Author: Will H. Blackwell, Jr.

Three PM: As per daily routine, a 15-lb. allotment of raw horse-meat is cast, piecemeal, into the uncertain hollows of this Ohio cage.

The insouciance of the Lioness—born years ago in such captivity—is palpable. As the small zoo’s main attraction, she exercises her well-practiced disdain for all who might perchance engage her royal gaze.

She paces, first without seeming direction, finally sauntering forward. Her earthy coat brightens as a bronzing September-field when she emerges from the camouflage of the cage’s backdrop of uneven shade.

A sniff, a low snarl, and her curved canines—like ominously tapering, assuredly lethal, calipers—quickly take the measure of this, perhaps too-easily-procured, domestic meat.

And so, it seems simply done—this ‘feeding-time of beasts.’

All is controlled, almost tame.

The demeanor of the crowd, in front of the cage, appears essentially as nonchalant as does the lion’s—an ostensible disinterest growing on both ‘sides.’

Yet, in an instant—no more than the time-space of one of her roughly drawn breaths—all things change.

The Lioness unpredictably turns toward the crowd and roars her inborn, now unexpectedly surfacing, warning—to all who might defy her—to all who might dare interfere with her blood-moist, if previously slain, meal.

Though there is no danger, the crowd steps back, a gasp here and there—one among them heard to say, “I’m really glad all those bars are there!”

The eyes of the Lioness, now becoming incandescent, sear a surreal yet, one could swear, tangible path through her surroundings—as once, surely, did a young sun burning across the virtually unbounded plains of prehistoric savanna.

In this moment, she is among the glorious, ancestral predators of the Great Serengeti—now again, proud huntress—seductive mistress—of a primal Pride, roaming widely, without artificial restriction.

The depths of her oval irises, softening slightly, begin to glow with the flora of an ancient landscape, with antic animal-ghosts, and ways of being instinctively recalled. This was a fierce life—of stealth, and cunning—of necessary, but violent kills; yet, a life also of companionship, even love—of liberty, and ranging play—of, patiently, watching life-giving rains on the distant hills adjoining outer reaches of the vast expanse of plains.

This is a life remembered, as a species—a life, now, merely hereditarily inspired.

The fleet zebra she envisions—freshly, fairly, caught upon the high grasslands—has just been exenterated by her swiftly unsheathed claws, the flesh to be consigned between her cubs, and kind.

Execution complete, she turns, victorious once more, and strides easily—her gait deliberately unhurried—back to her legally sufficient cell, unchallenged by any creature, man or beast—nobility, ever, entirely, intact.

Silhouettes of bars—bars that only seem to bend in the, now, noticeably declining sun—guide her to the small but essential privacy of a recessed, obligatorily provided ‘den’—presently her only home—but, home nonetheless!—where waits her just-waking, most-recently-arranged, bush-maned mate.

Daunting, but phyletically obedient, she enters his chambered refuge—a bulky offering of tendinous meat, savagely fanged but tenderly borne, dutifully set before him.

This red-muscle dowry—provided by her majestic, if now mostly submissive, mouth—is their permanent carnal-bond—a renewed blood-symbol of the perpetuation of this regal line of lions, through extended time—regardless of transient limitations of daily circumstance, and temporary structures outlining degrees of freedom.

Her cryptic, indwelling animus-strategy continues to follow an impossibly long, still-thinning, projected-thread of DNA that, just somehow, might finally outlast all human attention.