“Lion must never know superiority. Never let fear scent your skin, flash behind eyes. When Daniel discovers he is stronger, he will attack.”
As Nicolai speaks I climb the wooden fence of the alley. I’ve been infatuated from my new flat all morning by this man and cat pacing, glaring, padding around a dirt cell.
“Lion never you as equal, only not as threat.” Placing down his chair, extending the whip, “Care to try?”
Inside the wooden barricade, I smell the tawny brute. Nicolai unlocks the gate, always an eye on Daniel. At the wave of his hand I enter. His assuredness, it’s of little wonder he has no fear of Daniel.
Holding the chair tightly, walking through the cage, Daniel sunbathing twenty feet away, I am a Goodall, ignored by an animal so near. Whip trailing through dirt, I absentmindedly let the tip lick the air. Daniel silently and quickly rises.
“Patient work, dancing with lion. Ask him roll over. Always listen. Daniel speaks little, but has high signal-to-noise ratio,” Nicolai’s mouth curls into a smile.
Cracking the whip, I get Daniel’s full attention. He lunges with his right paw, which I catch with the chair. Spinning the whip, snapping at dirt, I tell him to roll over, hoping he doesn’t understand the fear in my voice. Hoping Nicolai has a pistol otherwise.
Amused, Daniel flops down, rolling away like a wrestler. He stops on all fours and belly, tail flipping back-and-forth, swatting flies.
“Good. Maybe tomorrow we teach real tricks, without chair.”
I smile, taking eyes off Daniel just so long he pounces. Heavy paws pinning my torso, I’m aware only of warmth. Warmth in my groin as I pee. Warmth on my face as Daniel licks me. The warmth of Nicolai’s wicked laugh washing through my ears.