Lady or the tiger

“Too bad they’re extinct.”  Rodney and Shara looked down on the electronic tigers. Shara traced her fingers along the glass, ignoring the little robot that was already descending to annoy away her hand and clean the places she had touched.

“They look so real,” said Rodney. “But I don’t think I would want to meet one of those on the street.”

“They didn’t play on the street.”

“You know what I mean. If I saw one of those things outside of a zoo, I’d run so fast I’d leave my pants behind me .”

Normally, Shara laughed at Rodney’s absurd descriptions. But today, she shook her head. “Uh-uh,” she said. “Not me. I’d stand there and wait for it. I’d clutch its fur into my face and breathe it in.”

“And it would shred you. Those aren’t kitten claws on that thing.”

“I’d welcome it. I’d drink my own blood as I lay dying.”

“Really? I don’t think I’d find it all that pleasing myself.”

Rodney pulled Shara’s arm. But Shara remained unmoved, resting her head now on the glass below her hand, oblivious to the descending robot and its tiny pincers. She remembered being seventeen. She remembered sitting in that doctor’s office.

“You’re cutting yourself again.”

“I fell on a broken bottle.”

The physician didn’t say, “You’re lying,” so Shara didn’t have to claim to be telling the truth. Instead, he said, “You’ve torn a tendon here. This one needs surgery.”


“I can work you in right now, so you won’t have to come back.”

“Thanks.” She had come through three checkpoints and a guarded office door precisely because this cut was infected. She thought the doctor knew she wouldn’t return if he sent her away now.

Shara followed him to the basement surgery. On the way, he leaned into his secretary’s office. “Call Mrs. Carr and reschedule her for Monday next.”

“I don’t want to be a bother,” Shara protested.

“Nonsense. You’re here, and she’s not. If she needs me, she will come when I can fit her in.”

Downstairs, Shara lay on the table, and he eased both of her arms into pain blocking sleeves. “Why not just the one?” Her voice echoed a little as he gently clamped on the helmet that paired with the sleeves.

The doctor said, in a voice made tinny by the helmet’s metal barrier, “Your chart indicates a history of pain transference. You may feel me working on the arm I’m not touching, just like you used to feel your ear infections on the unaffected side.”

Shara lay still and strained to feel anything at all while he worked. He had mirrors. She watched him scrape down through layers of skin with a sharp little knife, suctioning away the blood at every cut. Then, he rubbed salve into the wound before he began his work with the needle and thread and then the surgical glue. Shara lost interest after he put down the knife, though. She tried to think how she could palm it before she left. Something that sharp would be handy.

When he was finished, he took off first the helmet and then the blocking sleeves. “There,” he said. “Good as new.”

And it was only then that she realized the trick with the mirrors and her wound had all been a diversion. Both of her forearms had three neat, tiny plastic buttons affixed where the sleeves had touched her skin. “What have you done to me?” she demanded, her hands flying up to touch her scalp where the helmet had rested. There, too, she felt little plastic knobs.

The doctor said, “I’ve helped, I hope.”

Shara fled the office, sobbing. She didn’t remember returning through the checkpoints, although she must have held out her passport every time, because she later saw the stamps that she had travelled both ways along the authorized route. At home, she picked up every kitchen knife, one after the other, and tried to slice herself. She couldn’t do it. Her hands would only carry the blade so close to her own skin before they simply stopped. She couldn’t do it looking, she couldn’t do it with her eyes averted. She could no longer draw the blade across her skin and watch the red blood well up.  She eventually had to return to the doctor and plead with him to reset the things so she could at least shave her legs.

And, although she had been furious at first, the doctor was right. Mostly, he had helped. Though she still squirmed and cringed every time she handed over her passport for stamping, she no longer arrived home needing to make herself bleed in compensation for the checkpoints.

Still. There were times like this, like now, at the zoo, when she could feel the impotency of the extinct species. That need to roar and slash would clutch at her throat like a choking hand.

“Hey, Shara. Come on.” Rodney pulled her fingers away from the glass just before the cleaning robot could pinch them. Her face followed her hands, and he kissed her. “You know I love that about you,” he said. “That intensity. Sometimes, when you say things like that, I can feel them all the way in the back of my stomach.”

She smiled, because she knew he expected it, because she loved him. “But I think you’d be happier if we moved on to something a little tamer,” she said.

He nodded, then kissed her again, and his lips were hot like the Indian jungle.

About jesterqueen:
Jessie Powell is the Jester Queen. She likes to tell you about her dog, her kids, her fiction, and her blog, but not necessarily in that order.


Lady or the tiger — 7 Comments

    • This is another one I wrote for flash fiction month – I’m putting them here out of order, since I’ve got other stuff going on in July and I don’t want to bombard everybody with my daily flash AND my daily whatever. But I think that’s what the shift origin is, I think. Glad you like it!

  1. There was a great photo on Google+ yesterday of a tiger caught staring at the picture taker through a glass. The photo creeped me out. I can’t imagine what standing there live was like. I wonder if cutters really do look on things like that with no fear, with a longing?

    • I’m not a cutter, so I can’t say for sure (just thought I’d get that out in the open). But often cutters act out of a sense of helplessness. It can be the same impulse that controls an eating disorder. I can’t control anything else, but I CAN control this. We have an awesome picture of the tiger RIGHT behind Caroline behind the glass. My sister in law put it in the family calendar, and I got a call asking me why in God’s name I’d let my kid get in the pen with the animal. It looks like it’s about to eat her. So neat.

      Anyway, in this case, I’ve put the characters into a totalitarian futuristic society where a lot of the big animals are extinct. So this girl’s cutting is really her release from a trapped life. Everything she dies is dictated by the government. And then the doctor takes away the one thing she could control. And really, that’s good. If she was cutting deeply enough to do muscle/tendon damage, then she was in serious trouble. But now she feels like she really can’t control anything, and it’s hard to keep up the facade. Seeing the tiger, she is almost overcome by the need for a little control in her life, and she’d rather die than live like this.

  2. you have been knocking off such fabulous stories. I loved the dystopian fee to this, the helplessness. And of course the clever doctor who helped her. Great job Jessie