The West |

The Tiger Stand

by Hunter Gagnon

edited by Lisa Locascio

-he in the booth sits with his apple-round back hunched over the booklet – he is studying up – to impress Eliza – head admin keeper with a big green nametag that says Eliza – he is a good employee – his legs are crossed under the swivel chair – he is surrounded by glass – behind him is the tiger stand – he lets people in – his view in front if he were to look up is a green and yellow brick walkway – jungle colors – then a big glass window across – the python tank – containing the fifty-seven foot 2,000 pound world's third largest rock python – with its skin pressed against the glass in a big patch and fused to the glass and thin against it – transparent – its inner organs are visible – pulsating – and beyond that a blue metal dome – and beyond that a blue metal spire – if he were to look up – he doesn't – he studies the booklet – he's read the whole thing twelve times – he flips randomly through exhibits – sections – Desert Insectoid Avian etc – he flips through gazing ardently – his head a slouched bald dome facing the glass – to the primate section – he sees –

(The Monkey Dome! Visit the Monkey Dome! Monkeys of all shapes! All sizes! Rivalries! Conflicts! Warfare! Choose your monkey at any free terminal! Give it a power up! Choose from several injections! Make it fast! Make it loud! Biologists on standby! Always! There is no night! There is no sleep! Ready for you! Visit now! And a photo of a small black monkey wrapped around the head of a large brown monkey which is flailing its arms as the small black monkey scratches at its eyes spraying dark blood captured by the photo mid spray and it says Who could have predicted this? You? Come find out! Available via ex-ticket!!!)

– and he leans back and bobs around the booth – memorizing Free Terminal and Power Up and Several Injections – all important taglines – so when Eliza comes he can reference – and show her he's a big boy – because when he first asked what to do – if he didn't know – if the visitors got mad – she said you're a big boy figure it out then scowled away at her walkie and said Like really I'm not sure about this new guy – but if she asked him now – now he knows the taglines – he sees –

(Eliza's eyes widen, I'm so surprised she says, How'd you already memorize that? How are you so fast? That's amazing. She blushes. You know I'm impressed she says. Can't you tell? She jerks her head away, embarrassed, and her neck stretches out and takes on a perfect clean mineral quality, and her widebrimmed hat falls off due to the quickness of the gesture revealing long white hair and)

– a visitor stands outside the booth – tapping on the glass – he in the booth leaps to the speaking hole – the visitor is a helmet of red hair and long chomping teeth and wants to know Is it awake and he in the booth says It’s always awake – the visitor slides an exhibition-ticket through the bottom slot and he in the booth slides a booklet back gratis – You're too kind says the visitor – It's my pleasure says he in the booth then goes on saying I just don't want anyone to be in need – as the visitor walks away – along the glass – sliding along – he in the booth sees –

(the visitor's mouth stretches open as the inflated lungs crawl out, splitting the esophagus, a final loud satisfying pop, the lungs scurry onto the walkway then embrace each other tenderly then holding hands skip off to the orange curtain behind which is the tiger stand)

– and he in the booth plops back into the swivel chair shaking his head and flips through the booklet to Aqua section and sees –

(Swim with dolphins! In the expanded 40-foot lagoon! Now with advanced pain-free safety collars! And a photo of a dolphin's head rearing out of colored turquoise lagoon water with a thin yellow collar encircling its neck fixed in place with tiny screws and small children in floaters grab at little handles on the collar and the dolphin is smiling its mouth wide open)

– but the walkie on his waist crackles into sudden Eliza dialogue – one of the voices is Eliza – the other is admin dispatch Carry whose voice it like a cluster of strained lichen-waddled bells – his head jerks sideways toward the sound –

Eliza: “Like where?”

Carry: “Like at the snake. The python. Report I guess said brown fluid at base. Spilling out.”

Eliza: “Oh my god tell maintenance.”

Carry: “Isn't tiger booth staff on scene?”

Eliza: “What? He isn't the one who reported? Are you kidding me?”

Carry: “It was a visitor”

Eliza: “I can't believe this tell maintenance.”

Carry: “Anything further?” Eliza: “I'll be on scene over and out.”

– and he looks up at the fifty-seven foot 2,000 pound world's third largest rock python and the fluid buildup from where the skin is fused to the glass – from around it – usually it pools at the base in the coils and has to be suctioned out – but there is a drip at the bottom – onto the walkway – an oozy brown seep – the brown fluid discharge drips onto the green and yellow walkway – forming a small slowly growing syrupy puddle – he stands at the glass – squeezing the lower desk edge – his knuckles are white – his forehead bared upward a sweating gleam – mildly quivering – held back – Eliza's widebrimmed hat arrives on scene – Eliza carried underneath – she circles the puddle a few times then says to the walkie which reemerges in the booth jagged and crystalline –

Eliza: “I'm on scene. Booth staff should have caught this.”

– then she marches to the booth and says through the speaking hole This is unbelievable my mind is blown like I can't even imagine how you could you not notice any of it I mean who's that spacy I'm really not sure about your future here you need to – and a sharp odor begins pluming out of his armpits – sweat pours down his back – her eyes are jumping glinting grey stones – her lips are red mud – he sees –

(her mineral deposit face begins to wash and pour and swirl into a huge red and grey and brown and white sand river fanning out in a vast delta with hundreds of little waterfalls like after a flood on the world's edge and the waterfalls of bright grey eye stones showering down)

– and he tries to speak – to remember a tagline – any tagline – she says What was that what was that speak up I have no time I have to deal with this mess – he says it's my fault – I know what I did – I won't do it again – I'll try – How hard she asks – hard as I can he says – she spins off to the brown puddle – the maintenance guy crouches over it – smiling through a big black beard – when Eliza arrives they both look at the python – Eliza taps the glass where the skin is fused – the exposed organ convulses and brown fluid suddenly squirts out of the leak in a long jet soaking Eliza's khakis – she charges off with her head down – her widebrimmed hat protruding in front like a shield – and the maintenenace guy bends to the leak with stopper paste –

– and a visitor blocks it all – arriving at the booth – the visitor is shaved black hair dotting a red potato shaped head with moist black eyes – the visitor asks Is it awake and he in the booth says Always and the visitor slides an ex-ticket through the slot then asks But seriously where can I get me some of that stuff I mean that chemical stuff and he in the booth says Oh I know what you mean and the visitor says That stuff you put it on and he in the booth says Preaching to the choir – and the visitor begins to slide off the glass to the place behind but first –

(One of the visitor's wet eyes pops out and scrambles ahead of him whistling through the optic nerve which protrudes in front like a limp beak)

– and through the orange curtain – and the maintenance guy rises from the leak – plugged – and gives a thumbs up to the booth's glass – then wipes his hands – blue mist feathers down through the python's tank – the tranquilizer – as the tank speaker plays jungle rain sound effects – he in the booth opens the booklet – he flips randomly – he relaxes – he skims the Predators – all many times before – near the tiger section – his exhibit – perfectly memorized – he sees –

(Visit the Hyena Ranch! Romp with beasts! Join the pack! Revolutionary nonhuman socialization! Special mittens and muzzles ensure visitor safety! Biologists on standby! And a hyena in bright blue footies and a bright blue muzzle struggles as it is tackled by a screaming child while the child's parents laugh holding out a cameraphone together and behind them a savannah painted in bold yellows Don't find yourself missing! Bring that ex-ticket! Don't let it escape!!!! And the page flips)

– and then the tiger stand – he doesn't need to read it – it runs through him automatically – he's read it so many time before – the interview – the job – he came prepared – he memorized everything – all the taglines – and it was a long one – about the sedatives and stimulants and painkillers and the flexible non-abrasive system of pink straps – the injection that makes it roar – it was Eliza – nametag Eliza – she brought him in – she said You seem to have really like taken it upon yourself to take a real interest I think we can try you out for a little bit see how you fit – his bumpy lips in a big smile all day – after that – and in the glass of the booth – and the walkie interrupts all this – Eliza's voice erupting –

Eliza: “Go ahead.”

Carry: “We've got a free limb. Reported by a visitor. At the tiger.”

Eliza: “I was just there no word from booth staff?”

Carry: “Been hailing. Staff not responding.”

Eliza: “I was just there oh my god.”

Carry: “Yeah staff didn't respond.”

Eliza: “Wow well I'm on my way I'm hurrying give me everything.”

Carry: “Report is of a free limb visitor said of just like a paw or an arm moving around differently than it was like supposed to I think they said.”

Eliza: “And no response from staff okay make sure no one does anything until I'm there.”

Carry: “I'll keep trying. Tiger booth staff. Tiger booth staff.”

Eliza: “You might have to repeat yourself we've been having problems with him keep trying.”

Carry: “Tiger booth staff.”

Eliza: “Make sure he knows not to go in he's new make sure he knows he's not covered I'm almost there.”

Carry: “Copy that. Tiger booth staff. Tiger booth staff this is admin. Tiger booth staff.”

– and he reels around the glass booth – squeezing the walkie – he tries to speak – can't – the booklet bubbles through him –

(Tiger tiger burning bright! Never were these words more true!)

– and he pats at his head while spinning and his bulbous gut knocks over a cup of pencils – he remembers everything – the biologist's emergency box – to wait for the biologist – but he grabs the box – opens it – for the tranquilizer – for the needle – while simultaneously he sees –

(Eliza's eyes in tears, You didn't have to she says None of us expected you could do something like this, she takes off her hat, pulls at her white hair, overcome with guilt and remorse and adulation, You saved the visitors she says, Who knows how many you saved, you saved me, she gasps, puts her little hand to her mouth where it gleams coolly like crystal or stone like a statue and a great fresh cold clean wind above the roaring of distant rivers blows around them like they're high on some ancient ridge in the wilderness It's not safe but that doesn't matter for you you're so strong so fast so skilled I've never met anyone like)

– and he opens the booth door – steps around the booth – puts his hand on the orange curtain – pushes through – and the booklet image surges –

(Bring your family to a groundbreaking sensuous experience! Touch, prod, stroke, slap, pet, preen! The choice is yours! Kept humanely motionless! Mr. Tiger says “I'm perfectly comfortable!” and a clean silky tiger with a CGI humanlike grin is suspended by pink straps on a raised platform with stairs leading up, in the center of a darkened circular room with reddish lamps spaced around the perimeter like a ring of torches and)

– and he sees the thing itself – the visitor with black hair shaved red head cowers underneath a lamp – generic indigenous jungle tribal music is playing – one paw of the thing is free – flapping like a trapped bird – at the wrist – the strap is frayed off – he from the booth stands there holding the needle to his chest – Do it Do it Do it begs the visitor – he approaches the thing – he holds the needle out – in front with both hands – from the side – toward the writhing white corded neck – one golden eye of the thing rimmed with tears and purplish crust flickers toward him – understands nothing – flickers away – and “I never need to sleep,” says Mr. Tiger. “They keep me happy. Why don't you do whatever you want?” and he from the booth looks down at his chest which blooms open like a flower and his heart leaps out, snatches the needle from his hand, charges at the thing on swift aortic legs, dragging him by his arteries and Mr. Tiger says, “Yes! Yes! I want everything! Everything is good! Touch me! Touch me! Touch me!”