He lies there dressed in only my claw and teeth marks. His short messy brown mane and tan face are a landing pad for mosquitoes which have already accumulated in mass. His face was dirtied mostly by the trip here. Me dragging his squirming body by his crisp neck.
The sun is about to rise and I am aware of no pride.
I tell myself over and over that I don’t miss it. I don’t miss them. Fuck them!
I look him over again. His limp corpse has none of the profound dignity he seemed to hold so dear in life. His lips are caked in dust and open slightly. His white teeth still look moist. In an hour he’ll dry. He’ll be for the vultures.
I’m not a scavenger. Or am I?
I think of creeping into their pride. The night dew moistening my paws, and then my chest as I got lower. There was no moon tonight.
I think of him sleeping in his blue bag. He didn’t look so different from now. Screams and roars. Me pouncing down and digging in my claws. My jaws around his neck. Gently for a second. So that he could look into my eyes. Then using the strength of my jaws. His eyes opened so wide for a second as his blood poured down by chin. I bucked my head up and down, his neck still in my jaws. His body squirmed. Then there were men with rifles around me. Trembling white men with rifles. I roared at them. A young one, the youngest of the trembling men, dropped his rifle when I roared. I gripped his neck again in my jaws and dragged him with me. There were gunshots.
I wonder if the mosquitoes can tell that the warm blood they’re drinking is from something dead. There are seven of them on his forehead with their snouts in him. I wonder if they can taste it.
I get close to him and put my paws on his side. Then I rip a piece of him off. It’s warmer than I expect. I chew and swallow with my paws still draped over him. Blood runs from his neck and side and stains the dirt. Blood runs down from my side onto him.
The sky is lighter now. In the horizon, I can see the crisp outline of trees and hills. I think I see Uso and my pride. Things so far away. I wouldn’t see them this clearly any other time of day or night.
James picked up his cellular phone.
“Yes. Hello. This is James speaking.” It was a robotic greeting that he had developed over time. Whenever the beeping and whistling of “Flight of the Valkyries” beckoned him, it could be anyone from his ex-wife to a millionaire thrill seeker trying to organize a safari.
“Jimmy. So formal!” This time it was his ex-wife.
“Hold on a sec, Rebekah.” James put down the phone on his blue sleeping bag and dug into his duffle. He pulled out a dirty white tee-shirt, a gray button down and his khaki pants. Once he had both legs in his pants, he grabbed the open phone and zipped up.
“I’m back again. Rebekah?” James grabbed the tee-shirt with his free hand and began shoving his torso into it while holding the phone to his ear.
“Jimmy. I got your letter.” James poked his head through the top of the shirt and switched phone hands. He pursed his lips.
“You got the letter. Alright. So?” James said.
“So, don’t you have any pride left?”
James swallowed. “Excuse me, Rebekah? I mean, Yes I do. I don’t think that pride is the issue here.”
“I just don’t want Susanna to see you like that. Living in our attic. With you out working, she can at least talk about what her father does, even though she doesn’t see him. But with you up in the attic, like a troll-”
“It’s not an attic, I converted it into a livable guest room. I know that it’s not as glamorous as saying that I’m out battling hippopotamus, but isn’t it more important that I get to see my daughter.” James swallowed. “I mean, isn’t it more important that she can see me.”
“But what would you do for work? I’m not going to have you living off of me, if that’s what you had in mind.”
James had begun to sweat. He lit his cooking stove with the same match as a Marlboro Red. It felt all too familiar. The prodding, the testing, Rebekah trying to get his temper going.
“I have a contact with a local wildlife agency. I’m fairly certain that I can get a position-“
“Well Jimmy, if you can get a job in London, why not your own place? You certainly don’t need my permission to live and work in London,” she said with a tone that made James take a large pull off of his Red.
“If I’m only going to see her once a week, or whatever that settlement says I’m entitled to, then it’s a bit crazy to move. Isn’t it? I mean, we bought that house together. I put my own sweat into it for years and now you expect me to-“ James exhaled the smoke and took another drag.
“To what, James?”
“You expect me to change my whole life, to build a life around seeing Susie twice a month.”
“I don’t expect you to do anything besides what you want to do. Just like always. But as far as you moving back in here.” She paused. James held his breath. “As far as you moving back in here — it’s out of the question. It’s beyond out of the question. It’s unthinkable. It’s pathetic.”
“Pathetic!? What’s pathetic about me being part of Susie’s life. A real part of Susie’s life! I’m good enough to pay for half the mortgage, but not good enough to take up a room in the house. Is that right?”
“You’re a good provider. Nobody’s saying-“
“Fuck that, Rebekah!”
James closed the phone and threw it on the sleeping bag. He poured coffee grinds into the nest of his percolator and slammed on the lid. He turned up the flame.
James turned to see Salam standing a few feet from him. James couldn’t tell if Salam’s thin face looked fearful or sympathethic. Salam was dressed in a white shirt and khaki shorts that looked ironed, which would’ve been impossible. Salam was the newest of Jame’s staff. He was twenty. Salam stared at James when he spoke, even if he was speaking to someone other than James in James’s presence.
“The ‘gentlemen’ from New York are here.”
“They’ve asked for you.”
“I’m not taking them out until the afternoon. Tell them that I’m busy and I’ll meet them at two by the jeeps. I’ll take them out to look for lions then.”
“Yes, Mr. James,” said Salam. And in seconds Salam was gone and James was left alone with the mumbles of percolation.
Despite his morning coffee and the extensive journaling, James approached the jeeps carrying much or the load he bore earlier in the day. He also carried his two rifles, bungees, Kevlar cords, hunting knives and a small plastic bag containing his lunch.
He looked over the three men from New York. One wore jeans and a Yankees shirt. He looked artificially tanned, but might have just been Italian. He had thin legs and a bit of a gut. He was unshaven as were the others. His forehead made it up to James’s collarbone.
The others both wore khaki shorts and white tees. This was recommended for a three day safari. They both had dirty blond hair, slim bodies and Irish faces that led James to assume they were brothers.
The one in the Yankees tee shirt sat on the bumper of the green jeep and the others leaned on the hood.
“Hello gentlemen. My name is James.”
“Good to meet you,” one of the blonds said and the other nodded. The Yankee stood from the bumper in a fashion James described in him mind as modestly regal.
“I’m Mikey and this is Zippy and Boopy.” The blonds laughed with embarrassment at this.
“Actually, Tim and Frank.”
“Good to meet you,” James said. “Hop in if you’ve got everything.”
James threw his stuff in the back and turned over the ignition. He pulled out and they were out on the hunt.
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Portland Fiction Project
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