Mr. Spleen looked at me darkly, needless to say. History had divided us; contempt had filled the chink. Fists at his sides, as if clutching two anvils, he inched closer. I smelled a beef on his breath.
“What is it now?” I said.
“Like I have to spell it out?” he said, upper lip twitching.
“Well, can we try to maintain some semblance of peace, for the boys’ sake?”
“Fuck the boys,” he said.
He stomped out of the living room. I kicked off my boots as they were killing my corns. I needed new boots, but in addition to being an abusive bastard, Mr. Spleen was also a cheap one.
Toby and Mackintosh roared in the backyard, where I had put them to frolic in the snow. They wanted back inside, but with Mr. Spleen in the house, and our energies clashing, I risked agitating the boys, and my feet hurt too much to exit for another walk.
“Why don’t you quiet those fucking animals!” Mr. Spleen cried from upstairs.
“Why don’t you get the hell out so I can!” I shouted back.
“Why should I leave!”
Toby and Mackintosh continued roaring. Then they started scuffling. I glanced out the nook window overlooking the backyard and saw the two lions fighting, snow and fur flying, Toby getting the better of his smaller brother, though both weighed over 400 pounds. I knocked on the window, but they kept at it.
I stuffed my feet back into my boots and went out the back door.
“Stop it!” I shouted. “Stop it right now!”
Both stopped, chests heaving, clumps off fur scattered over the tumbled snow. I grabbed Toby by the collar and gave him a good yank. Mackintosh looked at me with his golden eyes and skulked by the porch.
“Get over here,” I said in a low voice. He crept back and I grabbed his collar and gave him a light cuff across the mane. “Bad boys,” I said. “Very bad.”
“How’s the lion whisperer managing?” Mr Spleen blurted from the back door.
“Fuck off,” I said under breath. Toby growled; I cuffed him across the nose.
Mr. Spleen stepped out on the porch, hands on his broad hips, ugly face tilted toward the low grey sky. “Looks like snow,” he said. “Maybe you guys can go sledding.”
“Why don’t you just leave.”
“This is my house, bitch. I’m not going anywhere.”
Toby growled. A scratched cornea occluded his left eye. Mackintosh growled in his chest. This time I didn’t correct either one of them.
Mr. Spleen stood on the porch defiantly. He never wanted the lions. He wasn’t a lion person. When my husky Teddy died, I waited a year before I sought another pet. Mr. Spleen wanted nothing to do with another dog. He barely tolerated Teddy, who was a beautiful animal.
I only wanted Toby at first. But he and Mackintosh, who was the runt of the litter, were the only cubs remaining from six siblings. When I saw Mackintosh clinging to his brother, I couldn’t bear to separate them. Mr. Spleen almost lost his mind when I brought the cubs home.
Anyway, they were a handful—they are. I’m not going to sugarcoat it. They destroyed our house and chewed through every pair of shoes we ever owned. They’ve eaten a couple of raccoons and possums and almost ate the mailman. That was a whole thing. They fight all the time and can’t be brought within a hundred meters of another animal. I resisted getting them neutered—it seems inhumane, snipping a boy’s jewels, though I realize now it’s necessary.
Never fond of the rambunctious cubs, Mr. Spleen—how shall I say?—developed a fear of them as they grew bigger and stronger. I had been warned by the seller they might have some man-eater in them, and it may or may not have been true, but Toby and Mackintosh intensely disliked Mr. Spleen.
“They growling at me?” Mr. Spleen said.
It had started snowing, light flakes twirling down on us. The lions grew excited. There was nothing in the world they loved more than snow. It made them giddy. I don’t know what Mr. Spleen was doing on the porch. Maybe taunting us. Or at least taunting me.
“We’re coming in,” I said.
“I don’t think so,” Mr. Spleen said.
“What do you mean?”
“Maybe you should just get the fuck out of here. Maybe go stay with your mother. I’ll bring you your stuff later.”
“See, that’s what I’m talking about, that mouth of yours. Not only are you a freeloader, but I gotta put up with that mouth of yours, too.”
Toby and Mackintosh roared so loud it made my stomach flutter.
“Shut those lions up, or I will,” Mr. Spleen said.
He looked weird in the whirling snow, menacing but weak. I wanted to hurl myself at him and tear him to pieces.
“Go on,” he said. “I’ve made a decision—I say no to us.”
“You can’t do this to me,” I said, hating the sound of my voice.
“Wanna bet? I already talked to a lawyer, babe. The house belongs to my mother. You’ve got no claim on it whatsoever.”
“What about the boys?”
“Boys? They’re two full-grown lions, you fucking psycho!”
One person doesn’t have to take another person’s abuse in this life, no way. Mr. Spleen had been verbally abusive from the get-go, calling me silly, daffy, and so forth, and now he was calling me a psycho. A psycho!
I must admit I got a little heated when he called me that name. My ears burned. The lions picked up the vibe, what can I say? I didn’t have to command them to do anything. They just did what came natural. And I don’t think Mr. Spleen would have wanted me to call them off once they had defaced him.
Salvatore Difalco is the author of 4 books including The Mountie at Niagara Falls (Anvil) an illustrated collection of flash. He currently lives in Toronto Canada.