Rebecca Meacham is the author the flash fiction collection Morbid Curiosities, which won the 2013 New Delta Review chapbook contest. Her story collection, Let’s Do, won University of North Texas Press’s 2004 Katherine Anne Porter Prize, and the book was a Barnes & Noble “Discover Great New Writers” selection. Meacham’s prose has appeared in Michigan Quarterly Review, Indiana Review, Necessary Fiction, Paper Darts, Wigleaf, West Branch, The Collagist, Monkeybicycle, and other journals, and she’s currently a blogger for Ploughshares. She’s an Associate Professor of English at University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, where she directs the creative writing program.
Home now, beside you, your tiger sleeps. He has been sedated. You know better than to stroke the downy insides of his arms. You know better than cover him with the comforter you chose to match his golden eyes. You wait, hoping this sleep takes hold, maybe forever, maybe eternally, for even simple things —leaving your bed, walking out a door— are complicated by a tiger.
This morning at your front door, your tiger pawed for entry. Did you have a choice? Your tiger sounded frightened; your tiger felt endangered. Shhh, you whispered, opening. How about we go downtown?
Put a tiger in a Honda: the car will crash, of course.
Put a tiger in a therapist’s office: he roars and runs outside.
Put a tiger on the sidewalk between a Honda and therapist’s office: he will try to rip a parking meter from the pavement so he can smash a windshield.
What did you expect? the therapist asked. You married him. Your flesh is thin; you’re full of blood. Fangs are always fangs.
Your tiger paced the cobblestones. People pushed strollers across the street.
From the doorstep, the therapist said, Lady, you have two choices:
Come inside and phone police.
Or collect your tiger and go.
This was your tiger, for better, for worse. How could you build his cage? Two summers would pass—court orders, new apartments, a parade of brave assistants— before you called police.
Today, you coaxed your tiger through the car door. As you clicked his seatbelt, he sniffed the fine hairs on your neck. You knew the power of your scent. The drive was long. Your tiger growled incessantly, his every “you” sounding like “slut.” Forgiveness cut inside your throat, healed, cut again. You knew:
A tiger’s tongue is made of needles.
A tiger’s teeth are blades.
A tiger injected with diazepam will eventually fall quiet.
Some day, perhaps, you will be tigerless. Your friends will return to you, bringing homemade soups. They will study your opposable thumbs, your small, curved jaw, and ask a human question:
How did a lady like you end up with that tiger?
As if love is a choice of doors: the lady or the tiger. As if you couldn’t open both. As if opening and closing doors solved anything at all.
Doors can only change your life onscreen, in game shows, slasher movies. What does a tiger know of doors? This tiger slipped into your house inside upholstered chairs. One moment, you skipped a favorite song; the floral pattern parted. Instinct made you flinch. Where there was once a Sunday morning, there was now a tiger. A tiger in your living room. A tiger poised to strike. Any sensible lady would have run straight out the door. You did.
The rural roads were sleeting dark. You knew it could be worse. You were frightened. You felt endangered. I’m so sorry, your tiger wept. Can you please come home?
The house you built together was far away, bright with frantic light.
Home again, here you are, unflinching now, unmoving. Your tiger’s eyes are closed. Even drugged, he reaches over, pins you to this shredded landscape:
A rumpled bed.
A dirty floor.
An always, always open door.
A door is not a choice. In any story with a tiger, the only certainty is damage. All your human heart can do is fill, empty, fill, beating out the puny kicks of something almost beaten. You know better. It could be worse. Your whole world rests inside this tiger’s paw— his claws, for now, retracted.