Flash Fiction: The Tiger’s Wife

She winced when he grabbed her arm to help her into bed. He immediately pulled away, folded his fingers together in his lap. “I’m sorry, did that hurt?”

“A little,” she lied. The nerves along her arm screamed through the medicine, telling her that something was wrong, that her bones and muscle were not in their proper order. The cool touch of his fingertips on her arm didn’t change that. She still didn’t want it, though.

He leaned forward and stared at her. She knew he was trying to look earnest, but the intensity of his gaze disquieted her. “I’m sorry. What can I do for you?”

He purred quietly in supplication. She could see his tail lashing through the back of his chair. His fingers kneaded his thighs, a clear sign that he was nervous. She was uncomfortable with so much of his focus. He was so unpredictable when he used his full attention.

“Nothing,” she said, and she forced herself to smile. “Don’t think that I’m not grateful for everything you’ve done these past few days. I am. Truly. We just have to wait now. The doctor’s done all he can.”

She glanced at him. His fur was subdued in the fluorescent light, brown with shades of orange broken up by black stripes. His sweater was solid beige, his jeans were as black as the tips of his ears. So few colors worked with such a bright pelt. She wondered if he had changed his clothes since that night.

“Has the doctor said when you’ll be able to come home?” She knew he was trying to sound casual, but he couldn’t keep the excitement out of his voice. The thought made her stomach turn. She thought about their cramped apartment, the way he stepped behind her when she was in front of the sink, the way their bodies were forced to touch in close hallways, the way he filled the frame of the door at the top of the stairs.

Her smile faltered, and she had to look away to maintain it. “I don’t know. He…he says it’s touch and go. They’re not sure they set the arm right the first time, they’ll have to see how it looks tomorrow.”

She wasn’t sure if he growled, or if his purring had grown louder. She was sure that his tail lashed more quickly. “I–”

“We’ll just have to wait until tomorrow.” She took a deep breath. Her arm hurt so much, and she just wanted to sleep. “Listen, why don’t you go home? I know you’re exhausted, and it’d do you good to sleep in a bed.”
He stared at her. She forced herself to look back, and told herself to keep smiling. His eyes were so small and sharp and cold. She could scarcely remember how they could have warmed her. She had been fooled into thinking that mystery was a good reason to fall in love. She knew so much better now.

For a moment, it looked like he would lunge. She steeled her spine. She would not shrink back.

“You’re right,” he said. He broke his gaze, and took the part of her hand that hadn’t been bandaged. “But I’ll be back first thing in the morning.”

“Take your time,” she said. She squeezed his hand as well as she could. A shock of pain travelled up to her shoulder, and then her arm went strangely numb. “The doctor won’t be back until the afternoon anyway.”

He rose, told her he loved her, and crept out on soft and silent feet. When he left, he took the charge in the air with him. She felt her chest relax and suddenly she couldn’t catch her breath. It took her fifteen minutes to calm down.

She slumped into the hospital bed at last and thought about her meeting with the doctor tomorrow morning. Maybe if he weren’t there hovering at the edges of the conversation, she would be able to say what really happened.

For now though, she lied in this strange, cold bed and waited to sink under the influence of the painkillers. For once the quiet was peaceful. For once she didn’t fear what waited on the other side of it.

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