When great things happen, artists are inspired. So when the epic events that captivated our city some two weeks ago transpired, needless to say, I was very inspired. My first reaction was to compose a poem, as witnessed here. But the urge to document this great event was not satisfied. So I began a new attempt, a short story, one that should stand for all time as a historical record of the fine achievement of one lady who dared to “cross the line” one early morning in November. Tiger Lady, I salute you; may this story in some way do small justice to your triumph.
Furthermore, it will stand as a record of the time I swiftly and completely torpedoed any chance I ever had at having a writing career. I doubt very seriously I will sell another book once this masterpiece is unleashed.
Without further ado, as I prepare to bid adieu, allow me to present “The Lady and the Tiger.” I would say, “Enjoy”, but I make it a point to never demand the impossible.
THE LADY AND THE TIGER
Or, A Work of Considerable Importance
By Someone Who is Not Jeremy Morong
The parking lot was vast. It was long and cold. When cars would zip by on 13th Street, the drivers and passengers inside would speak of what once was: Rosenblatt, the home of cheering throngs who delighted in the exploits of college baseballers. But no more. At this late hour it sat empty, but only temporarily, for it eagerly awaited teems of mini-vans and SUVs that would arrive loaded to bear with eager children and beleaguered parents. They would journey forsooth in search of the big city pleasures found at the world-renowned Omaha Henry Doorly Zoo, the enterprise that had taken over this plot of land, the first phase of their plot for world domination in the field of zoology. A lofty goal, perhaps, but achievable, as it was no mere row of cages like the zoos of yore; this fine facility boasted wild jungles, shark-filled oceans, and a rolling savanna, among other recreations of the natural world.
The lot was not quite empty, however. One car dared to makes its residence here, idling loudly as it crisscrossed two handicap parking spaces. When the engine quieted, a gentle voice could be heard within. “Dear lady, please wake up.” This was followed by a tender shaking of the woman’s shoulder.
The lady stretched and opened her eyes. “Lover, are we here?”
“That is good. And can you possibly know what my heart desires? Oh, it would make me ever so happy if you had ventured a correct supposition.”
“I regret to say that I remain shrouded in a cloud of mystery. I only know what I was told, which was to bring you to the zoo, of which I have done so. However, seeing as the zoo is closed and shall remain so until the appointed opening time, I do not fully understand the request. Are we to wait here until the new day? For if that is so, I regret deeply waking you from what appeared to be a golden slumber.”
“Aw, boyfriend, no, regret it not, for wait we shall not. I am saddened that your guess misses wide. To wait until the opening time would mean to descend into this noble paradise amongst the rabble. Never. But you have done well to bring me to this faux wilderness set amongst the urban jungle! To do so, you have fought bravely through the stupor of your spirit-induced fog. Were the world just, great poets and writers of words would compose immeasurable works devoted to your Herculean effort! It was a job well done, my lover.”
“Your words are fair, and pleasing to me. If I may beg your pardon, I am going to wander to the wastebasket and throw up.”
The woman watched for a moment, then shouted after him. “Pardon granted, dear and most noble boyfriend. While you purge yourself of your well-brewed ale, I shall sojourn to the entrance to seek entrance into this wonderland.”
The lady did exactly that, doing her best to remain upright while stumbling over the curbs that lined the narrow road in front of the zoo entrance. She reached the admission area and stared at the world that lay beyond the metallic gates. Somewhere therein lurked the target of her desires. If only she could get past the gate, she could reach her goal by venturing past a bronze statue of a pride of lions, then curve past an overwrought IMAX theater that played dramatic nature documentaries, and pass by a glass desert dome, which towered over all, a geodesic wonder.
She ran her fingers along the cool steel and then shook it; the metal clanged and rattled but resisted her efforts. Behind her, she heard approaching footsteps; to her great relief, it was only her boyfriend. His skin was pale and washed with sweat, which was an improvement on how he had looked moments earlier.
“Aw, boyfriend, I am pleased to find it was you instead of one of the well-intentioned but obtrusive officers of the law, who would stand in reproach of my actions on this All Hallows’ Eve.”
“Yes, it is only me, your lover and confidante who still dwells in puzzlement at your desires for tonight.”
“We will discuss that at further juncture, dearest. For now, is it not enough to know that I desire to be past this gate, crude and barbaric structure that it is, and to reside amongst the craven jungle beasts that occupy this menagerie?”
“It is enough, girlfriend. However, it appears that we are well met, for I have witnessed your toils against this oppressor. It does not appear to be of a mind to open.”
“Appearances do not deceive, boyfriend. The gate does not budge! Curse those who stand between myself and my dreams!”
“Curse them, indeed, but it occurs to me that, perhaps, we may simply climb over this divider? It does not appear to be of adequate height to hinder us beyond measure. I am certain we could do it.”
The woman nodded, pleased. “It is a cunning plan, and one that I shall attempt shortly, as soon as the world ceases to rotate rapidly before my eyes. I am afraid that the vintage wines and spectacular ales we have consumed this evening are now positively swimming in my head.”
“Alas! Have they addled you as well? I thought it was only me.”
“Indeed, I am muddled. It shall pass shortly. I do not blame the quality of the spirits but the quantity. They were all quite fine, particularly the ale known as the Budweiser Light. It is indeed a good year for that fine label. Any fool can tell the difference among wine vintages, but only a trained palette such as those we possess can discern years of brews. It has been a most worthy pursuit, and worth the cost of the years we have lost.”
“I agree wholeheartedly. The brew of the year of our Lord 2015 has been among the finest. Are you feeling better, lady?”
“I am slowly recovering my faculties.”
“Good. I feel much better myself. I will attempt the climb first, and provide aid to you, when you pronounce yourself ready.”
After some time, following a good deal of falling and heavy panting, and pulling and pushing, the two arrived over the fence.
“It is strange to be in this place when the world is in silence,” the lady stated. “The familiar sounds of chirruping children and scolding parents are nowhere to be heard.”
“Undeniably. Now, fair maiden, where do you wish to extend our journey? As you correctly observe, it appears that this fine facility is belonging only to us and us alone at this dreary midnight hour.”
“My good sir, it is a good deal past the midnight hour. It is nearly 4 in the morning! Or would be, were it not for this dratted daylight savings time coming to an ill-timed end!”
“It was only an expression, my dear. I thought that it sounded rather mysterious to say dreary midnight hour.”
“It does, but one must always strive for accuracy in matters such as time and place.”
“My effort was badly advised; to this I can agree in enthusiasm,” the boyfriend said. “Let us move on. In the interest of pursuing such precision, may I dare ask as to which place we will be journeying? Most of the buildings will be locked and secured for the evening, and thus the contents will remain walled off to us in this cruel, cruel world.”
“They will be,” the lady returned. “But worry not, for we venture forth not in vain. I know of one such animal that will be available to us.”
“May I ask which animal that would be, my Lady?”
“You may, and now I will answer. Much like the erudite big game hunter that goes on safari upon the marshy jungles of the Bengal, I seek the tiger. Yes, the tiger: magnificent, proud, and daring, moving with the stealth of a billion-dollar bomber, steely jaws that snap shut at the slightest provocation from a provocateur, the final product of eons of marvelous evolution.”
“Good night! A tiger? And what will you do with such an animal? Doeth your eyes dare to gaze upon the visage of such a savage creature?”
“Much more than that, my good sir. The gaze of my eyes is not enough. I intend to pet the tiger.”
“Pet a tiger?”
“Indeed. Who am I to be denied a pleasure afforded the various potentates and heads of state of the world? I shall act in a manner befitting all of the Kings and Queens, Shahs, Tsars, presidents, prime ministers, and oil tycoons of the civilized world.”
“But, my dear,” the man protested, “you could be bitten!”
“Bitten? I think not. I only wish to look upon his golden fur and run my fingers through it, and perhaps pose for a series of photographs, which you will administer via the wonder of flash photography.”
“Would you not say a tiger’s fur is more orange than golden, fair lady? Is it not perhaps an African lion of the savannah that you seek?”
“I should hope not! Frightful creatures, those lions. No, what I want is a tiger, my tiger, and I shall have it too, for we draw near. Here, my good man, we have come to a fork in the road, but there is only one path for me. Lower yourself down this slope and we shall find ourselves among the House of Cats.”
They went down the hill, a sharp slope that was easily avoided by most weary, unexercised visitors during business hours via elevator. The boyfriend’s head snapped around as he worried that their visit would be interrupted at any moment by security. But he saw no one, and felt better.
“Dear lady, does it strike you as bizarre that a facility such as this House of Cats is unguarded? It seems imprudent that such a treasure as this is left to the devices of man.”
“It does not. In fact, it seems very wise. What use is a guard to a tiger? A predator such as that requires no such protection. Why, he would simply snap in half any that posed a threat to his well-being.”
“But not to you.”
“Indeed not. I pose no threat.”
“My lady, however will we get inside? Have you considered this? Surely there are locks on this feline castle. The night, while pleasant for the first of November, does have a chill in the air. Surely the animals are in warmer quarters.”
The lady turned and stopped, her eyes wild yet determined. “We do not seek just any tiger, my good man. My pursuit is of the beast of Siberia. It will most certainly be outside, savoring such coolness as the autumn winds provide.”
Finally, they were down the hill, standing before a row of four cages that lined the outside of the building. The man ventured slowly but the woman shot out as if possessed, and soon stood in front of one unit in particular. The boyfriend soon was standing next to her and saw the familiar orange, white, and black stretched out in a clump of straw. The straw pile was beneath a log, placed in the enclosure for animal enrichment. The cage was otherwise bare, save a bowl of water underneath a trickling faucet.
“Now be good, my dear,” the boyfriend pleaded. “We do not want to get into further trouble with the goodly peace officers.”
“Bah! Be good you say. Good and evil are but arbitrary measures on a sliding scale. No, what I desire is to be great! And tonight, under the full moon of the harvest, I shall be ever known as the lady that enchanted the tiger!”
The lady took a deep breath. Her eyes snapped as she continued. “Forever will they speak of me on television news broadcasts. My daring exploits will push aside those wretched beings who seek political office. I will tower over those boys of the gridiron, the Huskers of Corn, and for once we will hear nothing of those who assassinate one another through firearm projectiles. News anchors will bring forth breathless updates of my latest actions, finally bringing me the notoriety I deserve!”
“Are you certain of that? It is best that we remain anonymous, I believe.”
“It is what my heart desires,” she declared. “Now allow me to pursue my destiny.” She stared into the cage and her eyes grew wide. “Hullo, tiger! Come here, my dear boy, and let mommy pet you.”
But the tiger only slept.
“Tiger? Come here, tiger! I say, do come here.”
Still, the tiger slept.
“Say, my dear tiger, won’t you hasten to approach these bars so that I may pet of you?”
Again, the tiger only slept.
“Well, you silly boy,” the woman said. She stepped over a metal barrier, merely a long bar of metal attached to fence posts, and into a hedge that had been planted in front of the cage. She nearly fell over as branches from the bush snapped and whipped her legs. “Naughty things!” she declared before righting herself.
“Dear, perhaps the barrier is there for a reason? This tiger may not be as friendly as you seem to believe.”
“Posh,” the woman returned. “It is there merely for the hoi polloi. They do not deserve unfettered access to such a fine being. It is merely an obstacle for those who are deserving to entreat with the tiger.”
“Furthermore, I possess a zoo membership. It is implicit in the purchase of such that I am entitled to heightened benefits.”
“You own a membership? I was not aware.”
“Well, my mother does, or did, some years ago, perhaps. Mayhaps we used to sneak in when the attendant was otherwise occupied. I do not have use for such frivolous details.”
Finally face to face with the bars, which were narrow and spaced closely together, she wrapped her fingers around two of them and began to violently shake. The rattling was loud and echoed through the valley in which the cat complex lie. “Here, tiger tiger tiger!”
The tiger stretched out, seemed to be coming out of it, and then fell back to the cage floor, asleep.
“Well, that’s quite enough from you little boy. It is time to awaken. Mommy is here.”
The tiger awoke.
“There, now, that’s good. Come along here, tiger. I have waited long enough and traversed untold perils to arrive here.” She turned around sharply, nearly butting heads with her boyfriend, who was standing close behind her after also crossing the barrier. “Do be a dear, and please prepare your photographic instruments. I do wish to have a precise record of this meeting. As do you, I am sure, tiger.”
The tiger stretched and gaped.
“Certainly,” the boyfriend said. He took his phone from his pocket, dropped it, examined it to make sure the screen was not shattered, and then began to fumble with the buttons before aiming it at the lady and the cage. “It is ready, dear.”
The tiger stretched and gaped further.
“Aw, that’s a good boy. Boyfriend, if you will hold, we are nearly but not quite ready for the photograph. Now come here, tiger, for I do wish to scratch your head. Let me reach in a little further—yes, come along, now, silly.”
The tiger, curious, pricked his ears and came nearer. He rubbed against the cage with his hindquarters, seeking and finding an itch. Satisfied, he stretched out on his front legs. The woman saw this and squeezed to fit her arm in further. The narrow bars dug into her biceps, but she ignored the pain as her fingers found the head of the tiger. She stroked his large forehead, and the tiger moved forward slightly, allowing her to scratch behind his ears. The tiger seemed to enjoy it; it suddenly dropped and rolled the way a contended housecat might. Once done, he returned to the lady. She again stroked his forehead and then her fingers arrived at his wet, velvety nose.
“There, there tiger, dost thou take gratitude in the—SON OF A BITCH, YOU JUST BIT ME!”
The lady’s left hand reflexively withdrew from between the bars; her right hand reached out both to attempt to soothe the pain and staunch the flow of blood from the injury.
The tiger rubbed against the bars, dropped, and again rolled, content.