ANIMAL PLAY /// 2
A PLAY FOR TWO MOUNTAIN LIONS
A vast and empty auditorium, separated from an equally vast and empty stage by heavy, purple-black curtains. Sound of wind moving across a high desert, the cry of a hawk, silent wilderness, whatever might call or rumble through the geologic extremity of a still untamed West. The curtains rise to reveal a stark landscape, immense proportions as from a sketch by Edward Gordon Craig, coppery light of dawn breaking in from some remote horizon. Wagnerian swells are imagined but not heard—besides, no one in the theater to hear them.
And then it is morning. Early autumn.
A mountain lion—not a cartoon mountain lion but a real mountain lion—who is about to die, languishes on a craggy ridge overlooking a deep canyon. Its eyes are going, so hunting has become nearly impossible, and it has a disease of the lung which makes breathing difficult. Whatever joys life once held for this animal have gone away, and now there is only pain, and dread, and intervals of stupor that might otherwise be confused for equanimity. Stuporous, merciful calm, temporary suspension of the respiratory apparatus, followed again by regular hills and valleys of discomfort.
But our mountain lion is not alone. Nearby lies a handsome young companion, yawning, gazing up at the flat blue sky. Merciful stupor. The first mountain lion is able only with great effort to turn to its fellow and announce, with dry tongue and watery eyes, that it is not long for this world.
“I’m going to die,” the mountain lion says. You would hear only pitiable growls, a withered roaring, but this is what the animal’s speech amounts to. I’m going to die.
And the other one, in clear, healthy tones: “No you’re not. You’re going to pull through.”
Not cartoon mountain lions but real ones. One languishing, the other lounging, on a craggy sandstone ridge.
The sick one makes another plaintive sound, unintelligible even for mountain lions and yet intelligible, in its primal sense, to any living thing. Butterflies flutter about nearby, but the mountain lions pay no mind.
“Do you love me?” the first mountain lion asks its friend.
“Of course I love you,” the other replies. “You’re my dearest friend, my companion.”
“And you are mine,” says the first. “And in that case, you shouldn’t let me die alone.”
“I already told you,” the other says, “you’re not going to die.”
“But I am,” says the dying mountain lion, forlorn. I am.
And the friend is a little frightened now, for death is clearly, in fact, quite near.
“You won’t let us be separated, will you?” says the one, its eyes flashing wildly—as, in centuries past, the madman’s eyes would flash. They flash as if to say: “You must come with me.”
The friend shudders, pretends distraction, turns away.
Of an afternoon in early autumn it is as though the canyon is made of gold. Sweeping backdrops and painted flats for a brief, impossible opera. A long day passes just that quickly. Birds as the sun goes down sing in registers deeper than we can imagine—or apprehend—and their feathers, too, are darker, almost invisible shades.
Next morning, the mountain lion is no longer dying but dead. Its breath failed during the night, perhaps during sleep, mercifully, during a pleasantly stuporous dream. The friend is nowhere to be seen.
There is the animal’s body, alone now, still overlooking the canyon, as cliffs are said to overlook the spaces they rise above. A form among forms from this great distance, joining other forms. Not a body, not even a statue but a rock only, frozen and black before the rising sun.
Remember it is only a mountain lion, not a human mountain lion.