Crim befriends an invisible lion tamer and hopes this wrangler of animals will help her reclaim the imaginary pets that are lost to her. She’d like the giraffes back, and the zebras, and the kittens even. They had lived so calmly in her room, taking up almost no space, breathing quietly, eating and drinking little. This was before they left, before she last saw or touched them, felt their wet noses against her palms. She has lost so many things. She thinks this lion tamer, due to his invisibility, will be very good at finding things. He will have a firm grasp on where objects and people are located. A lion tamer is accustomed to dangerous work and has a sense of finesse. He knows the right way to touch, the right way to move. He’ll have a keen sense of observation, having for years watched his lions for the smallest signs of anxiety or irritation that could end in his demise or extreme injury. He has watched to see the muscles strain in a lion’s neck, so he’d know the lion is readying its jaw for action, readying its jaw to swing open and snap shut.
Crim’s interactions with this invisible lion tamer are difficult. She has to trust her instincts, have a little faith. She has to count on him to be there when he says he’ll be there. She cannot grow impatient with his invisibility. She has to imagine he says things that he doesn’t or can’t and isn’t this the hard part of most relationships? But she wants to prove herself capable of a strong and healthy bond.
She loves this lion tamer, but worries he will eaten by an invisible lion or even an invisible bear. Any manner of invisible monster could be waiting for this lion tamer. Any number of invisible foes could be waiting for Crim. She feels uncomfortable with this potential imaginary world, but isn’t sure how to get a grip on it. She’d like to wish it into nonexistence, but now that she’s acknowledged its existence she can’t unmake it.
But Crim loves this lion tamer and sleeps with his nothing body pressed to hers. She holds it just so, at the right angle so that it would be pressed against her chest if she could feel it. She whispers into his ear, tells him about her day and about things that weren’t part of her day. She tells him about things that didn’t happen. People she didn’t meet. Places she didn’t go. Nothing was good today, she says. Nothing was good the day before that and nothing will be good tomorrow, but maybe soon. Maybe? She waits to see if her invisible lover will answer, but nothing. Will you bring me a lion? she asks. I think it would be good to have something else I could love, a way to divide my attentions. I don’t want to smother you. I would help take care of them. I’d watch. I’d be careful this time. She asks the lion tamer every night to help her procure a lion, asks him what she can do to make this happen, until one morning in her bedroom, there are invisible lions.
I’ve been waiting on you for such a long time, Crim says. She holds a lion’s paw to her face, feels its coolness. She kneads the soft pads on the bottom of its paw, massaging the oil of her hands into them. I’ve been waiting on all of you, she says. She grooms the lions, brushing their hair and caressing their faces.
The next morning Crim wakes to find the lion tamer’s nothing body is taking on a corporeal shape and begins to feel thick, substantial. He is difficult for Crim to lift or pull or drag. She enjoys the weight of him, enjoys the tangible quality of his flesh, hard, rough feeling skin, weathered and thick, lumps and snags catching under her hands, sometimes hurting her palms.
I think you’re getting fat, Crim tells her lion tamer.
Every night before climbing into bed Crim grips the lion tamer by the shoulders and they dance. She swings him around and he floats a bit, just above the ground, toes almost skimming the floor. She laughs and the lions watch as her lion tamer floats higher, legs drifting as his knees bob up and down so his dance is a sort of funny squatting gesture. Crim spins and spins, thrilled, laughing while he floats so much higher that she has trouble gripping him. He keeps slipping from her hands and she has to reach up to catch hold of him. Hold still, she says. Hold still. She grabs at his shirt and leans back trying to hold him down, pull him to the floor, but his shirt gives way in her hands, disintegrates, feels damp like droplets of water. She jumps to grab him again and her hands swish through nothing. And when she reaches for the lions, trying to grab hold to anything, they’re gone too.
Brandi Wells is editor of Black Warrior Review and a web editor at Hobart. She is the author of Please Don’t Be upset (Tiny Hardcore Press) and her novella This Boring Apocalypse is forthcoming (Civil Coping Mechanisms). Her writing appears or is forthcoming in Denver Quarterly, Sycamore Review, Fairy Tale Review, Sonora Review, Gargoyle, Forklift Ohio, Indiana Review, and other journals.