Yesterday they were naked on the sofa, the panther and the bear, watching reruns of Animal Kingdom in the glow of gauzy lamplight. But by nine the moon had shifted, betraying me, and they became my parents again.
Today Mother is a panther once more—foamy mouth, fangs, onyx eyes with specks of scarlet.
We form a broken circle around clothes scattered on my sister’s bedroom floor.
The panther tells the bear, “See, she’s a pig,” and hands him a leather belt embossed with antelope, fawns and bucks, the buckle silver moose antlers.
Light squeezes through the ceiling seams like sprockets of yellow pine needles, reminding me that it is still daylight, that there are more hours to bear, that agony is a promise to be met.
On the wall the Indian clock doesn’t budge, neither long hand nor shorthand, as Pocahontas closes her coffee-colored eyes.
The bear’s breath smells of oaky bourbon. He’s woozy and sways as dust particles dance around him, some settling in his fur.
The panther tells the bear to focus, get on with it, and so the belt becomes a cobra.
Sweat flicks across my cheek. My sister screams. The cobra won’t stop striking until it’s someone else’s turn, then someone else’s.
After the mad circus is complete, we each lay in our bunks licking wounds, holding breath, dreaming of open pastures, flat plains with plenty of room to run.