In Tarrytown, I met a woman who told me a tiger killed her husband on their honeymoon. She didn’t like to talk about it, she claimed, though she often brought it up in conversation. When I asked why her moods were ever changing, she would gaze at me and ask, “Have you ever seen a man eaten alive?”
She was a natural red-head who wore a single strand of fresh-water pearls and diamond solitaire earrings. Her lipstick was very red. I stared at her lips.
“Do you know why I wear this blood-red lipstick?” she asked.
I was afraid.
“Do you?” she asked.
“Because it reminds you of your husband’s blood on the tiger’s mouth?” I asked.
She laughed and said, “No. I like red.”
Just when I thought we weren’t talking about her husband and the tiger, I realized we were, and just when I thought she was talking about the tiger and her husband, she claimed she wasn’t and that I was the one who kept bringing them up.
I suspected she thought me cruel.
In my house, I displayed a collection of tiger prints. Life-sized prints hung on the walls in most of the rooms, but no mirrors anywhere. In places where other homes had mirrors, I had tiger prints. Whenever she visited me, she stared at the tigers. I gave her a print of a tiger for her birthday. Across its mouth, a ruby blotch of sunlight resembled blood.
She wore a bracelet with a cat’s-eye stone. The bracelet made me nervous.
“Why cat’s eye?” I asked.
“The tiger ate my husband’s face?” she asked.
I felt embarrassed. Why did it matter? I couldn’t explain it, even to myself.
“He had the most beautiful face ever,” she said. “What frightens me more than how he died is the question of what would have happened if he had lived.”
That was the end of our friendship, though it took me years to understand why. I resented what she was telling me. I didn’t want to hear it wasn’t death or tigers we should fear, but our own faces.
Aimee Parkison is the author of five books, including Refrigerated Music for a Gleaming Woman, winner of the FC2 Catherine Doctorow Innovative Fiction Prize. Parkison is Professor of English at Oklahoma State University. Her newest novel, Sister Séance, is forthcoming from Kernpunkt Press. More information about Parkison’s writing is available at www.aimeparkison.com.