We stood whistling on the town beach. A few miles down, a dead tiger washed up on the sand. The crowd gathered around the tiger had swollen to the dunes by the time we arrived.
“How on Earth?” people asked over and over.
People snapped pictures with their cell phone cameras and sent them to far away places. The internet crackled with activity. Cubicles filled with gasps. Elsewhere, a real tiger roared in the forest and only a few people heard, one of them clutching a weapon tighter.
The zoo, people thought immediately. The tiger must have found his treatment there lacking. He must have waited until nighttime, leaned back on his haunches, and leapt. Something god-like must have injected him with scope, and, miracle-like, sent him soaring over the fences. Then he was propelled into the ocean by something suicide-like, where perhaps he thought he could swim to a place like that forest, where people might hunt him but food was fresh and wild.
As soon as the theory was finished, someone held up a cellphone for silence. That person had called the zoo. The zoo was not missing a single of its tigers. All tigers were accounted for, down to the last stripe.
My husband stopped whistling. “Exotic pet owners!” he shouted, flush.
The crowd ran with that. Of course, they thought, exotic pet owners! The sort of people who bent rules to keep tigers roaming the wide hallways in their houses up in the hills. Every so often one of those tigers snapped, like a housewife kept in same way, and bit its owner. Being that rich perverted your desires, the crowd concluded.
“Wouldn’t someone report their tiger missing?” I mentioned. “Wouldn’t you feel guilty, endangering the town with your missing tiger?”
“Not if you wanted to stay out of jail!” the crowd countered.
It was true. The penalties in place for exotic pet ownership were strict, strict, strict. The town had decided people needed to be discouraged from harming themselves.
At home, my husband and I made spaghetti. He added milk to the sauce to make it orange, more tiger-like. He had tigers on the brain now. In fact, kitchens all over town hummed with tiger talk. Teenage girls called up other teenage girls, eager to expand on the tiger’s possible symbolism. Rituals and witchcraft and candles were all the rage.
The teenage boys talked about it too. Some wondered about fucking the tiger up with guns. Others imagined themselves wrestling it, taking a brave claw-swipe to the shoulder in a tattoo-able shape.
Parents of young children were terrified. Old people smiled secretly. Young children watched cartoons and wondered why they couldn’t venture further than their front yards anymore.
“Because I said so,” said their parents. “And the mayor and the governor and the President and his boss, who is God—said it.”
More tigers were probably out there, the town concluded.