Leo: The Lion Sleeps Tonight by Epiphany Ferrell

Dawn on the Serengeti. The watering hole is nearly empty. Leo devours the bacon-wrapped scallops in his Bloody Mary, orders another.

Gazelle enters from the patio, mimosa in hand. She danced to a reggae band last night, pronking and spinning, the lights reflected in her glossy black horns.

She sees Leo by the bar. She likes the wild mane that frames his face. She thinks she remembers him from last night. Wasn’t he in the band? He played bongos, right?

He roars with laughter when she asks. Loud as thunder. It hurts her tender head. He played bongos only that night. Mostly, he’s the front man. Of course. But, he tells her, he plays them all. Magic fingers, he says.

“You swish like a windshield wiper,” he tells her.

Gazelle sneezes when she’s nervous. Leo asks if she is allergic to cats. She’s unsure.

Later, when they lie on the beach, Leo tells her the names of stars.

“There’s the Big Dipper,” Gazelle says. “I know that one.”

“The Big Dipper points to me,” Leo says, directing her gaze to the constellation.

They go to Leo’s room. He lives in the hotel. He is fond of room service.

“I’m a Virgo,” she says. “So, um…”

“It doesn’t matter,” he tells her.

She hears herself bleating, and Leo doesn’t stop and she doesn’t want him to stop.

She wakes in his bed, red satin spilling onto the floor, and she weeps.

Gazelle is disconsolate on the airplane home. She calls the hotel during the layover. The bartender sets the phone on the bar, pages Leo, and Gazelle hears the ambient noise, women purring, “I want sex on the beach” as they order their drinks. She hears, behind it all, a roar of laughter that brings her heart to her throat. No one comes to answer and eventually someone hangs up, and still Gazelle crouches with her phone to her ear until she must board her final flight.

Gazelle vows to make her heart smaller. By force of will, it can be done, she knows. It is an advantage of her species. She lies awake at night, under the Big Dipper, wondering if Leo is awake, if he is thinking of her.

Epiphany Ferrell lives perilously close to the Shawnee Hills Wine Trail in Southern Illinois. Her stories appear in Best Microfiction 2020, Pulp Literature, Third Point Press and other places and forthcoming in 2020 National Flash Fiction Day anthology. She blogs for Ghost Parachute and reads for Mojave River Review.

A vintage photo of a woman in cage leaning against a lion and next to another lion
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