We Are the Only Animals in the House
Jan 17 ● BY Tara Isabel Zambrano
The tiger girl is Savannah pulled inside out, her sunset gaze crisscrossed in my room, her slow growls barnacled on my mind. At night, she follows me to the grimy corners of the city where alcohol and loneliness never end. She steps from behind the pillars of an old fort or a warehouse and chases me home. Then she licks me clean, embers in her breath. Her mouth—a wide tooth comb—streaks me red. For days, I ripen at the sunny sill of my room until I drop.
My grandfather used to go on hunting trips with the officers from the East India Company. One night, he killed a tiger. After, he wore the dead tiger’s claw around his neck in a golden chain. Before he died, he willed it to me. A week later, the tiger girl appeared.
The claw pokes my jugular notch as the tiger girl peels my sun-dried skin. We touch, we vibrate like an earthquake, her fur between my teeth, her paws everywhere reaching. Together, we gut the days, leaving only the bones of time. I roar, she bobs her head and chuffs, the air pushed through her nostrils on my face like a lover greeting me, like a mother comforting her cub.
My mother was a dancer, I say. She had mean, blue eyes. She made me sleep with older men. Under stolen lava lamps, she counted dollars I brought home, stuffed them in her cleavage. The tiger girl wails, gets up and scratches the closet door. Her dirge heavy. My mother died of cardiac failure, I continue. There were too many cuts on her breasts from the sharp edges of the bills, perhaps one pierced her heart, my tone strained, the scent of cut grass from the window filling my head. The sun in August is a circular saw. Tiger Girl and I sweat, salt mounds on the floor. I caress the back of her head, feel the vibration as she yawns, a wormhole glistening down her throat, her eyes scrunched up like a planet winking in the cosmos, oceans at our backs. Where have you been, I ask her, my hand in her mouth, finding tiny bones in the corners, granules of sand and stale fish sticking to my finger pads.
A block of dry ice. Her tail settles in the hollows of my feet, her gaze lowered, the sounds from her body like she’s whispering, I came to you from the seven seas, from the Himalayan glaciers, from Durga. I breathe like a dog. We are the only animals in the house.
At night, I am cold. The tiger girl lets me crawl under the hairy heft of her and suckle. I wonder if this is what un-lonely means, to slip under somebody and never leave. I suck her empty. Until she shrinks, folded in on herself, her blood a large circle on the floor. Until my furious, feline breath fades her cinnamon stripes. Until I rise like a harvest moon and open my wet raspberry mouth.