A lion stands guard over the wooden blocks. He’s a trusted friend, that lion. Never locked away in the zoo with the others, he might well hold the key to the city. At night, he sleeps in a child’s bed, curled close enough to catch the drool of sleep. His ear has been chewed and his fur is matted where he’s been loved too much. He never goes in the washer. It would ruin him, ruin the smell that makes him special, sog the stuffing so he wouldn’t dry in time get to work. Who would keep things safe, then?
Mountain lions have been sighted in the foothills. Scrolling through the updates online, she notes the spotting was in the vicinity where her son is on a nature ramble. The familiar feeling of dread fills her as she remembers hundreds of times she’s been wrong to worry. But what if she’s right this time?
She fills the kettle. She brews chamomile tea. If she grills him when he gets home, the next time he’ll deny he’s hiking. Or say nothing. Out, later, nobody. When he comes back, she won’t breathe a word. It’s better to think about it that way.
He lifted his drink, tipping it to get the last drops. “Another?”
He signaled, one sagging digit held in the air. He walked to the bar in a reflective mood.
When he returned he said, “It was my fault.”
She was hopelessly intrigued. “Why say that?.”
“Doesn’t it change things? An apology.”
With an eyebrow arced, she passed a cherry to him. She bit into an orange slice, sending juice down her chin and catching the drips on her finger.
“I never know what you mean,” he said.
She snorted. “Why now, why apologize?”
She smiled at the waitress. “A whiskey sour, please.” A youngish woman took the order, her short skirt stretched over lean legs.
He looked up. “Bourbon, neat.”
He surveyed her ass as she motored towards the back, where the Happy Hour crowd filled wooden barstools. Picking up empties, she glided past banks of booths arranged in tight lines on either side of adobe tiled floors. When she reached the midway point between the entrance and the end, he remembered who he’d come with.
Touching his ex-wife’s scented wrist with the palm of his hand, he asked how she’d been.
He stood close to the mortuary exit. He thought she might change her mind. Mourning doves called, cooing in short and long bursts of flutelike music, cooling the dry warmth of the afternoon. She arrived carrying a vase, then dumped water into a hedge and tossed the flowers into a trash bin. The bouquet was large, composed of scentless yellow roses, blue irises, and red tulips. They were filled with sorrow dripping from broken stems, the way that funeral arrangements are. He imagined his longing for her upended like the discarded green spikes.
After his third divorce, they were both alone.
When his father died she sent a note.
He came to view hers.
The natty corpse sported a Panama suit and a paisley ascot that covered his wrinkled neck. Standing tall, she averted her eyes from the dead man’s face, avoiding his unrepentant grimace. Smiling tragically, she suffered condolences from her father’s ex-wives. She referred to a list of names written on a paper concealed in her sleeve. Glancing towards her ex, she saw his jaw loosening with regret. He asked forgiveness. She asked him to meet her later. For a drink.
He rode the elevator to the basement parking garage, bracing himself between a metal handhold and a luggage rack filled with their daughter’s wedding gifts. His ex’s musky perfume reached into his past, infusing the stories they traded on the way to her car. She was the only one he loved. Laughing, she told him that the lights on the Bay Bridge kept her company at night. She’d never moved.
He wanted to see the metal span from the window in the bedroom of their old flat. Maybe the view had changed?
She said it was too late for that.