by Alison Evans
Lux wakes up in the morning and there is nothing to suggest anything out of the ordinary is happening. Ve has a shower, gets dressed, and walks into the kitchen.
Sprawled out across the floor is a tiger. Lux stares at its sleeping form for a few moments, not quite seeing it properly, then realises that the tiger is a tiger and ve gently closes the door to the kitchen and stands in the hallway as ve tries not to hyperventilate.
Lux opens the kitchen door and takes a second glance at the tiger to confirm it’s real.
The floorboards creak as ve tip toes back down the hall to ver room. Ve dials ver housemate’s number and presses the phone to ver ear. After a few rings, he picks up.
‘Lux,’ he says.
‘Taja. This morning, was there anything odd about the kitchen?’
‘Not that I recall,’ he says. ‘What, did I forget the dives?’
Lux laughs without any humour. ‘Thing is, there’s a tiger in there.’
‘There is a tiger in our kitchen.’
‘Is that a metaphor?’
‘There is one.’
‘Forgive me if I don’t believe you. I have to get back to work, I’ll call you in a bit.’
‘Taja—’ ve says, but he’s gone.
So, a tiger. Maybe it wasn’t really there. Maybe ve should go check if it’s still there. Though staying in ver room is probably safer.
What does one do when confronted by a tiger in one’s kitchen? Look up the zoo’s phone number?
Lux’s stomach rumbles painfully and ve puts a hand to it.
From a cupboard in the hall, ve gets a cricket bat. Weighing in ver hands, ve decides that it will offer no help against mauling of any kind.
Nonetheless, Lux keeps it with ver as ve prepares to go into the kitchen. The door doesn’t creak as ve opens it slowly.
The tiger is there. It opens an eye and looks at Lux.
Lux stares back, not moving at all. Ve can hear the blood pulsing through ver ears far too clearly.
The tiger blinks once and closes the eye, resettling itself into a more comfortable sleeping position.
‘Are you a metaphor?’ Lux asks. The tiger doesn’t reply.
It does look to be very much docile. Maybe ve could just nip into the room quickly and get something from the fridge.
The sound of the animal’s breathing is surprisingly loud. It flexes its two huge front paws, claws momentarily unsheathed, and yawns. Its teeth are very large, Lux notes. Nipping in to grab a quick bite would probably not be the best idea.
Lux takes a photo of the tiger and sends it to Taja, then slips into the hallway.
He rings ver a few seconds later. ‘I don’t think that’s a metaphor.’
‘What do we do?’
‘We? I am super busy here.’
‘You’re a bartender, Taja, and it’s one o’clock. Is anyone even in there?’
‘We do meals, too, thank you. There are at least … two people in here. I’m swamped.’
‘Well, I’m sorry I bothered you in these busy times. There’s a tiger in our house. I could die.’
‘Call, I dunno, an animal exterminator or something.’
‘I don’t want to kill it,’ Lux says, peeking through a small gap after inching the door open. ‘I just want it gone.’
‘Maybe it is a metaphor.’
‘It’s not a metaphor!’
The tiger stirs and Lux withdraws ver head from the room and leans against the wall. It only looks docile when it’s asleep.
‘Who should I call first?’
‘Zoo,’ Taja says. ‘I’m pretty sure no one else would have lost a tiger.’
‘Talk to you in a bit.’ Ve hangs up the phone. A quick search gets ver the zoo’s information number and ve calls it. The person on the other end doesn’t believe ver.
The same happens with the pound and every animal service ve finds. Lux calls the zoo again but they are less inclined to believe ver the second time around. By now, at least an hour must have passed and ver stomach feels like its eating itself.
Ve takes a look into the kitchen and the tiger isn’t there. The room is empty. Lux’s skin prickles. Where did the thing go? The house isn’t very big.
Ver feet make tiny sounds as ve walks across the tiles. A low rumbling sound comes from the direction of the dining table and ve jumps, moving backwards, cursing verself for not bringing the cricket bat.
The tiger stares at Lux, paws crossed, from under the kitchen table. A couple of the chairs have been pushed over and the table cloth has been dragged off, along with everything that was on it. That must have happened while ve was sleeping.
The tiger gets up and stretches its paws, reaching out under the table. It stands as it stretches, knocking over another chair as it saunters towards ver. Even though it’s massive, it still has the same superior swagger as Lux’s cat.
It opens its mouth and Lux can smell its breath. It smells a bit like ver cat’s but a hundred times worse. Ve tries not to gag. Ve doesn’t want to die gagging. All the things ve’ll never get to do race through ver head. The one that sticks is ve promised Taja that ve would cook him dinner tonight as a treat. It’s absurd but right now that is the thing that upsets ver most, an unfulfilled promise.
The giant cat stops right in front of Lux and reaches its face out to ver stomach. It butts ver with its forehead and ve gasps, taking a step back.
As Lux raises ver hand, the tiger pushes its head into ver palm. Its fur is thick, surprisingly soft.
‘Oh my gosh.’
The tightness ve had been holding in ver chest loosens. Lux isn’t going to be killed by a tiger, the dinner can still be made.
Ver phone buzzes in ver pocket and with ver free hand, ve answers it. It’s Taja.
‘I don’t think it’s a metaphor,’ Lux says.
‘So it’s gone, then?’
Ve moves ver hand to scratch the tiger behind the ear. It makes a low growling sound that is almost a purr.
‘I think I might call ver Bessie.’
‘Like a cow?’
‘I guess like a cow, yeah’
‘Don’t think we can keep a tiger. Especially not one called Bessie. And besides, what will Wendy think?’
Wendy is the cat. Lux’s chest feels like some outside force is compressing it. What if Wendy’s been hurt?
‘Did you let her out this morning? I haven’t seen her.’
‘She’ll be fine, let her out when I went to work.’
Lux sighs in relief. So, Bessie hasn’t eaten ver cat.
‘Anyway,’ Taja says. ‘We should try calling the zoo again.’
‘Alright, alright. I’ll get someone to come take her away.’
Taja drops his keys onto the floor as he walks through the kitchen door.
Lux looks at him. ‘No one believed me.’
The tiger nuzzles its head into ver hand. Lux can feel its whole body move from side to side as its tail twitches.
‘Would you believe someone if they told you they’d found a missing tiger in their kitchen? The zoo says they haven’t lost a tiger and if I keep calling they will have to contact the police.’
‘Then they would have seen it and we wouldn’t have a tiger in our kitchen!’ He throws up his hands.
‘I think we might be stuck with the tiger,’ Lux says.
‘I don’t want to be stuck with the tiger. Are you sure it’s not a metaphor? Is it spelt with a Y?’
Lux shrugs at him. ‘I’m fairly certain she doesn’t represent a god or gods of any kind, so don’t worry. It’s also not spelt with a Y.’
Taja stares down the tiger. Or, at least, he tries to but the cat’s unflinching stare doesn’t budge and eventually Taja quails.
The tiger gets up onto its paws heavily, its huge mass making the pull of its movements look laborious, slower than they are.
Lux feels the warmth of the tiger’s body leave ver side and feels a little alone as the tiger pads its way to Taja.
Arms pinned down at his sides, Taja freezes. The tiger continues on its way towards him and Lux can see its muscles clearly, visible even under its thick coat.
It circles Taja. Lux knows nothing of a tiger’s body language. Its tail is twitching; if it behaves anything like ver cat, the tiger is not happy.
Ve couldn’t save him if the tiger laved out. A sick, cold feeling pools in ver stomach. The cricket bat lies on top of the table ve’s sitting at. Lux lets ver fingers rest on the handle of the bat, readying verself to pick it up if need be.
Taja’s eyes are wide as he looks at ver. Lux looks right back at him, not knowing what ve can do if the tiger decides to hurt him.
The tiger nudges him with its shoulder as she walks past him and Taja steps to the side to keep his balance.
She watches Taja for a few seconds and Lux picks up the cricket bat, walking over. Ve doesn’t want to use it. The tiger has a fierce beauty ve’s never seen in anything else before.
As Lux approaches, the tiger turns its head towards ver and sits, unblinking. Slowly, Lux moves towards Taja. The tiger does nothing.
Lux switches the bat into one hand and hugs Taja with the other. The prickling smell of his sweat reaches ver nose.
‘I don’t like Bessie,’ Taja whispers, clutching Lux. Ve can feel his nails dig into ver skin.
Ve pats him on the back of his head. ‘I’ll protect you,’ ve says. The two of them walk into the hallway and Lux shuts the door.
‘From a tiger?’ He laughs but his eyes are too wide.
‘I don’t think she’s going to hurt us.’
‘Until she gets hungry.’
Lux frowns. What do tigers eat? How much do they eat? The food bill is going to be obscene this week.
‘Do you think ve’d like beef?’
Taja shrugs. ‘Are you actually considering keeping the tiger?’
‘Is there another option? If we get the police here they’ll think we stole her from someone. We might get charged with animal cruelty.’
Running his hands through his hair, Taja lets out a deep breath. His lungs sound larger than they should be. ‘Where did it come from? Tigers don’t just appear.’
‘This one did, obviously, unless there’s something you’re not telling me. Are you secretly a rich person with a penchant for exotic pets?’
‘Yes, I’m a rich person. I only work as a bartender because it’s fun.’
‘Is this because I didn’t want you to get a snake?’
‘That would have been great, though. I could have‒’
‘Anyway, we’ll have to feed Bessie or ve’ll come looking for us.’
In the supermarket, they buy a lot of meat. More meat than they would eat in a month, Lux’s certain. Taja keeps crowing about buying in bulk, so they do.
Bessie eats half of what they bought in a matter of minutes. Lux wishes it had lasted longer.
‘She’s not so bad,’ Taja says as he flicks through channels on the television.
They’re both sitting on the couch in the lounge. Bessie is sleeping on the floor in front of the TV. She’s lying on the floor, eyes closed. Lux can see her breathing, her side moving up and down as she takes in huge breaths.
‘See? We could get used to her,’ Lux says as ve pays attention to the television and not the homework sitting on ver lap.
Wendy taps at the window and Lux lets her inside. The cat glances at the tiger, walks up and sniffs its face. Deciding the bigger cat is no threat, she jumps up onto the couch and sits where Lux was.
Lux picks her up and sits back down. Wendy squirms for a few moments and relaxes, not glancing at the tiger.
‘That settles that, then,’ Lux says, petting Wendy’s head.
The tiger rumbles in its sleep.
The tiger mostly sleeps in Lux’s room. Wendy hisses whenever the tiger gets too close to the bed. Wendy sleeps on the bed; it’s hers. She simply allows Lux to sleep there, too.
Lux looks at Bessie while ve can’t sleep. The streetlight lights up the room and Bessie’s fur is illuminated, shining as ve breathes in and out. Lux had been brushing her earlier, and ver coat is getting glossier as the days pass.
Lux smiles into ver pillow as ve drifts off to sleep.
In the morning a few weeks later, Taja knocks lightly on the door. Lux pulls on a jumper and follows him outside. Wendy and Bessie follow, after their morning stretches.
Lux lets the cats out as Taja boils the kettle and makes the drinks. Wendy shoots out across their tiny backyard and with one leap, disappears over the fence.
Bessie strides into the backyard as she sniffs the air. The neighbours never see anything, or at least they never say that they’ve seen anything, but Lux and Taja always make sure that one of them is outside whenever Bessie is. Bessie stretches some more and Taja comes into the backyard with his tea and Lux’s coffee.
They blow away the steam and watch Bessie try and chase birds. She’s too bulky to catch anything, but she seems to have fun. It’s good to keep the birds on their toes, Lux thinks.
The morning goes on and turns into the afternoon. Taja prepares to go to work. Before he leaves, he returns to the backyard and snuggles his face into Bessie’s fur.
Bessie bats him playfully with a heavy paw and Taja grins at her, reaching for her tail. She flicks it out of his reach and makes the rumbling noise in her chest.
He pats her head. ‘Have a good day, Bess.’
Turning to Lux, he salutes ver. ‘And you, Luxy.’
‘Good to know you give more attention to the tiger than to me.’
He hugs ver and Lux pats his back. ‘Have a good day.’
Taja leaves through the side gate in the backyard and Bessie goes back to chasing birds.
Months pass. Lux wakes up in the early afternoon and glances around the room. Taja must have let Wendy outside, and Bessie would be sitting in the kitchen, waiting for Lux to let her outside.
Lux has a shower, gets dressed, and walks into the kitchen.
Ve stares at the empty kitchen, wondering why it looks so wrong, then realises that it is empty of tiger. Ve stands in the doorway, blinking.
Ve checks the backyard, but Bessie is not there.
The floorboards creak as ve searches Taja’s room, the lounge, the bathroom. Ve searches the whole house a second, then a third time, calling out Bessie’s name. In the backyard, ve looks over the fence into the neighbours’ yards.
Ve drives around the block and surrounding streets, but there is no sign of Bessie. Ve calls local vets and pounds, asking for a very large orange and black cat, but nothing.
Eventually, ve returns home, ver insides turned into a ball of knots that feel like they’re going to force their way up through ver throat.
Ve dials Taja’s number and presses the phone to ver ear. After a few rings, he picks up.
‘Lux,’ he says.
‘Taja, where’s Bessie?’
There’s a moment of silence. ‘I left her in the kitchen before I went to work.’
‘She’s not in the house.’
More silence. ‘She’s gone?’
‘I think so.’
‘Oh,’ he says.
They stay on the phone to each other for a few moments, not speaking, until Taja has to return to work.
Lux sits on the edge of ver bed for some time.
Ve and Taja keep their eyes on the news for any mention of tigers, rumours, but there is nothing. Sometimes they go for walks in the forests around their home but they never find anything.
Eventually, Bessie is only a memory and life goes on.
Alison Evans is a maker of zines, a lover of bad movies and co-editor of Concrete Queers. Their next book, Ida, is out Jan 2017. You can find them on twitter as @_budgie or on their website, alisonwritesthings.com