My hand lives in her belly. That belly has a tumor the size of a banjo. I like to think my hand keeps her company, playing a soothing song on her tumor banjo whenever she cries in pain. I use my one hand to play my non-tumor banjo for her, my actual banjo, like hum-di-bum-hum-di-dee-hum-di-bum-hum-di-dee. No chords because, hello, one hand over here. My girlfriend Tracy is always yelling at me for getting a lion, but Theory: Is it really about the banjo? Tracy refuses to help me with the chords so she just hears me singing in Open G all day. I tell her that every townie who’s been trapped in the town where they grew up deserves to play banjo for a lion they love. Checkmate. Conclusion: Tracy hates banjos.
My lion breathes heavy these days, breathing the breaths of like… really hard breathing. Tracy doesn’t think I’m a biologist, but what about that online course I took? Checkmate. Theory: Tracy is jealous. She says to stop spending all of my money on that lion. Tracy has had to pick me up because my car ran out of gas. More than once. I spend all of my tips from the bar on the lion’s treatments and we barely make rent. Last night, I did donuts in the high school parking lot until my Low Fuel light popped up, blasting Earl Scruggs with the lion in the backseat as a treat in her final days. Tracy says I’m going to have to start paying for my own AAA if I don’t get rid of that lion. Conclusion: Tracy is jealous. She gives me the silent treatment like she knows how to use it, but there’s a button behind her ear. When I press it eight times, she stops giving me the silent treatment. “Stahp. Staaaaaaahp. Quit it. Please. Okay. Stop now. Ha ha. Okay. Ha ha. You really know how to get on my nerves.” It always goes like that and then we make sweet, salty townie love.
I would cry if this car could run on tears and anxiety instead of gasoline. Theory: If my palm sweats the whole way to the vet’s office, I’ll be able to make it there before my tank runs out of gas. My lion can’t get comfortable in the backseat because of the banjo in her belly. Her brain refuses to quit even though her body is trying to kill her. If I run out of gas, I’ll need to put a sign on the window that says: Careful! Lion in the backseat! She bites but be nice to her. She’s dying! I pass by a gas station, but keep driving because I know where I can get gas two cents cheaper. Conclusion: The car coasts into the vet’s parking lot and it shuts off before I can park. Conclusion: Tracy misjudges my thrift.
My body quakes ugly tears and I rest my head on my lion’s. She licks the tears off my face and she has that smile, that desire to keep living, to keep sleeping, to keep waking up, to keep eating her favorite dinner of fresh carcasses and sweaty hands, to keep listening to my one-handed banjo while I sing her a sweet song about love and heartache.
I sit with her until the vet comes out. We all walk inside together and I walk out alone.
Theory: My heart’s going to fall out and never make its way back home. My lion’s name was Bette, by the way. She was young. Only about five years old. I hum Bette’s favorite song until Tracy comes and picks me up. We leave my car stranded in the vet’s parking lot. Conclusion: I’m going to cry until I die.