My cousin married a lion. We were all afraid to enter her house, though I did on several occasions. When she visited my apartment, I’d see scratches on her cheek where he clawed her.
She would bring home joints of meat but it was never enough for him. It seemed to me that all he did was sleep during the day, stirring slightly when she practiced her clarinet. He’d yawn, his large canines slightly yellow, his pink tongue looking course as a rasp. I imagined if he licked her arm, he’d scrape the skin clean off. In the evening he had bursts of energy and that’s when he would growl, show his teeth, stick out his tongue and when displeased, or perhaps in play, bat her with his paw.
His large eyes were an orangey brown and I noticed that rather than shift them he would move his entire head from side to side to watch my cousin leave or enter the room. Cold, emotionless eyes. He’d turn to listen when I so much as shifted in my seat. In my cousin’s house, I sat very still.
I’d read that male lions rarely survive more than ten years in the wilderness, but here, with my cousin to care for him, he might live twice as long.
She adored him and, perhaps he, her. Once I saw them nuzzling each other’s foreheads. She described him as noble. She did not see the danger she was in.
I gave her the Rilke poem “Panther,” after underlining the second stanza: As he paces in cramped circles, over and over/ the movement of his powerful soft strides/is like a ritual dance around a center/ in which a mighty will stands paralyzed. My cousin gave no indication that the poem might be relevant.
Her sister finally called the police. Shortly after they arrived, they shot the lion; it would have taken too long and been risky to sedate him.
My cousin never forgave her.
Photos courtesy of: Der Silent, 41330, Ligiera, Alexas Fotos (x2), Sponchia, and 41330 /Pixabay CC0.
Photo Manipulation: Elizabeth Stark