THE SMALL LION
Even though the humans gave him the name Bentley, the small lion didn’t know he was a pet and would have resorted to almost any act in order to prove that being a pet was not something he found to be acceptable. In point of fact, he had his own pet, which acted like a pet by doing what it was told, staying where it was placed and not complaining about anything. That his pet was a stuffed animal, the small lion’s walnut-sized intellect would never have accepted in argument if he ever argued, which he did not.
It was the Thanksgiving of his third year in living among the anthropoid pride he somehow had come to have fallen in with. The stares out from the cage he’d come to know as home, years back, had been visited by the anthropoid humans, and not long after he was placed in a traveling cage to make a long journey that ended in being freed to roam a good-sized home that quickly became his own form of an overbuilt, closed-in and comforting form of savannah his genetic structure cried out for him to return to. There were no tall grasses to hide in. There were no proper prey animals to hunt, and then to consume and feel the glow of life from the warm meal digesting in his small, but well-conditioned, stomach. There were no other lions, either, except on older female lion of age, who resided, for the most part, under one of the human pride’s beds. The three humans, the female cat Josie, and the small lion’s own pet Ruffy were the pride, living inside the artificial savannah, and there was no point in spending time trying to consider other variations or locations. Members of the pride, except for Josie, he himself and Ruffy, came and went at all hours, day and night. That was to be expected of tribal members, as they left to hunt and always returned with a never-ending supply of tasty portions of prey, evenly distributed in small metal bowls.
Thanksgiving is a word the small lion had learned through the three previous events bearing that descriptor. The word meant ‘big bird,’ and it also meant that there would be other prides visiting the small lion’s savannah who would have to be accommodated without territorial harassment or any open complaint. The core pride led aggressively by the only male human in the pride, would not allow for any satisfying attacks. The night would come, one out of the winter many, and the big bird would be partially consumed by the collected prides until late night fell. The bird would be left out to be torn apart in the morning for storage in the cooling unit used for such things. But the night would belong to him and Josie alone, and the best parts of the big bird would be left for their consumption.
Something went wrong on the day before the event was to take place. The small lion felt and heard about the problem without initially observing any of its effects. Josie chose to hide under one of the female’s beds and could not be displaced from that guarded hiding position.
The small lion was not treated with any disrespect within the pride, and he didn’t have to give way to the alpha male either. At twenty-five pounds, and with the lineage of generations of Norwegian Forest cats behind him, he could meet any challenge to his lion hood, or subtle leadership, with total ferocious abandon, or at the very least accompany Josie under the younger female’s bed. The human members of the tribe lacked understanding of the symbols the small lion used in making attempts to communicate with them. His messenger for those attempts was Ruffy. It took almost the full year since the small lion had been given the fake stuffed kitty pet before the humans even figured out that his placement of the silent pet was done to communicate and influence them.
Ruffy had his place on an end table next to the alpha male’s bed. The pet sat erect there, waiting for the small lion to approach, grab it by the scruff of its neck and then transport it to some location in the enclosed savannah. Once the selected point was reached, the small lion would set Ruffy carefully on its four shaky legs, and then point its muzzle and head toward a significant direction to transmit the meaning of the placement. Ruffy was never moved when other tribal members were around, excepting Josie who had no clue about symbols or much of anything else, other than make-believe hunting, tail-grabbing and sneakily waiting around corners and jumping out, intending to scare the small lion. The small lion was never afraid, however. He merely jumped, and sometimes screamed, in order to allow the other lion member of the tribe to feel some sense of accomplishment.
If the alpha male of the savannah was late in returning to the pride, as the sun was about to set, the small lion would snake into the bedroom, grab Ruffy by the neck and then set the pet up at the door to the room, facing out, as if in wait of the alpha’s return. The other members of the pride expressed barely understandable comments about this placement and concluded that the small lion was missing the late alpha and worried about him. In reality, the pet was placed to let the alpha know when he did arrive, that his being late was unacceptable and that he had filled the small lion with dangerous anger by being so late. If the alpha was gone over-night, then Ruffy was carefully erected at the front door to the structure itself. That was to signify that the small lion’s anger was reaching ever greater heights, although the small lion knew that the other members of the tribe didn’t really see it that way. Over time, in the way back part of the small lion’s walnut-sized brain, there remained hope that the other tribal members would come to understand, except for Josie, who was too recessive and too dumb to ever get the drift of what he was attempting.
Being a lion in an enclosed savannah required a good measure of patience and play-acting. The small lion had to watch, blink, and make-believe that he didn’t really understand anything. When other humans visited, if he could have talked, he would have told them that no, he did not sit, come, go, rollover or do any of the other denigrating and humiliating acts that dogs performed in order to gain attention and approval. Small lions need no approval.
The word ‘Thanksgiving’ was being bandied about the tribe right up to the point when the big bird was prepared and placed in the oven. The small lion placed himself
upstairs and peered down from one corner of the open ‘quarterdeck’ near the alpha’s office where he could watch the activity in the kitchen without being watched himself. Remaining still and undetected was one of the small lion’s greatest talents, other than the killing of sizeable prey that he never got to experience. The afternoon passed and other humans, not of the tribe, began to arrive. They came in twos and threes and sometimes four until the living room was filled and the chatter from all of them talking seemed to make the enclosed savannah wildly alive with their presence. The small lion knew he should be discomforted with their occupying presence but, for some unknown reason, the opposite was true. He liked the feeling that made the savannah seem to glow. The fireplace was lit and real wood began to burn. The turkey was cooking away. The small lion did not join the festivities below. He remained on guard, watching the oven across the expanse of the crowd below and the length of the kitchen. He was soon joined by Josie, the much smaller female lion, who had figured out, probably by smelling, that the turkey was reaching the point where it would be pulled from the oven and then set out to cool a bit. The aroma from the cooling turkey would be almost irresistible, the small lion knew from previous years, but he would not move.
The small lion and Josie waited patiently as the humans, tribal and non-tribal alike, drank, laughed, drank some more until finally filing into the cavernous dining room to eat. The alpha male carved the turkey and many plates of other unappetizing bits and pieces of plants were placed on tables and then filed by for the dining humans to consume.
The Thanksgiving evening wore on, but neither the small lion nor Josie moved from their hidden place of observation.
And then things started to go wrong. The meal was over. The laughing and carrying on at an end. Non-tribal humans were leaving almost as one. All of that was expected from previous years, but not what was going on in the kitchen. Three humans had agreed to remain behind to clean up the mess.
The small lion began to feel great discomfort. Josie looked over and down at his crouched position. The humans worked fast. The kitchen was cleaned up in no time at all. As a part of that, the turkey was hacked to pieces, its luscious meat stripped from the discarded bones and placed in transparent sacks. In minutes the remainder of the turkey was inside the impenetrable cold box that sat at the very end of the kitchen.
The small lion and Josie remained where they were, transfixed by what had happened and by the rapid exit of all the guests. In seemingly no time at all the humans of the tribe had also retreated to their sleeping places. Both cats remained where they were, as the house darkened. There was talk by the humans of where the small lion and Josie had gotten off to but there was no search for their presence. Soon, darkness and the gentle sounds of sleep could be heard throughout all the spaces of the enclosed savannah.
The small lion finally moved. He very slowly crept to the top of the stairs, with Josie following close behind. He went down step by careful step before turning to cross the cold hardwood floor of the dining room. Rounding the corner of that room into a short hall he finally entered the floor area of the kitchen. The oven lights and tiny lights that were located in small spaces atop other pieces of metal machinery gave plenty of light for any respectable cat to see by.
There was nothing. There was nothing on the counters or anywhere else. Even the aroma of the cooked big bird was almost totally gone as if the turkey had been served days ago. The small lion sat in the middle of the kitchen floor to consider, his back to clear glass doors to the cold outside, and facing the looming shiny surface of the big cold box that held the turkey inside. He moved forward to sniff the edges of the bottom of the sealed door and Josie moved with him. Several minutes passed until an understanding of their total failure of any attempt to get inside the box overcame both of them, and they retreated back to the center of the floor, to lay side by side and consider.
Suddenly, a blinding thought raced through the small lion’s tiny but very active mind. He looked over at Josie, wondering if the other cat, hopelessly dumb, might figure it out. The small lion rose to his feet and headed straight for the alpha male’s bedroom. The alpha male and his mate slept in one large raised and flat den-like structure. The small lion ran and then landed heavily atop the soft flatness of the structure. Josie, unaccountably, followed suit, surprising the small lion. He walked across the bodies of the humans, making certain to put his full and significant weight down up their body parts lumping up from under the covers. There was groaning emitted from both humans, but they did not move, even to discover why he, being the lion he was, never hopped up on sleeping structures ordinarily. He would rest atop the softness for a while if picked up and placed there, but that was it.
Josie waited at the bottom of the bed, sitting on the alpha’s feet, to no effect.
The small lion looked around and considered what to do. He looked over at the side table and could barely make out Ruffy in the dark. It came to him. There was only one thing to be done. He crept across the sleeping structure and grabbed his pet by the neck. Jumping down he ran at high speed through the house, Josie fast behind him, until he was back in the kitchen and facing the impenetrable cold box door. He carefully set Ruffy up on his legs, directed his head toward the box door, making sure to allow only a small space between his muzzle and the forbidding door, and then backed up to the far counter to lay down and wait.
Josie lay next to him, only a paws width away. Somehow the dumb female cat knew that a solution to their problem was in the offing. They waited and waited although waiting was something they did so well that neither of them slept or moved much at all. Both lay with their muzzles on the tops of their carefully placed front paws. And then it came, as the small lion knew it had to come.
One of the humans was up and moving. It had to be the alpha male, the small lion knew, from the heaviness of his footfall and also because the alpha often got up in the middle of the night to use the overly loud ice producing thing on the cold box door for getting a drink. He and Josie lay still in the darkness. The alpha came into the kitchen and, as the small lion had guessed, grabbed a nearby glass on the counter and pushed it into the door. A small light came on as the ice-making machine operated.
“What the hell?” the human commented, stepping back, without filling his glass completely.
The alpha picked up the small lion’s pet and held it up in front of him. He then moved to the wall next to the oven and threw a switch. The kitchen was bathed in light. The alpha stood with the pet in one hand his half-filled glass of ice in the other, staring down at the small lion and Josie.
“What are you two doing here?” he asked, surprise in his voice.
At that moment the alpha male was joined by his mate.
“What’s going on?” his mate asked. “What are they doing here?” she exclaimed, pointing at the unmoving figures of the small lion and Josie. “Why are you holding the stuffed kitty?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” the alpha replied. “I’m going back to bed. We can solve the mystery in the morning. He moved to the sink and filled his glass with water and then walked out of the kitchen. The alpha’s mate soon followed, turning off the light and leaving the small lion and Josie back in the dark.
They waited on the floor of the kitchen but nothing happened for a bit of time. Finally, in anger, the small lion rose to his full height and headed back to the bedroom. Josie followed. Once more, the small lion jumped up on the bed, this time with more force than the last effort. He walked across the softness and jumped over to the table, knocking down some of the alpha’s medicine bottles and the telephone, which fell loudly to the floor. He grabbed Ruffy once more by the neck but did not move. He sat, with the pet in his grasp, facing the soft den structure. The alpha fumbled around and got hold of the little flashlight he used to get up in the night and go to the bathroom instead of a night light. The light came on, dimly lighting up the room.
The small lion leaped down and ran toward the bedroom door, curving around and then went straight at the opening to the kitchen. Once there, with Josie at his side, he stopped, and then carefully replaced Ruffy where the pet had originally been placed, facing the cold box door. They retreated to their former place of rest and waiting. A very short time passed before the alpha and his mate was once more standing in the kitchen with the light again switched on.
“I got it,” the male whispered out.
“You’ve got what?” his mate replied.
“The turkey,” the alpha said. “The turkey got put away by our voluntary cleanup crew. The cats got nothing.”
“This doesn’t make any sense,” his mate replied. “How can they know it’s in the refrigerator? We never served them turkey before on Thanksgiving, anyway. None of this can really be happening.”
The alpha male opened the refrigerator door and pulled out a plastic bag stuffed full of turkey. He placed it on the counter near where the cats lay unmoving. He opened the bag by pulling it apart and then tossed the contents onto a nearby plate that had escaped the cleanup crew. The cats remained motionless.
“Well,” the alpha’s mate said, after a moment, “do they want it or not?”
“We’ve never fed them turkey after Thanksgiving dinner before,” the alpha replied. “I don’t think they want to be fed. I think they want to eat it on their own as they’ve probably been doing for years. We’ve just never cleaned up until morning before.”
The alpha snapped the light out.
“I don’t understand,” the alpha’s mate said.
“I do,” the alpha replied, looking down at the dimly visible pet he was holding in his right hand.
“Tell me,” the alpha’s mate insisted.
“Let’s go back to bed, and I’ll tell you.
He stood at the door for a moment, just outside the kitchen proper, where nothing moved in the darkness.
“Happy Thanksgiving,” he breathed out, although neither the small lion gave no indication that he had spoken at all.