I didn’t want to take the lion because he’s scary. I mean, he’s a lion. Three-inch canines and all that. They don’t let pets in the dorms anyway.
Take the lion, Mom said. We were packing my things into the car. Her offer surprised me because she and Dad love the lion. They take him for walks along the forest trails and read him stories about zebras and wildebeest.
You should take the lion, Dad said, taking his trunk of fake thumb tips and scarves from the back seat to make room for my beanbag chair.
I’m frightened of the lion, I said.
Dad dropped his trunk, it almost fell on his toes, then he took off his top hat, wiped sweat from his brow. Yep, he said, replacing the hat. The lion will be good for you.
Luckily there wasn’t enough room in the car for a lion’s cage, and I thought Mom and Dad forgot about the whole thing. They didn’t mention it during the drive to campus, and we unloaded all of my things in the dorm without incident.
Look at our Kayla, Mom said while she watched me stack textbooks on my new desk. She’s becoming more of a real person every day.
Yep. Dad surveyed the room, peeking in drawers, under the bed. I guess I’ll go double-check we got everything from the car. He moved swiftly from the room, he wasn’t wearing a cape but he might as well have been, the air danced and swooshed behind him. For a moment I thought, I will miss him, I will miss Mom. Above the dresser I hung a framed photo of our family.
Five minutes later Dad came back and asked me where I wanted to put the lion’s cage.
The lion lives in my closet. I have been at school for two months and haven’t checked on him once. The closet door remains closed at all times. Mostly the lion is quiet, but sometimes he growls, and when he does I envision him pacing in his cage, scheming to break through the bars and devour me. I don’t get much sleep.
I am studying physics when Dori, my roommate, comes in and sits on my bed. She doesn’t say anything for some time, and then a low growl permeates the room.
Maybe you should check on the lion, she says. I mean, you don’t feed him. Maybe he’s dying.
Dori is less frightened of the lion than I am, maybe because she isn’t in the room much and doesn’t have to deal with his constant threat. She sleeps and studies at her boyfriend’s apartment. She only comes to the dorm when we have fake IDs to make. It’s an easy and economical venture. We bought a kit for seventy bucks, and we sell the IDs for fifty. We buy Teslin in bulk. We got a good deal on a printer at a pawn shop.
Why don’t you check on the lion, I ask.
Dori walks to her desk and pulls the card template and perforator from a drawer. He’s not my lion, she says.
Well, he’s not mine, either.
My parents are always trying to pass things off on me. They are much more interested in making things disappear than they are in forming lasting relationships. Their first great success was our Chihuahua, Chi Chi. We had a picnic in the park, ate on a white blanket speckled with pink bunnies, and Chi Chi watched from under a nearby tree. When we finished eating Mom said, Look, Kayla, we can make Chi Chi disappear. And then they threw the blanket over the dog, Dad mumbled an incantation, and when they lifted the blanket Chi Chi was gone. I asked them to bring her back, but they were already on to the next trick.
My sister was born a year later. When she was four they took her on a road trip. A week later they came back without Trisha, and I asked where she was.
I guess she’s with Chi Chi now, Mom said.
But two days later I was sitting on the porch, playing with rocks, when Trisha came up the driveway. Her yellow corduroy jumper was dirty and she looked tired and hungry. Her eyes were red and droopy.
Where’ve you been? I asked.
Trisha sat next to me and picked up a rock. I was disappeared, she said, and banged the rock against the concrete. But now I am back.
Mom and Dad were upset that Trisha had returned, and they spent the next decade trying to figure out how the trick went wrong. So it was up to me to take care of my sister. When it was time for dinner, Mom and Dad were in the garage, testing out the potency of words like zamala and pippereedoo. When it was time to go to school, they were busy drawing diagrams of the North Pole and the nuclei of solar isotopes. So it was up to me. All of it.
Trisha is coming for her ID, I tell Dori. My sister is taking the train into the city without telling my parents. It is easy to do because they don’t pay much attention to her.
I know, Dori says. We just have to finish laminating hers. I need to start on this one for this kid Chuck in my psych class. Look at the picture he gave me.
And I look at the picture, he looks like a thin Marlon Brando with the intelligent grin of Paul Newman, and we laugh, we always laugh, it’s amazing how beautiful people look in their fake IDs.
We stop laughing. This growl is bigger than average. Not louder. There just seems to be more of it.
I think that was his stomach, Dori says, but I shrug it off and get back to my physics.
Trisha comes later than I expect, just before I am about to leave for the dining hall. She is fourteen but you wouldn’t guess it. She still looks like she is disappeared. Her eyes are sad and her body is bony.
Hey Girl, Dori says when Trisha walks in. Here you go.
Trisha takes the ID. She looks unhappy. She flips it over several times with her trembling fingers.
What? I ask. Does it not look real enough?
No, Trisha says. It looks great. It’s just, there are some dudes in suits down in the lobby, talking to campus security. And—
And what? I fold my arms across my chest.
I thought I heard them say your guys’ names.
The feds are after us? Dori shouts, and Trisha slowly nods.
One thing I never forget, not more than for a few minutes at a time, is that a lion is starving to death in my closet. I haven’t fed him, I haven’t let him see the light of day in eight weeks. We have to hide the lion from the feds. I have violated many animal cruelty laws, I am a horrible person, and we have to get rid of the lion. I entreat Trisha and Dori for help.
How are we supposed to get rid of the lion? Trisha asks.
I look to Dori, she is rather creative, but she is too busy running fake IDs through our industrial shredder to worry about the lion. I stand before the closet and stare at the knob and run my fingers through my hair. He is probably weak, I say. Maybe we could just carry him to the bathroom and hide him in the shower for now?
That sounds good, Trisha says, and Dori agrees, but several moments pass without anything happening. We stare at the closet door. Dori stops shredding, and we listen. The lion is quiet. I think about the feds coming up the elevator, and I take a deep breath and open the door.
The lion is sleeping, and he is not in his cage. He is curled up on the beanbag chair. He doesn’t look like a lion. He looks like a Great Dane wearing a lion costume. His skin hangs from his bones, his fur is grayish, his mane lowly and matted. Each breath he takes rattles his body. It’s painful to look at him, but he is still a lion, and I am still terrified. None of us can move.
Someone pounds on the door. FBI, open up.
Trisha ducks into the closet with the lion and closes the door. Dori jumps out onto the fire escape. I can’t do anything, I am so confused, and the door crashes open. Two men fall into the room. They’re holding guns and one handcuffs me to the bed. They begin snooping through the room and quickly find the closet and open it.
The lion is awake. His head hangs low and he growls at the agents. I can’t see Trisha, she’s maybe hiding behind the beanbag chair, or maybe the lion has eaten her.
Easy, boy, one of the agents says, and this seems to piss off the lion, he opens his jaws and roars, I have never heard him roar before, it is ridiculously scary, and the agents bolt from the room.
The lion doesn’t chase after them. He slowly walks to the threshold, sniffs it, then sits on top of the broken door and looks at me. A low persistent snarl comes from the back of his throat. His eyes glisten. Perhaps he’s been crying, but it doesn’t bother me, I want him dead and I see in his eyes that he wants the same for me. I crawl away from him, as best I can while tethered by the handcuffs. The lion takes a few steps forward. I pee my pants. He puts his front paws on the edge of the bed. Then I see Trisha slowly unfold herself from behind the beanbag chair. She puts her finger to her lips and walks forward gingerly like she has something planned, and the lion doesn’t realize she is there. Naturally he doesn’t, he only has eyes for me. Finally I can’t keep it in any longer, I scream so hard my throat hurts, and the lion lunges forward and devours me.
I am inside the lion. I am nudged against something and can’t climb up or down. It smells like toenails and rotting fruit in here. It is completely dark, but I don’t think there is anything to see anyway. The lion is empty. All I can do is think. What I am thinking about is how I hate him. I hate the lion. I don’t feel bad for letting him starve. He deserved it. He is a big bully, a monstrous creature with no conscience who has eaten me. How long will I nourish him? I don’t know. Not very long, and soon the feds will come back with animal control and kill the lion, hopefully before he can digest me and shit me out.
I hear muffled voices. Suddenly things grow brighter, and I look up and see that I am in the lion’s throat, I am looking out through the inside of his mouth, and Dad has pried open the lion’s jaws and is smiling.
Relax, Honey. We’ll take care of you.
He is wearing his top hat.
Behind him I see Mom, and she looks confused, her eyes dart from me to something she holds in her hands. Do you think it will work this way? She asks Dad quietly.
He turns to her and snaps, Yes, now get on with it. I can’t keep his mouth open forever. Then he turns back to me and smiles.
I don’t see Trisha. I ask where she is, but I am ignored.
Here, Honey, Dad says. We’re going to give you this blanket to keep you warm.
It’s actually pretty hot in here, I say.
Yes, but this will be a traumatic process, and you may go into shock.
They stuff the blanket into the lion’s mouth, and I wrap it around me like they say. At this point the best thing to do is trust them, because they’re my parents and know more about things than I do. The blanket is the one with the pink bunnies. It is old and frayed and I don’t know how it will keep me warm. I curl up, try not to think what could possibly be happening, and brace myself for confusion and loss of blood.
You under there? Dad asks. Nice and tight?
Yes, I say. Now please get me out of here.
Of course, Honey, and he flashes me another smile, even adds a tip of his top hat, and then he releases his grip and the lion’s jaws snap shut. It is entirely dark once more. The lion is gurgling. I think I hear more mumbling outside of him, but I can’t exactly tell what is being said. It sounds like addabo, zamala, pippereedoo.