The Lion

Joan Stephens

Reclining majestically on the warm cement ledge, the big catís head rested languidly on his front paws. It was the depths of night: the time of hunting. But he only rumbled a deep sigh. There was no hunting in this enclosure. Suddenly his senses snapped awake as he noticed a cautious movement out of the corner of his eye. Carefully, he tracked the creatureís steps until it stopped in front of the bars that kept the king of the jungle securely fenced in. The large, yellow feral eyes bored into the calm, blue, intelligent eyes of the man robed in an immense black cloak that covered him from head to toe.

Lifting his head slightly, the lion wrinkled his nose and sniffed the air. Ah, that strange smell; what was it? He hadnít sensed that peculiar odor for a long time. Ah yes, the odd one: the one with his own unique scent, neither animal nor human. Yawning immensely, he dismissed the creature and rolled over on his side. Closing his eyes, he snuffled a little bit and sank into a deep sleep where he dreamt of running freely on the African veldt, chasing an agile gazelle.

Effectively dismissed, Vincent waited for some sign from the animal that he was aware that he was there. While he waited, he thought about how he had not been here since Catherine had entered his life, bringing to him her love and absolute conviction that he was a man.

He recalled how in the past he had often come to stand in this very spot and had tried to communicate with the regal animal, roaring and snarling at him. Heíd had some weird notion that if the lion acknowledged him, then he was a beast, and he needed the reassurance that he wasnít. But the great head would turn to regard him with disinterested eyes and yawn mightily then sink back into apathy again, wishing this pipsqueak of a buzzing fly would leave him alone. Satisfied that the lion could not understand him, reinforcing his shaky belief in his manhood, the man would leave until the next time that doubt raised its ugly head.

He had been astounded earlier today when one of the children asked him about the Central Park Zoo. He realized that it had been more than six years since he had last visited the old lion, and he had finally understood that it was no longer necessary for him to prove to himself that he was human. All he had to do was to see Catherine nursing their daughter with Jacob playing happily at her feet to know without a doubt that he was fully a man and loved as all men hoped to be but few were.

The lion stretched, breaking into Vincentís thoughts. "Good bye, old friend. I wish you could someday achieve the freedom that I have found. I wonít be seeing you again. The need of your reassurance is no longer necessary."

The lion had opened his eyes when he heard the being speak and impassively watched him walk away. Another two-legged that he didnít understand, but from whom he had always felt a sense of compassion and fellowship. He closed his eyes, once more back on the hot, African veldt of his youth, feeling the rippling of his muscles as he joyously ran through the hot, open fields, frightening the passive grazers.