The tiger paces the ring, waiting for the Ringmaster to enter. The paws move, one forward, then another, forward, slowing, silently, creeping in a never-ending circle, around and around the center platform of boxes, the tiger paces.
Where is he? I know he’s coming. He always does. He waits for me, as I wait for him.
The tiger is patient.
I hear a creaking sound.
The sound is familiar. A shuffling sound, another follows.
I turn. My head jerks up. I stand still. I wait. I watch.
More sounds echo within the empty room.
The crunch under foot, nearing; nearer, while I wait, with legs that tremble with anticipation.
Another door opens.
I back away, perceiving this the final door, before he enters. I back away. I stiffen my legs to keep them still. I watch the door as it opens.
There he stands, tall and straight. A black cape hangs loosely from his thin shoulders. The right hand contains a long black whip, a leather strap dangling from its tip, to be held back by one little finger.
He makes contact with my eyes. We stare, motionless, neither of us flinching.
The Ringmaster reaches his left hand behind his back, closing the door, latching it. The air is dense, close.
He takes five steps towards me, then stops. He holds my glare. He knows this look of mine, as I know his every thought that comes across the air. He knows I will not move until he moves. He knows this. He knows me. He takes another forward step, and I step back two.
The Ringmaster starts to circle around the platform in the center of the ring. He raises his arms, the whip bends, as his wrist dictates a single wave of motion. Swinging the loose leather tip around in the air above his head, releasing harsh cracking currents of atmosphere, comes near the tiger’s ear.
I step forward one step; he backs away two.
The whip cracks in mid air; one, two, three times.
I jump to the first level. He cracks the heavens, and I jump, again. Again, and again, he repeats his signals.
I leap to the uppermost box and stand motionless. I wait on the platform. I am ready. His eyes and mine, never leave the solid line that connects one to the other. He knows I will stand there until he signals me, up, up.
He signals, not with the whip, but with the nod of his head. I rise to my full height, clawing the air to keep balance.
He is the director, the conductor, the leader. He is the master musician, the Ringmaster, who leads me around and around. I am the tiger that leaps and bounds, and watches, and listens, heeding his every wish.
The Ringmaster throws his whip-clutched fist towards the ground, the leather tip raising a cloud of dust into the air.
I jump down and fall in front of his feet. My legs stretch to meet his. He bends forward, reaching out to stroke my head. I lower in submission, sawdust scratching my belly. He strokes me.
The master. The beast.
I wait. I am still. The controller of my destinies, in the tone of his voice, as he coos me, and lulls me, and persuades me to move at his next command.
The Ringmaster turns and walks away.
I rise, without command, and walk along side his leg. I brush against it, warning of my power. Feeling my strength, he knows me with intimacy. Showing equality, side by side we walk together over thresholds.
Boundaries are set, as the lock on the cage door is opened. The Ringmaster enters. He closes the door. A chair is in the middle of the cage. His arms sag. He drops the whip at his feet. He sits to wait for sleep, closing his eyes, allowing his body to go slack.
I do not enter this cage, but walk to the far corner of the room. I will wait. We will sleep, the Ringmaster and I. Around and around in a dream we will pace, repeating our day’s refrain.