Fiction 2010 / Issues / Spring 2010 / Volume 40

Tiger Tiger Burning Bright — Aaron Stypes

Before I left my employment with The Sacramento Zoo, I took the Bengal tiger cub with me. This might sound like a questionable thing for an assistant zookeeper to do, but at the time, I didn’t care: the zoo itself had many questionable policies and procedures, not to mention management of the worst sort. Anyway, I love that bright-eyed little ball of fur, cannot imagine my life without him. Of course, had I been fired, it would’ve been a different story. I wouldn’t have risked taking the cub, since they probably would’ve thought I had a grudge against the zoo and figured things out. . . Still, I am a little paranoid that one day they’ll put two and two together and send the police right to my doorstep.

And why did I take him, you ask? Maybe I like the idea of being the custodian of what will become a ferocious, man-eating beast. I know one thing: I don’t have much power in any other aspect of my life. I live by myself, have no real friends (just acquaintances and coworkers), am unmarried, and don’t even have a girlfriend.

But I have a tiger. No small thing.

I name the cub “Julian DeVane,” from a novel I’m reading. I like the name because it sounds aristocratic and seems to fit my haughty little ward. Besides my experience as a zookeeper’s assistant, I already did quite a bit of research online on how to rear a tiger in your home. I was surprised at how much data was out there, and it made me wonder: how many other people are illegally raising Bengal tigers in their apartments?

***

I gaze upon Julian as he plays with a ball of string, the way a house cat might. He hasn’t seemed to grasp the physical dynamics of the string yet, seems to think that whatever he shakes in his tiny jaws should immediately yield to his will; that will come later, however. I give him milk from a bottle and care for him like the proudest father. My apartment complex doesn’t allow pets, let alone Bengal tigers, so I take great pains to avoid raising suspicion. To this end, I never let anyone into my apartment, unless I have Julian safely locked away in my bedroom. Gratefully, tigers don’t roar like lions, so I don’t have that problem to contend with. In fact, this is the main reason I’d chosen a tiger over a lion, whose roar would literally shake the walls—a hard thing to conceal. The only person I’ve let inside my apartment (briefly) was my sister Heidi; Julian was safely tucked away in my bedroom, sleeping. Heidi tells me my place smells like a zoo—something I hardly notice because I’ve gotten used to the odor.

Julian surprises me every day with some new accomplishment; his size and strength seem to increase on an hourly basis. Soon my hands are peppered with marks, evidence of his claws and teeth. Fearing unsightly scars, I resort to wearing thick leather gloves while handling him, though this goes against my instincts. Gloves seem overly clinical, and this doesn’t seem appropriate, since I look upon Julian with all the wonder and pride of a doting father. In return, my son amazes me every day with his growing strength and skill. To give him the nutritious food he needs and deserves, I make daily trips to the butcher shop, where I buy fifteen pounds of pork or beef, depending on the daily special. The butcher, a plump man in his fifties with two missing fingers—obviously the result of on-the-job mishaps—must think I’m feeding a large family. “Boy, that family of yours sure likes their meat!” he says one day. I reply: “Yes. I suppose they do.” I’m getting a little paranoid: part of me thinks his innocent, casual remark might be a ruse of some kind; perhaps he’s already in contact with the authorities. I can imagine him telling law enforcement: “Look, I’ve been in this business for awhile, and I know when something isn’t… right. There’s no way that guy’s family is eating that much meat every day. Not that I’m complaining—business is business. But there’s no way a family—even a big one—can eat that much meat every day. That’s all I’m saying.”

Sometimes, when I watch Julian devour his dinner or gnaw on a bone, I’m filled with a sense of power I’ve never experienced before. The father may be weak, but the son is strong. At work, I may have a hard time standing up to my boss; I may not have a girlfriend; and my downstairs neighbor might bully me, but I have Julian.

Still, I take precautions, realizing that Julian’s enormous power could soon be turned against me. He will be getting large soon. Fully aware that a tiger isn’t a domesticated animal and never will be, I subject Julian to intense training, some of it highly unorthodox. Some is my invention, but most of the credit belongs to various websites, and especially to the novel The Life of Pi. which is full of great tips on tiger conditioning; I have merely added a few refinements here and there, all in preparation for the day when Julian challenges my authority, as he surely will. At some point, every son challenges his father, yet I must emerge the victor, preserving the hierarchy at all costs. If I lose the decisive battle, I am lost—quite literally. Even if I survive that moment of reckoning, Julian will then be the master. I love Julian and don’t want to inflict pain on him, but if I am to remain the more feared animal, I must mentally shatter him and destroy his willpower. My survival hinges on this, on perpetuating the notion—or illusion—that I am the stronger, more dominant animal. This is basic Tiger Psychology 101, the secret of animal trainers the world over.

***

When Julian is six months old, his training begins. The main ingredient? A very strong animal pill that makes him feel deathly ill. It’s actually a mild poison, potent enough to incapacitate him but not strong enough to kill him. Just as Julian starts to feel the effects—I can tell from his rapid panting and heavy-lidded wooziness—I blow a whistle, forcing a connection between feeling sick and hearing the whistle. I do this thirty times or so over the course of the next four months. The drug and whistle are a relatively harmless means of controlling him and preparing myself for the day when he unexpectedly reverts back to instinct and decides to attack me. The mind—even a tiger’s mind—is a powerful thing and when I blow the whistle, even without administering the pill, he will still experience the same negative feelings. After I give him the drug, I feel sorry for him, but I keep reminding myself of the necessity of such conditioning. I am careful never to use the whistle without the drug, otherwise Julian will disassociate the whistle with the feelings of intense sickness.

The monumental day when Julian decides to attack me, I will blow the whistle (which I will hang around my neck) and he will be incapacitated by a nauseating dizziness that penetrates right to his core, even though I haven’t given him any drug—something Julian will not know for awhile; meanwhile, I will have averted the attack. Refusing to operate on assumption (the mother of all fuck-ups, yes?), I give my plan a few test runs and am happy to report that my strategy worked beautifully, perhaps too beautifully, given Julian’s uncontrollable vomiting. So that he won’t catch onto the fact that no actual side effects had resulted from the blowing of the whistle, I immediately go back and use the drug in conjunction with the whistle to show him that, yes, indeed, the sound of the whistle is a terrible portent, a heralding of pure misery.

Contriving to make Julian miserable on cue isn’t a job I relish; it’s a purely practical decision, akin to the disciplining of a child—done out of love rather than anger. In fact, seeing Julian helpless only makes me love him more, and I dote on him after inflicting pain, the way an abusive husband dotes on his wife in the hours and days following a beating. Seeing such a majestic animal—one that could crush my skull with his powerful jaws or slice open my torso with his massive claws—reduced to such a pitiful state (panting helplessly, claws dug into the carpet, holding onto the spinning floor like a seasick man holds onto a mast) is tragic in the extreme.

When Julian is being especially playful and jumping around, I hear angry pounding from Rick, my downstairs neighbor, who eventually shows up at my door. His black chest hair is poking out from his stained white tank top and the gold chain around his neck dangles down to his obscenely jutting belly. “Shit—what is that smell?” is the first thing he says. I’m tempted to reply, shit, but instead say nothing. Quickly and efficiently getting rid of Julian’s waste has proved a formidable challenge, one much more daunting than the task of feeding him, and the result is that I have become somewhat paranoid about the zoo-like smell emanating from my apartment. Many a criminal has been undone, not by eyewitnesses, but by nose-witnesses. A pesky neighbor detects a hideously bad smell and then the next thing you know, the police are poking around. I obviously don’t need anybody putting two and two together and deducing that I’m illegally housing a large, exotic animal. “What the hell you doing in there?” my neighbor tells me what’s on his mind. “Sounds like you’re tossing around a bowling ball! What the fuck?”

What the fuck, indeed. The loud thumping noise is, of course, Julian. Five hundred pounds of feline energy hitting the floor. I tell him that I’ll keep it down and he says, good, that he’s trying to have sex with his girlfriend and that the noise is detracting from his performance. The whole time he’s speaking, I keep the chain connected to the door, as if he might burst in without warning, which a part of me actually wants him to do. Rick is a bully and has intimidated me on several occasions. I would relish the moment he comes face-to-face with Julian, his features pure primal fear as he bursts in and finds himself confronted with an angry, five-hundred pound Bengal tiger. Unleash Julian, watch the slob get snuffed. The version in my imagination goes thus: my neighbor recklessly bursts in and finds himself staring right into the eyes of a natural born killer, causing his bluster to instantly vanish. Rick stands frozen, transfixed by Julian . . . Julian senses his fear and then pounces hard, the way his forefathers pounced on so many gazelles in thewild. Before I know it, severed limbs are flying . . .

***

Something is burning inside me. I want to let somebody see Julian. I need to see this magnificent animal through somebody else’s eyes, in order to see him afresh. I consider the trustworthiest people in my life—the list is embarrassingly small—but the most tempting idea involves Tara, a sexy coworker at the bank where I now work. I fantasize asking her out on a date and then bringing her back to my apartment to meet Julian. Obviously, she will be frightened, but it is easy to imagine she would also be impressed, perhaps even erotically inspired, by being so close to all that raw animal power, and this, in turn, will aid our coupling as Tara subconsciously transfers some of Julian’s strength to me, his owner. Her respect and fascination with me will grow, knowing that I am the master of this powerful beast. Then the secret of Julian will be ours to share, bringing us closer together, as secrets usually do between people. After work, Tara will rush back to my apartment to see the interspecies father and son. Naturally, she’ll be dying to tell her friends; and I will be more mysterious to her than ever. You can see where I’m going with all this: In no time, she’ll be in my bed and I’ll be exploring carnal delights. I might even show her my whistle trick, in order to demonstrate the power I have over Julian, thus proving to her that I can make this five hundred pound feline do anything I wish, that I can shatter his ego at will. Perhaps I will even let her blow the whistle and allow her to revel in the knowledge that she, a mere one hundred pound female, can tame a man-eating brute. But the dilemma: can Tara be trusted not to tell a single person, not even her own mother or best friend?

***

The need burning inside me neither abates nor diminishes. I must risk everything and bring in Tara to see Julian. I’m possessed by the idea. I suppose I could go on hiding Julian indefinitely, without a single soul knowing what I am doing, but what good would that do? If having Julian does not have any advantages, if being the master of a ferocious five hundred pound Bengal tiger doesn’t intrigue women, then what’s the point? I’ve been fantasizing about Tara for some time. It’s now time to bring my fantasies to life. As a species, we humans are essentially narcissistic. Is it not human nature to yearn for a witness to our activities, to see our deeds and misdeeds through somebody else’s eyes?

My second choice to see Julian is my sister Heidi. I feel a certain need to vindicate myself by showing her the secret power in my life (Julian), but after much thought, I decide against it. Heidi, while well intentioned, has a tendency to take direct action. She might take Julian as final proof that I am mentally unstable and report me, with the hope of giving me the much-needed mental help that I need. Though Heidi is five years younger than me, she’s always felt the need to give me advice about any aspect of my life, which I find both touching and annoying. Touching, because it shows she cares; and annoying, because it shows that she feels that she knows better than me, her hopeless big brother. Heidi is engaged—which somehow makes my loneliness all the more acute—and I sometimes wonder how she can be doing so well, indeed, how we can share the same gene pool. She has somehow escaped loneliness, and the fact that she is no more attractive than I am and has many of the same hang-ups and weaknesses makes it doubly painful, only confirming my belief that women have it much easier in romance than men. An attractive-yet-shy girl will still have a suitor or two, while an attractive-yet-shy man is doomed to a sexless existence. Out of sensitivity for my feelings, rarely does she allude to my ongoing bachelorhood, though I’m not sure which is worse: ignoring a problem or bringing it out into the open.

***

Before Tara comes over, I do my best to disinfect my apartment, trying to rid it of the strong animal odor that permeates every square inch. This zoo-like animal smell I envision to be the biggest stumbling block with Tara. I know I cannot completely rid my apartment of the odor, and so my only goal is to take off the sharp edge. Next comes the hardest part: actually convincing Tara to come over to my place. Though I have time throughout the day to chat with her here and there, I need a few minutes of private time with her. I figure my best chance is while we’re both on lunch break, since we’re often the only ones in the break room. My only goal is to intrigue her to the point where she agrees to come over to my place. After that, Julian will do all the work. She sees me as utterly harmless (I am, really) and so I don’t see her refusing, if I peak her curiosity. I tell her I have something in my apartment that will absolutely amaze her, something she will never forget; in return, she must swear complete secrecy. She raises an eyebrow, clearly skeptical, and says that I’ve never even asked her on a date before and now I’m asking her to come over to my place? I’m not even going to wine and dine her first? I say, no, it’s nothing like that (though it is, a little). I tell her that what she will witness will be like nothing she has ever seen before, or ever will again. I emphasize that it is a surprise that I have chosen to reveal to her and her alone and that what she will see has never been seen by another living soul. This settles the matter and she finally agrees to come over after work.

At my apartment, I first go in and instruct Julian to be on his best behavior, though, for a young male Bengal tiger, what “best behavior” means is anybody’s guess. For peace of mind, I keep my trusty whistle around my neck. Large carnivores are notoriously unpredictable (I have to keep reminding myself this; I must not forget this, even for a moment), especially with people they’ve never seen before.

When I come outside, I see that my downstairs neighbor Rick is already flirting with Tara, really laying on the charm, which isn’t much charm at all. The fat slob obviously finds her attractive, but she’s clearly out of his league, something he proves by the fact that he seems on his best behavior, doing his best to come across as polite and articulate, rather than the fat slob he actually is. I go over to Tara. Rick seems amazed that the gorgeous woman before him is with me. Before I take her into my apartment, I say to him: “Do me a favor and mind your own fucking business.” Clearly, Julian has already empowered me.

As I take Tara to my apartment, I glance over at a dumbfounded Rick, looking as if I’m leading her to the bed of consummation before his very eyes. Before we go inside, I tell her: “Okay. It’s ready. Don’t make any sudden movements. Keep your voice soft and do everything slowly and deliberately.” When she frowns, I add: “No loud noises or quick movements . . . Okay, you ready?” She gives a small, unconvincing nod and I slowly, carefully, open the door. “God, what is that smell?” is the first thing she says. The eternal dilemma. “You’ll see soon enough,” I say. I look around, but no Julian. He must be in the bedroom. I hear some muffled noise—it sounds like he’s gnawing on a bone—and then I see the end of his tail creeping out from behind the sofa.

Having heard the strange noise, Tara looks around intently, puzzled, trying to figure out what it is. Just then, the tip of Julian’s front paws become visible at the other end of the sofa, while his tail twitches at the opposite end. Tara still hasn’t seen him, though. I realize that it will be safer to call Julian out and announce our presence rather than surprise him. “What’s that noise?” she finally asks, gazing abstractly at the Chinese dragon on my coffee table. She then notices Julian’s tail oscillating up and down in wave-like movements and freezes, her eyes big. “Holy shit.”

Holy shit, indeed. “It’s okay,” I tell her softly, then turn to Julian. “Julian,” I call out to him, making sure he recognizes a familiar voice. Tara stands there, not sure what to expect. She’s clearly afraid—a gratifying thing to witness. After a moment, the tail retracts out of sight and Julian emerges from behind the sofa. Though he’s moving slowly, almost lethargically, the sight is breathtaking, even more than I’d hoped for. I watch him with great fatherly pride, five hundred pounds of raw feline power, his massive head hung low and his muscles rippling and twitching beneath that beautiful coat. The pattern of orange, white, and black is artful and majestic, as if some Renaissance artist—perhaps Michelangelo himself—had used Julian’s fur as his very canvas.

The effect is not lost on Tara as she stands there, frozen and wide-eyed. Her reaction is even more satisfying than I had anticipated, and I glance back and forth from tiger to fertile woman. Julian opens his massive mouth and sits, his powerful haunches flickering, revealing every glorious tendon. “It’s okay,” I reassure her. “This is Julian, my tiger.”

She never takes her eyes off him as he walks straight toward her. I try to appear calm and unconcerned, but my heart’s beating wildly. I keep my hand on the whistle, ready tp use it at the slightest provocation. Tara instinctively backs away as Julian approaches, but he fools us by making a small detour through the kitchen … he then reappears and comes over to me affectionately. I rub his head, which he loves, as do all cats. Tara is still stunned. Mildly intrigued by her presence, Julian glances at her every so often, regarding her with detached, majestic objectivity, the way a powerful monarch might regard one of his servants. He keeps an eye on her, but doesn’t condescend to let her know he is watching her.

“He likes that,” she finally says, watching me scratch underneath his chin. Julian moves his head around to allow me access to other areas of his throat, eyes half-closed in bliss.

“All cats like having their heads and throats rubbed,” I say. “Just like a house cat.” “Yes. Just like a house cat.”

She continues watching, hypnotized. I’m torn about whether to let her touch him. After all, Julian is used to my smell, but I’m not sure how he’ll react to a stranger. Putting her at such close proximity to the animal would leave no margin for error; if he doesn’t like her smell and decides to take a swipe at her or offer his teeth, there would be no time to prevent an attack. A tiger can move in a split second.

“He’s dangerous, isn’t he?” she says.

I look at her, becoming vaguely aroused. I can sense the fear in her eyes, in her faster-than-normal breathing as she cowers before this magnificent beast. “Yes. Very.” I see a slight flush in her face and unless I’m mistaken, I also sense a little (dare I say it?) sexual arousal in her as well, the way fear can inspire slight sexual arousal in a helpless female.

“Where did you get him, Art?” she asks. “God, look at his muscles quiver!”

“Yes. Look at that.”

Julian is now laying on his side, his skin flickering and the sleek muscles underneath twitching. He’s putting on quite a show.

“He’s . . . amazing.”

“Yes. He is, isn’t he?” I reply, enormously satisfied. I then voice the unthinkable: “Would you like … to see my bedroom?”

But she’s so mesmerized by Julian that she doesn’t seem to have heard me. “Come again?”

I hesitate, unable to repeat my boldness. Some things in life are like that: the boldness comes out only during unguarded moments, when you haven’t had time to think about it, and simply cannot be repeated it. “Nothing,” I say.

She glances at me and I wonder if she’d heard me, after all. “Are you crazy, Art?” she says. Julian must not care for the tone or volume of her voice because he looks at her, as if irritated. She then finishes her thought: “… keeping a full grown tiger in your apartment!”

“Actually, he’s not even completely done growing yet,” I inform her. “He’ll gain another fifty pounds or so.”

“Do you really think you’ll be able to hide him here … in this apartment?”

“That’s the plan. It’s worked so far, hasn’t it?” For some reason, I don’t expect her to be grilling me like this.

She appears troubled as she watches Julian. “Don’t get me wrong— he’s beautiful. But this is crazy. You know that, right?”

“Well. . . ‘crazy’ is always relative, isn’t it?”

“It’s absolutely loony,” she says flatly, not mincing words. “There are laws against this kind of thing.”

I am in no mood for a lecture. I now regret bringing her over.

She’s staring at me, searching my face. “You brought me over here to seduce me, didn’t you?”

Her intuition leaves me speechless. But then something escapes my mouth: “Of course not!”

“Did you think that I’d see your tiger and just drop my panties? Art, that’s sick.” There is hostility in her voice; things are clearly not going as planned.

“Well, not quite like that. . .” is all I can think of to say.

Her face then softens and she regards me sympathetically. “Is it because . . . you’re lonely?”

Much as I hate to admit it, this genuinely stings, probably because there is some truth to it. If I weren’t lonely, or if I had plenty of friends (maybe a wife or girlfriend), I probably never would have conceived the idea of owning a tiger. Nevertheless, in the presence of Tara, I dismiss the notion with a wave of my hand. I cannot admit the truth in front of her.

“Let me just ask you one question: Do you really think it’s safe living with a tiger? I mean, I’m sure he’s used to you, and he seems well-trained, but still… A wild animal is just that: a wild animal.”

“Trust me, I’ve taken precautions.”

As she heads for the door, she turns and offers a final thought: “Art, are you trying to … I don’t know, compensate for something that’s lacking in your life?”

I’m taken aback by the question. “What do you mean?”

“Do you think by owning a tiger that maybe you’re trying to compensate for the lack of power in your own life?”

What the fuck? Then I remember: Tara’s a Psychology major. I should’ve known she’d pull a Freud on me, that she’d try to psycho-analyze me, which I guess in this case means, analyze a psycho.

I show her to the door and before she leaves, I make one request: “Look, I don’t know what I was thinking in bringing you here …”

She folds her arms. “Sure you do. You thought I’d drop my panties, remember?” she reminds me.

“… anyway, I apologize,” I continue. “I only ask one favor: that you don’t say anything to anyone. Like you said, keeping a tiger in your apartment is illegal, and . . . well-, that’s all I ask.”

She thinks about it for a moment and then softly nods. Our only moment of understanding.

As I go back inside, I notice a piece of paper hanging on my front door. Something official. It says that there’s going to be an annual apartment inspection tomorrow. My heart pounds and panic wells up in me. The dilemma: where can I safely store a nine foot long Bengal tiger? At first I consider merely hiding Julian in my walk-in closet, but that would be too risky. The building inspectors always go from room to room, even checking closet doors to make sure everything is working properly. I can see it now: as they go to the walk-in closet, I tell them, stop—you’ll be sorry! But this will only heighten their curiosity . . . suddenly, they’ll hear a strange noise, so they flip on the light and look inside, only to find a very startled Bengal tiger staring right at them, Julian’s big, piercing eyes shining menacingly … no, I can’t chance it. Julian would be taken away and I would face federal charges. Telling the apartment manager that I’ll be out of town isn’t an option, either. The manager has a key to every apartment and will let the inspectors in whether I’m home or not.

I consider taking Julian somewhere during the middle of the night and leaving him until they have finished the inspection, then bring him back in the early morning hours the next day, when foot traffic is minimal. But where would I leave Julian for a full twenty-four hours, given the noticeable absence of tiger shelters in the city? And how the hell do I take a nine-foot tiger downstairs without a single person seeing? The logistics and risk involved are overwhelming. Even assuming that I could get Julian safely downstairs and into my car (was the back seat of my Mazda even large enough?), where would I possibly take him? I am thinking like a desperate man now, like a character in a movie who accidentally kills someone and who, under great stress, makes all the wrong decisions, all which lead to his arrest. Don’t be like the guy in the movies, I tell myself. Calm down . . . think . . .

Then it occurs to me: drugs, tranquilizers. Not for me, for Julian. I could drug Julian, then put him in my large walk-in closet and scatter some laundry over him as a camouflage. I recall the scene in Lolita where Humbert Humbert drugs Lolita in a hotel room (not to hide her, of course, but so he could ravish her nymphet body without restraint). Be like Hum, I am now telling myself. I could put Julian in my walk-in closet, put some blankets over him, or better yet, some soiled, smelly laundry, so that the inspector’s first reaction would be to turn away in disgust, no questions asked. I would apologize for my slovenliness, of course, but meanwhile I’ll be closing the door and politely changing the subject. Be Like Hum becomes my mantra: praise the All-Powerful Sedative. Then I remember that Humbert Humbert’s scheme had failed: Lolita awakes just as Hum reaches for her, leaving him stupefied and laying his plans to waste. I ponder this for a moment, determined not to repeat his mistake. I must make sure that Julian is fully unconscious before the inspectors come.

At El Camino Veterinary Hospital, I ask for a strong animal tranquilizer, but they won’t give one to me—something about it needing to be prescribed by a licensed veterinarian—and this makes me feel like some nefarious animal druggist. I don’t want to arouse suspicion or create a scene and I can’t state my real purpose, that I need to tranquilize a large tiger, so I beat around the bush, becoming enmeshed in my own gibberish, which makes as little sense to my own ears as it does to the young nurse’s, given her puzzled look. Then it occurs to me: Clyde, a guy I know at the zoo where I used to work. Clyde was a somewhat shady character, always on the fringes of what was legal and appropriate, but he might just be the answer to my problem; he’s my only asset right now. He might very well have some miscellaneous items like animal tranquilizers in his magician’s bag of tricks. I contact him and it turns out I’m right: he does in fact have some strong animal tranquilizers, the kind that wildlife officials from the Dept. of Fish and Game use to knock out large animals like bears. I have no idea what he’s doing with prescription-strength animal tranquilizers, and I don’t really want to know.

I buy one powerful dose.

Now, I have to pay a friendly visit to the apartment manager and ask roughly what time the building inspectors plan to come by. I have some margin for error: if they are a little late or early, Julian will still be unconscious. If, however, they come at the end of the day rather than the beginning (say, at three p.m. rather than nine a.m. or vice versa), then I’m in deep trouble. As it turns out, the inspection for the apartments in my unit are slated for 10 to 11 a.m..

I plan to administer the tranquilizer to Julian at 8:30 a.m.

***

I give Julian the tranquilizer and watch as he quickly becomes lethargic, then falls unconscious, his chin hitting the floor with a thump. For a moment, I’m afraid I have killed him. I put my hand over his mouth to make sure he’s still breathing and am relieved to feel his humid breath.

At 10:30, the inspectors haven’t shown up, but I am not overly worried, since the manager said they could show up anywhere from 10:00 to 11:00, but when 11:00 comes and goes, I become nervous. Julian is safely unconscious—”Clive” had told me the drug would stay in a large animal’s system for about five hours—but I don’t enjoy playing Russian Roulette with my fate. At 11:30,1 call the apartment manager and ask what’s going on, but I merely get his answering machine, so I try to find him; if he’s not in his office, he’s usually roaming the grounds. I don’t see him outside, however, and so I go to the office and find him there. Trying to conceal my trembling voice, I ask when the inspectors are going to come by and he tells me that there’s been a delay: one of the inspectors had a family emergency and so they’re running a few hours late. I feel the blood drain out of my face and I begin trembling. I had only bought enough tranquilizer for one dose and I simply wouldn’t have enough time to contact “Clyde” again. I could only hope that the drug would be strong enough to stay in Julian’s system until the inspectors left.

I look at my watch: it was noon.

The manager apologizes for the inconvenience and tells me that the inspectors are now set to appear at my apartment at 12:30—about a half hour—so I rush back to see how Julian is doing and find him still

unconscious.

When the inspectors arrive at 12:25,1 am relieved. The two inspectors—one is a short, pudgy man and the other is bald and elderly— go through my apartment in a thorough, objective manner. It is clear that they take their jobs seriously, acting like homicide detectives investigating a crime scene. They scrunch their noses a few times and exchange knowing glances, as if to say, God, it smells in here!, but remain objective. They obviously notice the rank animal odor but seem to feel it’s unprofessional and impolite to mention it; after all, it’s a visual apartment inspection, not an olfactory assessment. I’d clearly gotten used to the rank, animal smell that everybody else noticed right away. (I would have to change that, from the simple standpoint of human dignity.) Though I have done a methodical job disposing of Julian’s waste, I would have to be even more diligent. Cat urine is one of the strongest, most acidic substances known to man, which no cleaning product can fully combat or neutralize.

Speaking of urine, I have to empty my own bladder, which has been working overtime because of my nervousness, so I make the quickest of detours into the bathroom, then return. The bald, elderly man is clearly the one with seniority, given the way the short, pudgy one looks to him for approval. When they go over to open the sliding glass door that leads to my patio, the pudgy one pauses and notices something behind the sofa. It’s a huge bone that Julian had been gnawing on before I gave him the drug; I’d forgotten about it. The man raises his eyebrows and vaguely gestures to it, as if it has some relevance to the inspection. His partner gazes at the bone for a second, then turns to me and asks whether I have any pets. Pets aren’t allowed, so I tell him, no. He gazes at me for another moment, then jots my response down. The other man stares at me suspiciously, then they both go over to the sliding glass door and make sure it’s working properly, which it is.

After the front room, they go to my bedroom. I don’t think they’ll inspect my walk-in closet, where Julian is safely tucked away, but as it turns out I’m wrong. My heart thumps as the pudgy inspector reaches out and attempts to open the metal folding door. The door often sticks on the aid metal track and they jot this down on their inspection and repair sheet. Undeterred, the pudgy man struggles to open the door . . . the moment of truth.

Either he will see Julian lying there or he won’t. Finally, with a hard yank, he opens the door . . .

***

I’m in an ambulance, a clear plastic mask over my face and tubes in my nose, strapped to a stretcher, drifting in and out of consciousness. The female EMT is monitoring my blood pressure and heart rate. “Tiger mauling—patient is stable,” she calls into dispatch. “Blood loss. Possible transfusion.” She then reads off a few statistics that I don’t understand. “We’re giving you oxygen,” she informs me in the gentlest of voices, which I appreciate. She says this in such a reassuring, sympathetic way that I start weeping. I revert back to childhood, going back to the time I broke my arm when I was eleven and got an ambulance ride to the hospital. “You’re going to be okay,” she says. “You lost some blood. We’re taking you to the hospital.”

“Type ‘O,’” I tell her my blood type, to aid the process. Feeling light-headed, I just lie there and stare at her as she works the controls on the monitor. She’s remarkably efficient and there’s something surreal about the way she performs her job, as if she were doing nothing more than working controls on a television, though my very life hangs in the balance. For the first time, I become aware of the siren and feel the bumps of the ambulance as it dodges traffic and makes other unconventional traffic maneuvers. The paramedic gets on the radio and tells them she’s four minutes from the hospital.

While I listen to the siren, I continue staring at the woman and feel the ambulance bounce as it goes over a rough patch of road. I can see out the back window and am lucid enough to recognize the area: we just went over the train tracks between Northgate and Del Paso Boulevard. For some reason, I’m comforted by this familiarity and smile weakly before blacking out again.

***

I wake up in the hospital. Tubes are still sticking out of my nose and I become aware of a soft, ticking noise, accompanied by the sound of what must be an oxygen machine. I hear a noise like a balloon being blown up (well-wishers in my room already?), but then I feel my left arm get tight and I realize it’s the automatic blood pressure machine. The doctor—he’s Middle-Eastern, with a mustache —comes in and asks me how I’m doing. I tell him, fine, except for having been mauled by a five hundred pound Bengal tiger. He grins and informs me that they gave me a blood transfusion, as well as a few rabies shots. I nod and, due to my groggy, drug-induced state, drift off to sleep.

When I regain consciousness again, I feel stronger. For the first time, I am aware of the large, thick gauze over my arm and leg. I glance up at the TV and see that a news report is on. Apparently, Roy (of Siegfreid and Roy) was attacked on stage by his white tiger and was in critical condition. An animal expert comes on and says that big cats are notoriously unpredictable and that even the best trained ones can turn on you. I would have downplayed this warning had I not experienced first-hand the absolute truth of this. Another report comes on—this one local, on-the-scene coverage—and they show a limp, unconscious tiger being hauled into a van by four men outside an apartment complex that looks eerily familiar. I perk up with interest, then realize that the tiger is Julian.

The moment I see him, I know he is dead. The on-scene reporter says that the police had no choice but to shoot him, since he lunged at an officer. They go on to say there has been a tiger mauling involving three men and that one is dead, one in critical condition, and one stable. So the first inspector had died, I realize. I wonder about the other one, the one in critical condition … I assume they had brought both of us to the same hospital. The reporter talks about the mentally deranged owner (me), saying that I was one of the men in stable condition. During the newscast, he interviews neighbors and attempts to figure out a pressing question: why would anybody harbor an adult male tiger in his apartment? This is an intriguing question, I have to admit. “The man, Arthur Blackwell, was rushed, along with the other man who had survived, to Sutter General Hospital and given a blood transfusion,” the reporter says. “We’re told he is in serious but stable condition. The other victim is identified as Howard Livingston, a resident of Yolo County. The apartment manager tells us that he and the man who died, Stanley Green, had been inspecting the apartment prior to the attack. We are not sure exactly what happened that prompted the tiger attack, but authorities are trying to piece things together to get a sense of what happened here. We’ll keep you updated on any further developments when we get more details. As you know, this comes in the wake of the tiger mauling involving Roy, of Siegfreid and Roy.” My neighbor Rick, the one I’d had problems with, suddenly appears on camera. He looks a little overwhelmed by the moment but tries to appear calm and collected. “I knew something weird was going on up there!” he says.

“What makes you say that?” the reporter asks.

“All the loud, thumping noises and the place smelled like a zoo!” Being on camera seems to have curbed his penchant for swearing.

“And you didn’t think anything of it?”

My neighbor shrugs and scratches his head. His hair is sticking up, as if he just woke up. “I thought he might be keeping a tiger up there, but I wasn’t sure . . .”

“Why didn’t you call the police if you suspected he was keeping a tiger?”

“Like I said, I wasn’t really sure. You have to be sure about stuff like that before you call the cops.”

“Did you notice anything else unusual?” the reporter presses.

My neighbor frowns. “Yeah: loud thumping noises, like a bowling ball being thrown around.”

“And you didn’t think anything of that?”

My neighbor shrugs it off. “I just figured the guy was, you know”—he makes expert quotation marks with his fingers—’mentally unstable.’ I’ve had a few run-ins with him before and I always thought he was a real weirdo.”

I reach for the remote with a groan and abruptly shut off the TV.

I finally have the strength to ruminate on what happened during the apartment inspection: When the pudgy inspector opened my walk-in closet, Julian was startled, his mouth foamy and his eyes locked on the man. No sooner did the two look at each other than Julian leapt forward, five hundred pounds of confused, deranged tiger. Clearly, with the drug still in his system, and being surprised by the inspectors, Julian had not been in his normal mind. What happened next was surreal, everything in slow motion, as if I was in an alternative dimension of reality. Julian pounced on the inspector and had him by the throat. I could actually see the blood burst forth when his jugular vein was punctured . . . my first instinct was to reach for my whistle, but I wasn’t wearing it, since I had assumed Julian was still unconscious. Julian shook the guy like a rag doll, chomping down on the man’s head—the image was truly sickening, not to mention the popping sound of the man’s skull being punctured—and then ran for the other inspector and leapt at him. I have never seen Julian move so fast; this was a tiger I didn’t know, one whose viciousness I’d never seen before, but there it was before me, in living three dimensional color. Julian dragged the screaming man by the arm as he impotently clubbed the with his futile left hand, which had zero impact on Julian. Suddenly, Julian lost his grip on the man, and I now see why: the man’s right wrist was dangling, close to being completely severed, just hanging there by a strand of flesh. I ran to grab the whistle, but before I knew it, Julian was on me, in one swift leap. When I felt his jaws chomp down on my ankle, I managed to grab the whistle on the kitchen counter and blow as hard as I could. The sound of the whistle stunned Julian, but he didn’t immediately stop, lost as he was in his own violent dimension. When he took another bite of my leg, I blew the whistle again, as hard and as long as I could and he finally stopped. He released me and ran to the corner of the room, where he dropped his head and began rapidly panting from the pseudo-dizziness and nausea coursing through him. Both me and the inspector that was still alive dragged ourselves toward the door, both of us a bloody, mangled mess. I dragged my incapacitated leg with me like it was a foreign appendage, and he was trying to crawl with only one hand, since the other one was mangled beyond recognition. To an outside observer, we must have looked like we were racing each other to the door, competing in some bizarre Macabre Olympics. In truth, however, we both just wanted the fuck out. I glanced back to make sure Julian wasn’t going to attack us again. Though he was still in the same spot, claws dug into the carpet, I blew the whistle again for good measure, just to make sure, until we could both get safely out the door.

When we were outside, I saw that a few neighbors were already there, looking alarmed. They probably heard the screaming and came out to see what was going on. I must have blacked out then because that’s all I remember. I don’t even recall yelling out for someone to call 911, though that was unnecessary: any moron could deduce that we needed emergency help.

As I look out the hospital window at the cars whizzing by, I see a stray tabby cat next to the tree—a sort of miniature Julian. It rubs up against the tree, then looks right at me, its mouth turned upward, like a smiling feline Buddha. I would enjoy this image a little longer had I not suddenly noticed two police cars pulling into the parking lot. The beeping that monitors my heart rate increases and I’m doubly uneasy at the thought of setting off the machine. I have the foreboding that I should contact an attorney, but I don’t know any attorneys. To be sure, there will be legal consequences to what I have done.

One thing is certain: I am going to jail.

At that moment, in the corner of the window, I see something even more unusual: a mouse. It seems domesticated, given that it doesn’t appear afraid of me. Wondering what a domesticated mouse is doing outside my room, I unlatch the window and slide it open a little, just enough for the mouse to crawl through. When it investigates the opening, I gently reach out and scoop it up, then tuck it safely away in the pocket of my hospital

If I’m going to jail, I’m bringing a friend with me …

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