I’m not good at looking people in the eyes. I guess it’s because I’ve experience too much of the bullshit that lies behind them. I find it far easier to look past people to examine them from a distance.
I looked into Bette’s eyes for an instant. They looked normal, though I didn’t know what I was supposed to be looking for. People say you can tell if somebody’s on the junk by looking in their eyes. I already knew enough of what was behind hers that I always looked past as a matter of habit.
Yet, when she said she was going to buy a lion, it clicked in my mind that she was probably still on the pills.
“Yeah. I’m buying a pet lion,” she repeated. “You heard me right. A full grown pet lion.”
“Okay,” I said.
“What? You don’t agree with it?”
“I don’t care,” I said.
“That means you don’t agree.”
“Fine. I don’t agree.”
“You think it’s a bad idea?”
“Probably,” I said.
She crossed her arms.
“Are you a lion expert?” she asked.
“Obviously not,” I said.
“Then you don’t know what you’re talking about,” Bette said. “And, again, not supporting me. Not supporting me in anything I do.”
I was already exhausted.
“Okay,” I said.
“And how much do you understand about spirit animals?”
“Nothing. Thankfully,” I said.
“Being facetious, as always,” she said. “Well, I’ll have you know the lion is my spirit animal.”
“Very good,” I said.
“Do you know what living with my spririt animal will do for me?”
“What?” I asked.
“Help align my spirit with nature,” she said.
“Good,” I said.
“Good? That’s it? Why can’t you ever encourage me? This is big. I’m buying a fucking lion. I’m going to live with it. Eat with it. Sleep with it.”
“Alright,” I said.
“Alright. Alright. Alright,” she mocked. “Always with the passive-aggressive bullshit.”
“Remember how I encouraged you to save in a 401K?”
“Boring,” she said. “That’s why I’m using it for the lion.”
“Okay,” I said.
“Bad decision?” she asked.
“Your decision,” I said.
I took a moment to process.
“Where do you even get a lion?”
“I found a guy online that breeds and trains and sells lions,” she said.
“Are they good lions?”
“His ratings are around 3 stars. Not bad.”
“Not too good either,” I said.
“Of course not, Mr. Glass Half Empty,” she said.
“Why don’t buy from a guy you know for sure has good lions? You’ve got plenty in your 401K. You ought to be able to afford a Grade A lion.”
“If I save money up front, I’ll be able to shower McMurphy in luxury,” she said. “And he’ll love me all the more.”
“McMurphy?” I asked.
“That’s my lion’s name.”
“You named him or did the trainer?”
“Me,” she said.
Bette went on the explain how it was all settled. She’d already cashed in her retirement savings to pay for McMurphy and how he was going to be delivered within a few weeks.
It was a few months later I got the call. Bette was in the hospital from a lion attack. I phoned the hospital. Her doctor didn’t offer much detail, only suggesting it was bad.
So I flew in and rushed to the hospital. She was stable but missing fingers and a leg. Her face was hidden behind bandages, but she was awake and lucid.
“My God. I’m sorry,” I told her.
“It’s okay. Nothing to be sorry about,” she said. “In fact, all this is a blessing.”
I looked into her eyes. I assumed she was on something for the pain. But I saw nothing but the same old thing. Nothing new. Nothing profound. Nothing enlightening or enlightened.
Dumbfounded, I asked, “How’s this a blessing?”
“I’ve come to realize my spirit animal isn’t lion. It’s bear.”
“No,” I said.
“Yes,” Bette said. “It’s been a hard lesson to learn. But here I am, at least, more aware.”
“No,” I repeated.
“What?” she said. “What do you know about spirit animals.”
“Nothing,” I said.
“Exactly. So, when I get out, I’ll be getting a bear. I know of a guy online. And I still got money left from the 401K. And I already got a name. Torrance.”
“For fuck’s sake,” I said. “This is insanity.”
“Damn you. You’ve never supported me in anything,” she said. “This will be it. This is a big deal.”
“What happened to McMurphy?” I asked. “Did you not lavish him enough?”
“They shot him. A real shame. He was a good lion. So I’m getting him stuffed and put in the house.”
“He attacked and nearly killed you,” I said. “In case they didn’t tell you, you’re maimed for life.”
“They told me. And this is agony but it wasn’t McMurphy’s fault,” she said. “It was mine. I misinterpreted my spirit animal. But this time I got it right. This time I got people to confirm it.”
“A medium,” she said. “And a psychic who can speak to animal spirits.”
“No,” I said. “Please. No. Not another discount predator.”
“What do you understand about mediums?” she asked. “Or living with bears?”
“Nothing,” I admited.
“Well, there you go,” she said.
I told her I was leaving. I told her I’d never be back. She chastised me for being so selfish, leaving her there to suffer in agony all by herself, minus some fingers and a leg.
I reminded her of Torrance the bear. I told her it would all be okay.