|Joel Amos Obadiah|
Everyone was impatient and aware of the size of the world. I helped move all their tables and couches and beds into my living room and bedroom and kitchen and onto my back porch. After carrying everything in we would lay in the yard, breaking sticks into smaller sticks and trying to remember what we used to talk about. People came over one or two at a time, bringing beer and cigarettes and chicken sandwiches and telling me their plans. I smoked with them, ate with them, fell asleep in the backyard with them, could not think of much to say to them. I would wake up by myself a few hours later, brush the grass and leaves off my back, and not hear from anyone for weeks, until I started to get boring postcards from Boston, Belize, Thailand, whatever.
I spent a lot of time in the backyard. I liked to sit on the steps eating tacos and watching birds splash against the tiny pond, and I liked laying in the grass and trying to throw pinecones onto the roof. One afternoon I was out there lining up peat pots in the driveway. I'd been sprouting seeds in a windowsill and thought they might be ready to live outside in the real dirt. The sun was hot and I was barefoot and could barely stand to be on the sidewalk. It had been raining a lot though, and everything was green. After digging some holes I went inside to get the seedlings, and when I came back out there was a lion standing in the middle of the yard. He was looking right at me and I stared at him for a while before deciding not to be scared. We both stood in the sun, staring at each other without moving, and I started to sweat. Every once in a while a breeze would blow and his mane would sort of float around his face and then fall back down.
After a long time of standing and staring and sweating, I realized my hands were shaking and I backed into the house to get something to drink. I drank a few glasses of water and washed my face off and then went back to the yard. The lion was lapping water out of the pond, and he wasn't the only lion anymore. Some were drinking out of the pond with him and some were just standing in the yard, looking at me. I counted nine females and four new males. There were no cubs. For the rest of that afternoon and into the evening I sat on the steps just watching them. The males layed in the sun with their eyes closed or almost closed while the females paced the yard, never coming very close to me, but often stopping to stare. Sometimes one of them would get a drink from the pond or let out a yawn that made me excited and terrified of what a roar would be like, but mostly they just paced and napped.
When the sun started to go down and their eyes started to glow I was no longer brave enough to be out there with them. The streetlight in the alley had stopped working a few weeks ago, so it was dark except for the moon and the lions' eyes and the fireflies. I tried to think of a reason to spend the night at someone else's house, but no one who would have let me was in town anymore, so I slept on a couch in my living room, where there was no window looking into the backyard.
The next morning I went to the back porch and looked out the window. The lions were laying around lazily, except for one female that was pacing the edge of the yard in slow circles. I made a cup of coffee and went to sit on the steps. As I opened the door and went outside, a few rolled their heads to look at me, but they seemed less interested in staring at me than they had been the night before. One lioness climbed the tree next to the fence and stretched out on the lowest limb, with her tail and two of her legs dangling. While I drank my coffee I got a text message from a friend saying that she was going to be in town for the afternoon, and asking if she could come get some books I had borrowed. I told her to come to my house when she got to town, and I stayed on the steps watching the lions and sometimes smashing ants that crawled too close to me.
I loved to look at all the lions' colors. I couldn't understand what color their manes were: in the shade they were brown and even black, but in the sun they were gold and orange and seemed like they could have come from the ocean, where things are allowed to be any color at all. Most of them had white beards and white muzzles, and their black lips against that white made them look like they were smirking, like they were smarter than me and they knew it.
About an hour later I heard a car door slam in the front driveway and a few of the lions turned their heads toward the sound but one of them looked right at me. I went inside to let my friend in. When I opened the door she hugged me apologetically and started to explain that she was on her way to Portland and that she was sorry for coming over, but I made her come inside. She looked around at all the couches like she wasn't sure if she was allowed to sit on any of them, and I said we should go sit out in the yard. When I opened the door she sort of gasped and grabbed at my arm, but she sat down on the step next to me. The lions were all staring at her and I could tell she was nervous but I knew they would get used to her before long.
After a while they all went back to pacing or sleeping and she quietly asked if I had touched them yet. This was the first time anyone had said anything in the backyard since the lions had come, but they didn't seem to mind our voices. I told her they hadn't gotten close enough, and she said she really wanted to touch one. I didn't know if it was a good idea, but I wanted to touch them too. Whenever one of the lionesses would get close to us in her pacing, we would glance at each other excitedly and after a few minutes, we started giggling in anticipation every time she approached.
Finally, when her path had taken her to the opposite side of the yard, I looked at my friend and we stood up together and took a few steps into the yard. Several of the lions that were sleeping lifted their heads to look at us. The lioness continued following her route and my friend grabbed my hand. As the lioness padded towards us we squeezed our hands tighter and I clenched my teeth and dug my toes into the dirt. She was coming right at us and she was looking at us and I closed my eyes. I opened my eyes a second later and she had turned the corner right in front of us, following her path. We reached out our hands to touch her flank and as she brushed against our fingers she was fast and strong and sleek, but coarser and warmer than I would've guessed. My friend and I looked at each other amazed and ecstatic and I laughed and all the lions looked at us. When the lioness made her way back to us we touched her for longer this time, and she flicked her tail at us.
This went on for quite a while - the lion walking in circles, us reaching out to touch her, stroking her almost reverently. Eventually my friend said she had probably better leave. We went inside and she looked sort of sad but still excited. She said she would call me when she got to Portland, but that I should call her before then if anything happened with the lions. She hugged me and left without remembering the books she had come to get.
I started spending most of my time in the backyard and I eventually approached and touched each of the lions. I waited until last to touch the big male who had been the first to show up. After a while they didn't mind at all when I was out there with them, either ignored me or nuzzled their giant heads against my back and swatted their tails at me. Eventually I was scratching between their ears and resting my head on their warm bellies when I took naps. Another of my friends stopped by one afternoon and was surprised when he wandered into the backyard, but after the initial period of everyone staring at each other, he was able to come lay down against the same lion as me and he talked about what he'd been doing in Budapest until the sun went down and the lion's breathing made us fall asleep.
Sometimes I wondered why the neighbors weren't more upset about the lions. When I would be laying back there with them, and someone would walk down the alley with their dogs, the dogs would get nervous and their owner would pretend to be so busy with the dogs that he couldn't talk to me, or the kids next door would yell at me to throw their lost balls back instead of climbing over the fence like they used to, but other than that no one seemed to be very interested in the lions. Just a few months before, when people had been in the backyard dancing and yelling and jumping on and off the roof, the neighbors were always getting upset and making me talk to the police. This never happened with the lions though, even when there would be a lot of growling and snarling when they wrestled each other. No one even said anything when the lions started a bonfire in the middle of the yard one night and sat in a circle around it, the males occasionally letting a low roar go up with the smoke, and the females bobbing their heads and twitching their tails approvingly.
One weekend someone told me he had run out of money in Chicago and wanted to stay at my house for a few days. I said that was fine although I didn't know what we would do while he was here. He came the next day and brought his girlfriend. She refused to go in the backyard with the lions there, but he loved them. We stood in the shade admiring the lions, and we spent a few hours sitting on the branches of a tree with one of the lionesses.
On the morning they were going to leave, we had climbed the tree and he was telling me his idea for an elaborate retaurant he wanted to open when his girlfriend came outside for the first time all week, with a matte board and a brush and some paint. The lions were watching her suspiciously and I wondered whether that was my paint or hers. Looking intently at one of the lions, she unscrewed some paint caps and started smearing colors. The lion she was looking at stood up and growled at her. Her face changed but she kept painting. Now several lions were snarling, and we jumped out of the tree and ran over to her, grabbing the paints and hurrying her inside. The lions were still growling and even roaring a little as we piled their things into the car and went to eat a tense lunch before they drove back to Chicago.
It was quiet back there for a few days, until I noticed that the lions were building something. In one corner of the yard they had created a statue of a man made of gold, silver, and brass, with feet of iron and clay. I recognized it as the statue from Nebuchadnezzar's dream in the Old Testament. I wanted to look at it, but when I started to get close there was a lot of growling so I went back inside. When I came out again the next morning, they had torn the statue down and broken it, and pieces of it were scattered across the yard. The seemed very proud. That night I was sitting in the yard with them when one of them licked my face, which had never happened before. It was the first lion, my favorite one, and his tongue was unbelievably rough, scratched me almost to bleeding, but I knew it had been affectionate.
A few nights later when I looked into the backyard I realized the lions were acting out the events of the book of Revelation. I sat down to watch as one lion descended from heaven, carrying seven seals. The seals were broken and the lions created earthquakes and sent great plagues and locusts across the earth. Seven lions sang seven woes and seven more lions sang seven glories. A lion rose out of the sea, and another one - a lioness - rode on his back. As the blood of martyred lions seeped into the alley, the lions assembled into two armies and prepared to make war on each other until a pit opened up in the middle of the yard and sealed itself again after half the lions fell in, allowing the remaining lions to put on white robes and ascend into the night.
For a while I waited for them to come back from the sky or dig themselves up out of the ground. I wanted to tell them what a good job they had done, how real it had all seemed. I slept on the couch on the back porch so I would hear them when they got back. The next day I sat in the yard waiting for them, but it was too hot, I couldn't stand to be in the sun all afternoon. When it cooled off a little in the evening, I went out and looked at the claw marks they had left on the trees, I felt where heavy feet had left paw prints all over the yard, and I found clumps of mane that had torn off in the bushes. I sat down on the steps and stared into the yard and ran the strings of mane through my fingers until it was too dark for me to feel comfortable out there by myself.