Thursday, October 3, 2013

Death of Tiger (Last Installment) - IV of V

This is the last installment of Death of a Tiger. Part five will include a short analysis and background on the piece.

Death of a Tiger (finale)

I put my hand up only to have it cross paths with his fist. The pain shot through my arm, down my spine, and into my legs. Screaming, I felt my knees buckle and I fell against Gideon’s kennel, Karkus still attacking me.
The force of my weight on the kennel toppled it over, causing the door’s hinges to snap out of their sockets. Through a hailstorm of shouts, growls, teeth, and curses, I caught a glimpse of the bobcat dashing out. With superhuman strength, I flung Karkus away from me. He moaned as his body thumped against the ground beside me.
Belem and Sass had been eagerly following the captivating attack. When Gideon escaped they reacted on instinct, running straight into the closed trapdoor that blocked the way into their un-secured habitat. Any other day, this wouldn’t have been a problem, but we weren't so fortunate.
The weight of these two massive cats hitting the trapdoor knocked the cords that held it in place out of their groove. With a crash, the trapdoor fell open. Sandy and Will, who had predicted the tigers’ behavior, only had microseconds to jump out of the way. With unnatural speed, Belem and Sass bolted past them, hurtling after the bobcat.
In a single bound, Gideon leapt over the six-foot fence surrounding Chantee’s pen, seeking refuge. He landed unharmed. More astonishing than that was watching Sass do the same. I was certain that Belem would not make the jump and our group would be left vulnerable, having to deal with an incredible killing machine. But I was wrong.
Belem contracted his body and released, pushing up on his hind legs in sync with the pumping of his heart. All four hundred and fifty pounds of him sprung through the air. It was graceful—awesome to watch. He landed in Chantee’s territory. Sass had chased Gideon into a small doghouse belonging to a previous inhabitant. She stretched a forearm into the doghouse, swiping at the smaller feline. Belem would have joined her, but was forcibly stopped by a camel’s foot-to-the-face that thudded loudly.
The two large animals faced one another, Belem bearing his fangs, hissing and pacing slowly in front of the wailing camel. Chantee was obviously nervous, but he wailed aggressively nonetheless. I had never heard him make those sounds. It was like a combination of a brutal burp and a deep, slow-motion scream. His mouth was open as wide as it could go, and he kicked out with his front legs.
Belem had learned his lesson and avoided the pounding feet. He paced around the camel, but Chantee retreated from him. They played ring-around-the-rosy while Sass continued reaching into the doghouse attempting to retrieve Gideon. We all stared in awe, except for Will, who ran away from us, and Sandy, tailing him.
Helpless, we watched as Belem finally ran up to Chantee, who turned to flee, exposing his rump. The tiger sank his teeth and two front sets of claws into the camel’s ass. Chantee wailed again. Belem clung to him, his weight bringing the pair down.
At that moment, Sandy returned with Will, who carried what looked like a rifle but was actually a tranquilizer gun. Will took the first shot, grabbing an orange-feathered, syringe-like bullet out of a case and inserting it at the rear of the barrel. With a pop and a hiss, the dart flew out of the gun and into Belem’s hindquarter. Will took no chances. Another dart pierced Sass and a third Chantee. Within minutes the three heavy animals lied on the ground, drugged.
Will handed Sandy the gun and offered her a green-feathered dart of reduced potency. Grudgingly, Sandy opened Chantee’s enclosure, walked in, faced the doghouse, and after taking careful aim, took a shot. Gideon hissed.
It was over.
No one had the energy or desire to celebrate. Four majestic creatures lied sedated on the ground because of what happened. The group quietly made their way around the front of Chantee’s enclosure to get inside and gauge the animals' well-being. My hand throbbed, pulsating painfully, in sync with the beat of my heart. I looked at it closely for the first time and noticed swelling and bruises.
My eyes darted around until I found Karkus resting on the ground where he had landed. None of this would have happened had he not attacked me. Calmly, I walked up to him. He did not move or grimace. Without warning, I kicked him hard in the face, causing his head to snap back dangerously.
Sandy watched the whole thing take place. “What are you doing?” she yelled, tired and full of anger.
“It’s all his fault! He deserves it!” I shouted back, watching blood pour out of his nostrils.
“Are you stupid?” she asked rhetorically. “Get out! I don’t want to see your face!”
“What? What are you mad at me for? I wasn’t the one kissing him in the alligator pond!”
“Get out! I don’t need this right now! Get inside and watch the kids,” she commanded.
The group of onlookers did not move away. They watched our domestic debacle.
“That’s not fair, Sandy. He kisses you and attacks me, but somehow I’m wrong for being upset about it?”
“I don’t care what you have to say. Get away before I call the cops and have you kicked out,” she said, restraining rage. I could tell she meant every word she said.
I was dumbfounded. How had she gone from wrapping her arms around me to absolutely rejecting me? Embarrassed, angry, and hurt, I walked away, avoiding eye contact.
I stepped into the House to hide from the stares and mutterings.
“How did it go?” asked Will's wife when I got inside. She was curious to know what happened.
“Fine—Will and Sandy are out there moving the animals now. Sandy didn’t want me around.”
“Why not?”
“I don’t know. I guess she likes to be alone with Will.”
Thinking back, I realize I probably shouldn’t have worded my comment that way.
The fight was at my door two hours later. Sandy was yelling at me because Will’s wife had gone over demanding to speak to him. She had railed him in front of everyone, and cursed Sandy out, telling her to vacate the property.
I did my best to resolve the issue. It took some time, but the argument died down, and Will and his wife walked tensely back to their home.
“Pack your stuff,” Sandy told me when they were gone. “I want you out of here tomorrow,” she said, taking Jeremiah and Salem and locking the bedroom door behind her.
 After an hour of questioning, pleading, praying, and uttering every curse imaginable at the door, I bunched up a couple of dirty sheets and lay down to rest on the floor. Sleep came three hours later but did not stay long.
     I woke up in the middle of the night. Cold and hungry, I tried opening the door to our bedroom, where Sandy slept, but realized she locked it. I wanted to slip into bed next to her and pretend this day hadn’t occurred. Instead, I walked out the back door and made my way towards the tiger cage. The night was full and the moon in bloom.
     Belem sat still by his empty food bowl. The tragedy that had occurred earlier seemed to have left him unscathed. Sass, on the other hand, had been placed in the lockout pen. She was lying haphazardly in the manner of a drugged animal, breathing feebly.
     I walked up to Belem’s fence. He stared back at me curiously, but not at all disconcerted.
     “You understand me, don’t you, Belem?” I asked, watching his eyes glow green in the moonlight.
     He did not respond.
     I stuck my fingers through the fence and chuffed. This time he responded.
     He drew up his Goliath-like frame and walked over slowly. Chuffing, he threw the weight of his head against my hand, letting my fingers scratch his neck and the spot behind his ears. He liked it, and I ignored the pain of my hand pinned against the fence. He walked across, then back and forth, like a domestic cat, enjoying the comfort I gave. 
“Why do I have to go through this? What else do I need to do to get her back?” I said, sighing into the sticky, humid breeze. "It’s not fair"
In my mind, I went over the entire scenario that had taken place that day. The thought of Karkus boiled my blood. My hand was swollen, probably fractured. I thought of Sandy, Jeremiah, and Salem. I wanted our family to stay together. I had fought so hard. I was convinced of our progress. It just wasn’t fair. None of it was fair. I was doing the best I could.
I stood out there with Belem for an hour. The breeze shifted. It became cold. I bade farewell to my favorite animal in the world. On the way back, I caught a glimpse of Chantee munching on palm leaves, a big white patch of gauze taped over his rear end. I made it to the House, passing a hungry-looking Ollie the Owl. Back inside, I lay down on my makeshift bed, still cold, hoping Sandy would take back what she said when morning arrived.
Sass passed away the following day. Sandy told me as I packed the car with my things. I didn’t have much. I could fit most of my belongings in two small duffel bags. I told Sandy to get rid of whatever was left if she wanted to.
As I shut the trunk, a truck decorated with an official logo pulled up. Fish and Wildlife Commission officials stepped out. They had heard about what occurred the day before and came to investigate. This was not going to be a good day for Sandy either. 
     Knowing I couldn’t do anything to help, I offered to take Jeremiah and Salem for the day while she dealt with the officials. The boys called for me, wanting to play, but Sandy refused. I told the boys I would see them later. 
The long drive to my brother’s house was difficult. Halfway there, cruising along the highway in the Florida sun, I broke down, tears tumbling down my cheeks, my breath in my throat. I thought of Jeremiah and Salem who didn’t know what was going on, my heart breaking for them. I thought of Sandy. I thought of the Mission Animal Rescue and the six months I had spent trying to put my family back together. But whom I thought of most was Belem.
Belem was a rock. He had what I didn’t have: fearlessness. No one could take that away from him. You couldn’t declaw or defang him. He was God’s lapdog. Despite the struggles and circumstances that arose, he remained changeless. The future didn’t matter, because he ruled his domain. I longed for that kind of security.
That night, after finally falling asleep, I dreamt I was Sass. Playfully, I pounced on Belem, who was at least ten-feet tall. I tried climbing to the highest parts of him, but kept slipping. Realizing what I was attempting to do, the giant Belem lied on the ground. I cuddled up beneath his neck and he returned to normal size. He felt like Sandy. Someone watched us. It was Karkus. Belem licked my face, but I wasn't Sass anymore; I was myself, now standing and asking Belem how he could remain so cold and distant all the time. I watched his lips move and he spoke in a frightening human voice. I don't remember what Belem said, but his words depressed me. I woke up sobbing.    

The End.