by Dan Crawley
Your friend doesn’t answer the bell or your knocks, so you turn to leave and come face-to-face with the biggest cat you’ve ever seen. Of course, you know it’s a mountain lion perched stock-still atop the cinder block wall. A tawny sphinx halfway down the narrow walkway. But a smaller lion than the ones you’ve seen recently on the news. Reporting on the influx of lion sightings in this area. Reporting that these predators usually don’t hunt humans, but they are dangerous wild animals. So steer clear. Which you can’t do right now, your back pressed firmly against the door. This big cat’s a teenager, you tell yourself, not able to think about the word lion any longer.
The big cat’s glowing stare doesn’t let up, and those paw claws hook the edge of bricks like triggers, ready to spring. You wish your friend was home and you were inside, enjoying her company and her flavorsome leftover spaghetti pie. You wish she didn’t have to find your mauled remains.
This youngster doesn’t want to eat me, you tell yourself, and now realize the faint echo of your tiny voice–a terror-stricken dustmote, really–floating aimlessly in the vast hollow space that once held your core. This adolescent already had lunch at home. Sure, belly full of jackrabbits. Then you realize the big cat’s home is where you stand, all you take in. The same home to all the big cats that came before. Your neighborhood a few miles away, also on the boundary of an open desert and nearby rugged mountains, is the big cat’s property, too.
You speak directly to this animal from the cavern within your center. My friend’s house is temporary. Like mine. They won’t last. You remember how you built forts made of pillows and bedsheets in the living room of your childhood home. The impermanence of these structures, taken down before dinner.
I really like what you’ve done to the place, you say, eyes darting upward. Your ceiling treatment of billowy clouds is a nice touch. The colorful vines of a bougainvillea creep along the house’s stucco opposite the waiting animal on the wall. Barrel cacti crowned with irradiant yellow spines line the walkway like bulbous luminary lights. Your decor is sublime, truly.
Then you plead with the big cat. Please let me leave? I know I was not invited. I did not mean to intrude. But I came to visit my friend. And I think–no, no–I know, she can be more than just a friend. I had to try, you see…with her. I had to….”
Go on, a voice reverberates down deep within your entire being. It’s a voice you recognize. As is the wind that murmurs amid brittle leaves in autumn or water that sings over smooth stones quilting a creek bed.
You’re grateful to remember that day trip in the high country with your friend last fall. The way she smiled under a crystalline sky.
The big cat stretches out on the wall, resting that massive head on thick arms, getting more comfortable.
Dan Crawley is the author of Straight Down the Road (Ad Hoc Fiction, 2019) and The Wind, It Swirls (Cowboy Jamboree Press, 2021). His writing appears or is forthcoming in Jellyfish Review, Lost Balloon, JMWW, Five South, Atticus Review, and elsewhere. His work has been nominated for Best Small Fictions, Best of the Net, Best Microfiction, and a Pushcart Prize. Find him at https://twitter.com/danbillyc.