‘My Pet Tiger’, Jessica Dylan Miele

Illustrations © 2018 Joyce Chng

Dear Solomon Brick,

 [ Tiger, © 2018 Joyce Chng ] I wish I knew what you looked like. Your face isn’t anywhere on the Internet, why? I guess I’ve already screwed up this letter but I can’t start over because when you pen a note you have to keep going. Crossing out stuff doesn’t work since anyone can see what’s written even when it’s crossed out… unless you really x it out and then it’s like I’m hiding something from you. I don’t want to hide nothing from you, Mr. Brick, you’ll have to trust me on that. I wonder what you think of me, since all you know for sure is my name. Believe me, I’m not that kind of Destiny. But I hope you’re the kind of Solomon Brick I think you are. Do you know how lucky you have it to be going about your business with a name like that? Writing a check to Solomon Brick on the first of every month makes it a little bit not dreadful, even though my teeth still hurt that you just upped the rent without even buying me flowers first. 200 bucks! My favorite flowers are Gerber daisies by the way. It doesn’t matter which ones… no, actually it does matter and I love the orange ones. Usually I test the men I meet to see if they pick orange. But there’s no need to test you, Mr. Brick. Can I call you Solomon? What a solid name, I mean it. Nothing could tear at a man like Solomon… a man like you.

I know you’re busy so I’ll get to it: I’ve been wanting to get a dog for a long time, and your guy Derek Wallace told me you’d probably say no, but if I wrote you a letter, you would change your mind. And that’s why I’m cramping my hand over this letter, because Derek told me you much prefer a handwritten note to email. I tried writing you a letter asking for a dog… or at least I thought about it a bunch, but I just didn’t know what to say. I wasn’t about to beg and it felt dumb making those promises like, I promise my pup will be quiet, I promise my pup will be sweet to strangers. Because if I get a dog and she wants to bark I’m going to let her! I’m not about to take away any bitch’s bark. But I don’t want a dog just now. I mean I do, but I have this white tiger here that just might eat even a pit with a side of bacon. Would you have let me have a pit bull?

You don’t have to worry about me, by the way. The tiger and I are doing beautiful together. He even spoons me in bed while we sleep, with his grand white paw flopped over my neck. If you’ve never been able to cuddle with a tiger… well, I don’t know if you’ll get the chance. My tiger might not cuddle anybody else and in any case I’m not sharing. It’s the best sleep of my life. I never thought about the idea of falling asleep but that’s what a good sleep is like… just letting go and falling down deep. I don’t know if you can understand the relief of dropping out like that. I bet you’re a big guy, Solomon Brick. What did your Mama call you when you were a kid? Maybe something cute like Solly. I can’t even picture a little boy named Solomon, running around without his shoes and being so new in the world. I wonder if you ever worry about your tenants. Do you think about us at night, about all the terrible things that could happen as we come home after dark, fumbling with our keys to unlock the sticky deadbolts? As we crack open our windows to let in the cool air? As we hear someone in our driveway, picking through our glass bottles? Just now, my tiger came over and put his head heavy in my lap. I guess he could feel me get the all-overs. His eyes are the palest blue, like how it feels on those rare mornings I look out at the world without a hangover and everything is clear even before I’ve had my coffee. That makes me sound like an alcoholic, but trust me I’m not. I work at a bar 6 nights a week so I should know. I’ve seen some real drunks in my lifetime. I’m thinking of this one guy, Dickie, (what a name!), who wouldn’t even leave his bar stool when his daughter came in with mascara running down her face, crying because she was going back to college the next day and needed money for her school books.

My boyfriend finally bailed and I couldn’t be happier. Ever notice that you were supposed to be getting two checks every month but getting just one? I can’t believe I put up with that for so long. Sometimes I think about all the things I could have done had I saved 6 hundred dollars each month… man, I could have flown to Las Vegas first-class and made a real go at the tables. Not that I have the stomach for gambling, but still that’s what I could have done. Luke always made me feel guilty for going bananas about paying the rent all by myself. It’s just money, he kept saying. You understand, right Mr. Brick? Money is never just money. Can’t say I don’t miss him. But I miss the Luke I used to know, the guy he was when we first met and he was the bass player for Mister Jones. I bet you haven’t heard of Mister Jones. They were good. I’m not going to describe them, because what if you’ve heard them and I get it all wrong? Let’s just say Mister Jones was good enough to get everybody to dance and the guys got laid almost every night. They used to play at my bar on Alberta Street. Luke still had his long hair and I could feel his dark eyes touching me as he played.

It was just fun in the beginning. I don’t remember the first night I went home with him, but it wasn’t long after we met that we got a routine going. We were always talking… sometimes being funny, and sometimes we’d talk about real serious stuff. And the sex, Solomon, the sex! It was real wonderful for a while. We found your place and I belonged somewhere with somebody. And nobody bothered me. At the bar one night, Luke jumped on top of a guy and pounded his face. Broke the douchebag’s nose. I don’t know what the dude said, but it must have been nasty and that just made my man go crazy. Then Luke decides to give up drinking. I didn’t believe him the first time he told me, because one of his eyes was drooping like it gets when he is totally wasted. But he actually did it, without going to meetings or nothing. Didn’t stop even when he got the sweats and the shakes. He quit the band and sold his upright bass. Sold it for only fifty dollars!

I don’t want you to think I started hating him because he got sober. That would be wrong. But Luke wasn’t Luke when he was sober. He lost his smile. He was all dark and moody, prowling the house, snapping at me to wake up earlier and make him breakfast. He didn’t care before that most of what we ate was leftover bar food, but suddenly a burger and tater tots was too good for him. I kept saying he needed therapy. I still wish he’d go to therapy. Need to figure out how to deal with clear eyes. All we’d do is talk, he said. As if talking something out was the most pointless thing ever. It’s painful not to want to come home, do you know that, dear landlord? Everything was closed after my shift was over and so I would drive around, no music, windows down. Drive for hours, and when I finally came home he would be in my face, asking me questions, smelling my hair. Forget about a welcome home hug with his big arms wrapped around me. Forget about doing what we humans can really do. Luke used to be a licker… he would lick my spine, from the tailbone all the way up. Now he said I smelled too much like booze. I wonder if the woman upstairs ever complained to you or Derek about us. I wouldn’t blame her if she did. Luke would yell so I would yell louder. He kept telling me I needed to give up drinking too, but seriously. Who dates a bar tender and demands she give up the bar?

Booze is a great time. Maybe not for always, I know that. But tell me you haven’t ever had a day when the only thing that got you through was having a drink as the sun went down. I’m good at what I do because I love it. If you visit me, you’ll see me smiling and know that’s for real. I’m the one in the shiny sequin tops and killer shoes. I’m the one with the wild hair. My lipstick is always red and if you’re nice to me, I’ll mark my kiss on your cheek. Sure the jerks come out night after night… I don’t like them, but they don’t surprise me. I’ve been a bartender since I was 18 and I’ve had a fake ID since before that. My name on the fake ID was still Destiny. Yeah, I know it’s a ridiculous name. I’ve tried going by something else but it just doesn’t work. The sound order of Destiny has control over my brain somehow, and I am that string of sounds no matter how hard I try to deny it.

Don’t be thinking I came from assholes that let me get at a bottle before I could walk. My mom still hasn’t forgiven me for leaving her like I did. She thinks I loathe her but I don’t. I just couldn’t be around her anymore. She’s got too much ugly she needs to deal with first. Every move I made had to meet her approval. She wouldn’t let me out of the house unless I was wearing a snowsuit with a scarf around my neck. All my teachers knew how to pronounce my last name on the first day of school because Mom had called to introduce herself to each one. I couldn’t even listen to my Sublime CD because of that stupid Parental Advisory sticker. Do you have kids, Mr. Brick? Don’t ever do what my mom did because it doesn’t work. The more she tried to cage me in, the more I had to be free. I gave it away to the first boy I could, quick before I even thought about it because I knew if we didn’t do it fast enough we would get caught. Punishment for doing something bad is better than not doing it at all, that was my reasoning. I feel sick thinking about what I was like back then. There was a neighbor girl around my age that was obsessed with stickers. I could’ve been obsessed with stickers too, but instead all I wanted to do was do whatever my mom didn’t want me to do. It’s not her fault though. It has to be scary raising a daughter alone. After I moved in with my first boyfriend, my aunt came to visit and told me about what happened. How my mom used to be alive and dancing every time you saw her. Then she was raped at a party one night… that’s how she had me. So now you know: I usually don’t tell people that.

Breaking up with Luke would’ve been impossible without the tiger. I can’t live on my own, I just can’t. My single friend Cindy lives in a big house with three roommates and she loves it, but that’s not for me. Just thinking about it gives me the all-overs. Meeting somebody new takes so long, and there are the false starts to deal with. When you’re alone you are just that… a-lone. I get disgusting when I’m by myself. Whoever wants me can have me, and even if I don’t like you, I need you, I want you, I burn for you. If only I don’t have to go to sleep by myself. The good news is, I won the apartment. It’s only fair because I was paying the rent, but Luke would have never seen it that way. After Luke stopped drinking, everything up to him was upside down and things that were down were all my fault. He even left his samurai swords on the wall, he was that much in a hurry to leave. I wish I’d snapped a photo series of his face that night… I could’ve turned it into a flipbook and made a huge pot of money. Luke is looking pretty funny these days. Not only did he cut his hair, he shaved himself bald. He lost weight too, so to me he looks ill. I had been out all night and he met me at the door, ready for a fight. I walked in real slow with the tiger at my side, my skin tingling from all this joy. The tiger filled the room, bigger than our sad little loveseat, the muscles rippling through his great white striped body as he moved. A little bit of blood smeared across his furry cheek. When the beast turned ever so slightly towards Luke, the anger drained from his face and his mouth stretched into this mask of pure fright. I tried talking to him… I even said his name a couple times, but he wasn’t listening. He grabbed a broom handle and started jabbing at the air. That’s when the tiger roared.

I still can’t believe the police haven’t arrived to take me away. I know it’s illegal to have exotic animals as pets in Oregon, and the way my tiger roared like that has got to be against some law. I’m sure you’re ready to have me evicted too. But you know what? It was worth it. Maybe you think you’ve heard a tiger’s roar before, but until you are standing so close to a beast when it makes a sound like that, you haven’t heard nothing. It was so loud it made a crack of lightning down the middle of the television screen. There was a heat coming from that roar. I want to say it was like a giant machine coming to life, but that’s not it. Those teeth, Mr. Brick. When the tiger roared, his ginormous pink mouth stretched open to show off his canine teeth ready to slice. It was so much more than anything I can tell you here. It was like the roar of God. Luke wet his pants. Then he screamed and ran out the door, taking the broom with him.

I just got back from the store. I bought at least fifteen pounds of lamb shoulder and fed it to my beast one at a time. One of these days, I’m going to have to teach him moderation, but I haven’t been able to do it just yet. I wonder if he’s bored. I took him out to the backyard but he lay down without even looking around. He seems content to sleep and eat, and roar when I need him. Every woman should have a pet tiger. It was so different walking home from the store, carrying two paper bags full of thick slabs of meat. Walking past the bus stop, a lone dudeguy shouted something about my ass, and I cut him a look, knowing for certain what would happen to him if he tried to follow me home. I used to work with this woman named Evelyn, who told me that she used to love getting attention and being hollered at… she used to wear teeny tiny skirts and tops that showed off her belly, and then a guy she knew forced himself on top of her. When Evelyn told me that, she was acting so dumb, like she had her shoulders all the way up to her ears and was like, see? that’s what I get. And you know, fuck that. I get all worked up just thinking about it. Especially because Evelyn wears baggy clothing now, and the man she is with is fat and ugly, and she acts so freaking grateful to him, like isn’t she lucky to only show off her gorgeous body to such a fat, disgusting slob? Just thinking about it makes me want to murder somebody.

I wonder if you’re going to share this with the police. I wonder if a cop is actually reading this right now. Or if somebody is going to read parts of it out loud during my hearing. Let me just set the record straight here: I didn’t kill anybody. The tiger might have, but he wasn’t mine when it all went down, so I can’t be held accountable. He belonged to this guy Michael Terwilliger. I had no idea who he was until he started coming in to the bar, tipping us real good even though he never actually drank all that much. He mostly just wanted to brag about his amazing act. I do tricks with lions and tigers, he would say, and kept waiting for us to ask about it, and we would, because we knew it meant more dollars. One night he told us that one of his tigers was at his house, and he invited all the girls to come and see. I was the only one who said yes, and I’ll admit it: I did it to spite Luke. I was tired of going home to his accusations, tired of having him in my face, tired of him, period. I just wanted to have a little fun. I didn’t even care that Michael was probably angling to have sex with me; even if he was a douche, he looked good, so I was game.

 [ Tiger stalking, © 2018 Joyce Chng ] When we got to his house, the tiger was lying in his cage, belly up, as if waiting to die. I wanted to open the cage, but Michael looked slightly anxious, and he kept reminding me that the tiger was a wild animal. As if I was an idiot. As if I thought the tiger was nothing but an oversized bunny rabbit, with stripes. When he finally agreed to undo the cage, he made me stand at the top of the stairs, to make sure I was safe, which was silly because I could just sense from the first moment the tiger and I locked eyes with each other that he would never hurt me. But it was sweet that Michael was looking out. So I was standing at the top of the stairs, watching as the beast slowly walked out of its cage, looking up at me with those blue eyes. I let out a little happy croon sound that the tiger seemed to like, and then I said I’d like to touch him. Just once. And Michael was like, no way, and I was insisting. I guess you could say I was flirting, why not? I thought that we were the only two people in his house. But then somebody came up from behind me. I didn’t see his face. I smelled him though. He smelled like a very fat man, hammy, and he came up from behind me and said, Can I touch too? And then he put his hands on my hips. His hands on my bare skin. I told him to get off, and he mocked me. No need to be rude, that’s what he said. He pulled my body towards his, holding me like that so I couldn’t turn around, couldn’t get away.

Do you see now why women need tigers? There are too many men hiding at the top of the stairs, thinking they can do whatever they want with you. Thinking you’re rude if you don’t play nice. Even before I screamed, here came the white tiger, charging up the stairs. Not even a bullet could have stopped him. Michael Terwilliger wouldn’t have been fast enough—he was still trying to assess the danger, to see if he couldn’t just talk his roommate out of whatever digusting plan he had for me. Heroes are too slow, too weak, too leniant. And they don’t have the teeth for it.

I was never afraid of the tiger, even as it lunged. After knocking the man down, the tiger went right for the neck. It was pretty gruesome, but not gratuitous. As soon as the man was dead, the attack was over, and that was how the tiger became mine. Michael was screaming and talking into his cellphone with spit coming out of his mouth, and he was sweating through his white Oxford shirt. I was just glad Michael was there, to serve as a witness when the police came, because there was no way that this shit was my fault. And that was when Michael started telling me that the police couldn’t know, because the tiger was stolen. So, as soon as I heard that, I just walked out with my tiger following after.

And that’s it. Wish it could end there with a happily ever after, Beauty and the Beast style, but I’m not stupid. Any time now, I know the police are going to take my guardian away. Maybe you’ll be the one to make the call after you’ve read this later… maybe you already have. I just felt like I owed you an explanation, as to why I’d ever consider housing such a creature on your property. Hell. Maybe I’m also writing this in hopes you’d understand my plight and stand by me in some kind of Tigers for Women Now movement. Probably have a better chance at being heard with a name like yours. At least give it a day to think it over?

All my best,

Destiny Wychulis

© 2018 Jessica Dylan Miele

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