The man at the door wanted to paint my face. Five bucks. He was homeless and hungry. He could buy a burger. Or a salad, if today made him hopeful and he wanted to live longer.
Kind people like you, he said. What to be? A lion? A cat? A mouse?
Tiger, I said.
He rolled his wagon in. The wheels squeaked. It was dusty with rain spots. Next to the paints a fedora with feather, bedroll, water jug.
I sat in my favorite chair by the window. My only chair. Now I lived alone, wife gone with son.
Very good light, he said. He was so delicate my hair tingled. It tickled, and I suppressed giggles. He hummed a tune and said it was the brave tiger song; did I ever hear of it? He sang it to his son. But now his son was a grown man and he didn’t know where he went. He thought he was with the tigers, brave in the face of something.
I know where my son is, I said. Sometimes I see him.
I didn’t tell him I didn’t believe. Why would god leave me so alone?
When he was done he pulled a cracked hand mirror from the wagon and said, Have a look. He told me to growl. I said, Grrrr…I was the real thing, alright. I scrunched my nose and bared my little eye teeth. We hummed the brave tiger song.
I shook his hand and gave him a ten. I watched him pull the wagon down the street. I waved.
I went to the upstairs hallway to look in the big mirror. I smiled. I pictured my ex standing over my shoulder shaking her head. Still such a child, she would say. Grow up now. From there I went to the mirror in my bedroom, tilted the lamp this way and that. And then I went to the dusty mirror in the basement, the one with my son’s baby fingerprints I could never clean. This one scared me; the fear and emptiness. I tried to smile it away. I did that for an hour.
Later I decided to go out. I was thinking about a salad from Wendy’s. I drove around first, showing strangers my face. They waved and laughed but I thought I looked fierce in the rearview. I growled at the Wendy’s drive-thru girl and she giggled. I told her it wasn’t funny. I was proud and to be feared. I ordered the salad with raspberry vinaigrette.
As I waited I scanned my territory. I saw the wagon by the dumpster, He was on his back next to it. I drove over there. Someone, or maybe a gang, had painted him like an absurd clown and bloodied his nose and mouth. His hair was smeared with red paint. He groaned. I helped him into the car. I got the wagon into the trunk. I went back through the drive-thru and ordered a Frosty. I hissed at the girl when she asked if I still wanted my salad.
Back at my house I dabbed his wounds with napkins, spooned the chocolate cold goodness into his mouth. We sang to our sons and watched the moon.
Afterwards he painted me as a mouse and himself as a cat. I crept around my big empty house and waited for him to pounce.
Gary Moshimer has stories in Pank, Frigg, Smokelong Quarterly, Necessary Fiction, and many other places.