Untitled Short Story
I sat there, looking at the lion. Behind the bars he looked tame, harmless; and I had what was becoming an urge, to put my hand through and let him come to me.
I got up from the bench and went over to Lisa and the kids, who I now realised had been looking over at me, waiting to move on to the zebras. Rachel grabbed on to my leg.
‘Ice creeeam!’ She looked up in to my eyes – a look of longing and sorrow for her lack of ice cream that made it seem like I had just told her mummy and daddy were going to be getting a divorce. Lauren, the older one, still with a longing for ice cream, but keeping it cool (she was now 13, after all), turned and smiled, as if to say ‘it would be good, wouldn’t it?’. This was a look she had been given by her mother, and Lisa then turned, giving me the exact same smile and pointing to the vendor nearby. This was in the direction of the always black and white zebras.
It was what you might call a perfect day at the zoo. But that night, in bed, I sat up, thinking about the lion – about the calm look on his face, as if he wanted me to put my hand inside the cage. The lion, sitting still, luring me in to a false sense of security, and then opening his jaw wide, roaring like it was nothing, and taking off my hand – as easily as I bite in to a sandwich.
It was 1am, and I went downstairs, made a cup of tea, and sat on the living room sofa; everyone sound asleep. Looking around the room, I had to appreciate Lisa’s taste. I’d left it mostly up to her to decorate the house, and everything had a warm feeling – the deep orange wallpaper, the intricately patterned fireplace, the painting of the gigantic mushroom above – all worked in making this the perfect place to be kept awake in.
Yet something was nagging at me. The choice should be simple: the tea was almost finished, and when it was, I should get up, have a big yawn, and get in to bed next to my wife who I loved, next to the room of my two kids, who I loved. So why wasn’t it simple? I had to figure something out; I had to leave the house.
Opening the door on to the summer’s night, the light breeze coming through my short-sleeved shirt and the heat enveloping me; it was part of the release I needed.
The street-lamps cast their cinematic bronze glow down in a circle on the ground, and I walked on – down this silent neighbourhood street: the crickets are the kings of sound at this hour, and my footsteps.
It was a pleasant, middle-class neighbourhood; most houses had the lights out, with the odd one here and there having a living room light on, but with the curtains closed; couldn’t help but feel a deep interest and want to know who and what was going on in there. Probably someone like me, up late watching TV. But even that felt interesting – what were they watching? Why were they awake at this time? Maybe they worked nights?… Or maybe they had an argument with their wife?…Or perhaps they were always awake at this hour: insomnia?
Turning a corner, I saw the alleyway. Ever since I was a kid I had avoided them after dark, after an experience at thirteen where I had taken a detour to get home; memories of a few drunken men, pushing my head, one of them grabbing my throat up against the fence. I ran out as fast as I could, feeling as though the world was sinking.
But tonight was different. There was no reason for me to use the alleyway, but it was exactly what I wanted to do. I approached it slowly, and then went through, head held high and breathing through my mouth in an exaggerated way – lapping it up. And then, I was out the other side and that urge that I had been feeling had almost completely gone, and I felt a new feeling of calm.
Whistling lightly now, I passed more houses. But froze. Oh my god. What is….I got closer to the bungalow. What is he….he was slapping her. I quickened my step and approached. A man hitting a woman. His wife? I rubbed my hand across my forehead. ‘What the fuck?’ I whispered to myself. Walking up the driveway now, and after a moment of hesitation, I banged the door. The woman, who had just let out a scream, went silent. I heard the man say something, and I held my hand to my head, feeling completely out of my element; ‘what is happening?’.
I heard footsteps coming towards the door and I took a step back, as my face was almost against it. The door shot open and a man with a large frame stopped and stared at me. He turned to face the woman in the living room, and then quickly – so that I took a couple more steps back, my heart beating alarmingly fast now – he approached, and spat at my feet. He then got in the car parked in the driveway, and drove off, not looking in my direction again; leaving the front door wide open.
‘Hello?’ I managed after some time went by with me standing still – breathing heavy. I went in to the house after there was no answer, and saw sitting in the living room on the sofa, a brown haired woman.
‘Hello?’ No answer. ‘Are you ok?’ She was looking at me, blankly, but seeming to come slowly back to her senses. She looked in to my eyes, and then got up from the sofa.
‘Are you ok?’ I sputtered out awkwardly. She took my hand and led me over to what looked like a storage closet under the stairs. She opened the door of it.
For a moment, I stood, my mouth agape, not understanding what was in front of me. I looked at her, and she was looking at me, serenely, her lip bleeding. She brought my hand forward with hers, getting closer to the vortex in front of us. And we were sucked in almost immediately.