Here now, at three in the morning, I find a whisker on the floor outside of Juteau’s room, laying parallel to her door, like a black line drawn on the old hard wood. I bend to pick it up, and I can hear a sound beneath the deep breathing of the sleeping Juteau on the other side of her door. This other sound is low and soft, like a wind passing through broken bottles and empty paper bags. It comes from a shadow within a shadow, the tiger’s den in the corner of the hallway, beneath the picture of Katya and Jarek.
“Why are you still in my house?” I ask the great white cat. “You should find somewhere else to live.” The tiger licks his chops by way of response. His red eyes glow like embers, and his fur somehow both reveals him in the shadow in which he lives, as well as hides him against the ivory paint of the walls. He has lived here in this corner for nearly a year now, neither coming nor going, and he still has yet to make the reason for his presence known.
“I can out wait you, you know,” I say. “I’m not in any hurry.” The tiger makes a whurf sound through his nose, and scrapes one black claw across the floor. It leaves no mark that I can see, but I know that if I were to get to my knees and run my finger over the wood, I would feel the path that he has carved there.
But I don’t wish to stay and try to solve the puzzle of the tiger tonight. I am tired after a long day of writing, and all I want is to slip under the blankets and feel the warmth of Bez next to me as I fade off to sleep. She has a few hours’ head start on me, and I want to catch up to her and see what she might be dreaming tonight.
The tiger regards me as I walk past him, but doesn’t move to follow. Once I’m in my bedroom, I close my door, and the tiger once again snorts at me from the other side of it. I don’t turn on a light, instead feeling my way in the dark to the bed. It’s only as I’m undressing that I realize I’m still holding the tiger’s whisker in my hand, and I set it on the bedside table between the book I am reading and the small framed picture of my father. I will do something with the whisker in the morning, but tonight I am too tired to want to give it another thought.
Bez whispers something in her sleep as I settle up against her, putting my hand on her hip, but it’s too soft for me to be able to make out.
In the hallway, the tiger sits waiting.
For what, I still have no idea.