“Lay low, son,” Walt motioned with a hushed voice, “You’re about to see what you came all this way for.” He looked at me, the contours of his face deep and serious. “The Lioness is an incredible but dangerous beast.”
We’d been waiting in the bush since mid-day. Sweat beaded our foreheads and our clothes clung to the dampness of our skin. The hum of cicadas gave voice to the consuming heat of the cloudless day. The sun, in all its glory, is witness to both hunter and hunted. Today, we will share in its likeness as great observers of the wild.
That’s what Walt told me, anyway. I couldn’t care much less either way. To consume and to be consumed. It was all rather mute to me.
I itched the matted sweat soaked folds of my shirt, attempting to waft any kind of air onto my dying skin. I could have been anywhere today. Anywhere. But instead, here I was. Friends doing what friends do.
I sighed to myself, he’s still talking isn’t he?
Walt continued on about his weird obsessive fascination using language that was far too verbose and imagery unnecessarily colorful for such an occasion.
Did I mention I could be anywhere today? A pool, a bar, alone on my couch in the AC. All preferred, the latter especially.
“See how she stalks her prey?” A faint smile curled across Walt’s lips, “I’ve seen it a hundred times and yet,” he paused, looking up past me into the fondness of an older memory, “It’s dichotomous beauty never dulls me.”
“It’s what never what?” I frowned at him, “The hell kind of stupid shit is that to say?”
“Determined, intelligent, and confident,” Walt continued, ignoring me, “There is no doubt in her mind that her prey will be hers. That is precisely why we watch. Quietly. From afar, Ralph,” he turned to me with big eyes, “Lest she turn her seeking maw upon us.”
I rolled my eyes.
“Walt, you’ve got to be kidding,” I leaned in empathetically, “This stuff happens all the time. I’m going to grab another drink, I’ll be right back.”
“The hell you are,” Walt grabbed my arm, sitting me back down. He gave me a stern look, “If you miss this you might as well call the day a wash.”
Yeah, I thought sarcastically, that would be the reason.
“Walt,” I leaned in again, with a bit more sincerity, “I’m just not into--”
“Ralph, trust me,” Walt interjected. “When you see this you will be a changed man. Your eyes will be opened as a man once blind, your heart will beat with the breath of new life, and your soul will understand as one who discovers love for the first time. Trust me.”
I breathed out a long resigning sigh. “Fine,” I gave a small chuckle, “If it makes me feel less dead inside.” My shoulders sagged as I let go of the restless tension bound up in my muscles.
“There you go, buddy,” Walt smiled at me, “Prepare yourself, it’s almost showtime. When it happens it will be quick, like a flash of lightning. But in that singular instant time will stop, and there you will be lost for what seems like an eternity. You’ll want to stay there, to live in that moment. To snuggle up into the electricity of its euphoria. Don’t forget to breathe, my friend.”
What in the hell, I thought to myself. I’ve never heard such--
And then it happened. In an instant she pounced. Her legs bounding and stretching with the determination of her prize at hand. Her eyes, like a precision weapon, tracking the blissfully oblivious prey. Like a storm of fire descending onto a field of lavender. Beauty and devastation colliding into a singular point of purpose.
The muscular fibers of her body flexed in one fluid motion; a machine engineered to perfection, engineered for this utility alone. The biggest flex I’ve ever seen.
I’ve never seen light propagate through space before. I’ve only ever felt its radiance. But now I saw it, could understand it.
It was beautiful.
“Walt,” I whispered, awestruck, “What the f--”
“Shh, shh,” Walt cut me off, “Watch.” He took his finger under my jaw and slowly closed my mouth.
I’m not even sure what it was anymore that she was hunting. All I remember is an explosion of red. Gory insides and fragmented bits of extremities flew through the air in a stand-still moment of pink mist and terrifying voraciousness.
I noticed myself leaning forward next to Walt, lost in the exotic tension of the moment. I could only describe it as--
“Esoteric,” Walt whispered, his eyes locked on the scene
“Yeah,” I breathed out, as if for the first time in my life, like I’d been holding my breath waiting for this one moment.
Walt turned to me. He cupped his hands over my face and forced me to break away. “Ralph, do you understand now?”
“I do, my friend. I do.”
We both turned back to the work of art, to the master working her craft. But she wasn’t there anymore.
“Uh, Walt?” A tug of concern underlying my begging question, “Where’d she go?” I looked around, feeling my body tighten up with the rising anxiety. I looked over at Walt. He was as pale as the sky was blue. “Walt?” I asked, panic rising in my voice.
Walt stood up and looked around. I could see a slight tremor in his right hand. He started slowly, “Where. Where did she go,” he mumbled under his breath. I could see a fresh stream of sweat trickle down along his temple. “She must have wandered off,” he said reassuringly, almost as if he was trying to convince himself. There was a moment of silence, “Yeah,” he looked down at me, “I think we’re alri--”
Like a mortar shell on D-Day she exploded out from behind us. She roared and howled menacingly, with gory red like war paint obfuscating her majesty.
She reached for me and I swear I saw my life flash before my eyes. This was it, I was done for.
Walt and I toppled out of our rickety plastic lawn chairs, beer spilling all over, as the watermelon covered 3-year old pounced on us. A jaggedy half eaten rind in each hand, streaks of juice flowing like the Nile down her little arms, and smears of watermelon pulp splotched across her face and in her hair. It looked less like she had actually eaten it and more like it had been pushed through a cheese grater and flung against her body.
Her toothy wide eyed smile sparkled with the innocence of her laughter. Walt’s daughter was something else, that's for sure.
Walt held her over his body, slowing her trajectory as the three of us lay on the ground, our chairs flipped and our shirts stained. She giggled again as Walt made a silly face and gave her tummy a raspberry before planting her on her wobbly little legs. He gave her a pat on the rump and a little nudge towards his wife.
Everyone around us had a good laugh. Someone threw a wet rag our way and another brought us both fresh drinks. Before long the normal cookout buzz of chatter, eating, and playing was in full swing again.
We cleaned ourselves up a bit, righted our chairs, and plopped back down. The crisp sound of carbonation leaving can rung through the air as we nestled back into our people watching chairs. I was feeling pretty alright at that moment. A big ole grin stuck on my well scowled face.
“That must be her favorite food,” I laughed.
“How could you tell?” Walt snorted and I laughed. We both let out a pleasant sigh. “Hey Ralph?” He leaned over to me.
“Thanks for coming over today.”
“Yeah man, thanks for the invite.”