one of her favorites. A messy scrawl scratched out a man’s name just above her wrist, and it always comforted her when she saw it.
Names are important. They’re special little things that you take and grow with, blossoming a life and a purpose into something so simple. They’re a gift and then, in some ways, a purpose. Names should be cherished and well taken care of, worn proudly and without admonishment. At least, this is the way they should be thought of. That is the way that society found names, pushed to pick the perfect and unique ones, so that they could be found easier in the world. For, as life would have it, names were found etched onto children’s arms, some born with them and others growing them later on in life. A name was special because it was your soulmate, it was someone that was made just for you. A name was rare, only a certain amount of the world’s populations obtaining such magical things. It became a source of romantic comedies, of a societal height that so many could only dream of achieving… of growing up knowing that someone was out there that was just for you.
Because of this, there are, of course, people in the world who hate those with names. People with names were special and they found that if they were nameless, than they were deemed less than… or so many thought. It was unfair, the masses said, that this was a gift that only some had. Having one name was the average, the normal. It was becoming more common to have two, but still strange. Any more than that was deemed an extreme rarity, and not many reports of more than three soulmarks were known. This was a fact and it was something that everyone had to live with. You were stuck with the cards that life gave you. Be it nameless… or too many names, altogether.
When she was a baby Charlotte was given a simple name after her grandmother. There was nothing theatrical about it, nothing in particular that would make it stand out, like so many other mothers were pushing onto their own children. In fact, the name seemed almost vintage, at the time of her birth. But her mother wanted her daughter to be simple, to be unseen and unnoticed as much as she could. She knew this fact as soon as she held her little daughter in her arms, and saw the very faint lines of two little names etched gently under the baby’s skin. It was as she grew older that this thought process of her parents became harder… and harder to deal with.
Diana and Henry Bennett were not always so difficult. At some point in their lives they had simply reached a turning point. After years of searching their skin, desperate for something, scratching at spots not visible, they realized that they were not… necessarily special. Not in the way that the movies doted on, or the way paparazzi followed the newest love stories between vastly different people. They were incredibly normal and this became a source of a lot of pain. It grew more and more, internalized, and turned into something their childhood selves would never imagine. They found love, eventually, in each other and in their anger to the world. They found comfort in each other’s emptiness, ran fingers over blank skin, and dreamed of a nameless world. When they conceived a child they didn’t think, not for a moment, that the babe would be any different than them. And when it was… they deemed it unfit and unfair to the world. Insecurities turned into verbal tirades, which turned into drunken tirades, which only morphed into something far more painful. With every name that appeared on little Charlie’s skin, as she grew and grew, they tried to erase, hide and push back. Life was hard. Life was impossible for the nameless and for the one with far too many.
When Charlie was first learning her letters, she would trace the names that ran up along her wrists, would peer down in an attempt to read the one scratched across her heart. Despite the pain they brought her, the names also brought her comfort. They were a relief. They were something to lean on, heavily, for as long as she could. Now that she was older she still relied on them, but had given up on ever finding the faces that matched the names. There were too many names littered across her body. She hid them under cardigans, long pants and tights. The memories of her parents still haunted her daily, and she struggled to keep the thoughts at bay despite the relatively… normal life she lived now.
She absently blinked the thoughts away from the forefront of her mind and pulled her sleeve back down over her sleeve. Charlie leaned back, rolling her shoulders to relieve some of the pain that forever hovered there. Something popped and her shoulders sagged after it did. Looking up from the knitting on her lap, and finally bringing the not-so-hot tea up to her lips, Charlie let her gaze roam around the area she sat in. She hadn’t been paying much attention while she had been knitting, letting the ever growing crowds just pass her by, but now she took a moment to people watch. Directly in front of her was the maned wolf exhibit, and heavily bundled toddlers were standing high on their toes in an effort to see the wolves all curled up and asleep in their dens in the back of the enclosure. Mothers were taking pictures, or holding out cups of cheerios to children too young to care where they were. From where she was seated, she couldn’t see the wolves themselves, but knew they were there. They were one of her favorites, and she would often rotate between different enclosures throughout her time coming here to be able to simply sit and watch. It was a routine created around her work schedule because routine was important to her. It was what kept her sane.
Charlotte tucked a long strand of wild red hair back behind her ear, about to pick up her knitting again, before she felt someone approach her bench. She looked up to find a zoo employee dressed warmly in a heavy tan and green coat, and a pair of coveralls just underneath. She recognized his kind face and soulful blue eyes, thanks to how often she came here. She’d passed him many times as he fixed lights, or repainted signs. She didn’t know his name, but only a quick inspection of his coat, revealed the worn embroidered name of: Kevin. She blinked at the name, her heart fluttering for just a moment, before pushing off the thought that had invaded her mind. There were thousands, if not more, Kevin’s in the world. There wasn’t even a chance that this was the Kevin that was written lovingly across her skin. So she simply took a breath and smiled up at him, a dimple pushing in one cheek, her knitting forgotten in her lap.
“Do you need me to move?”