v i n c e n t    p o t u r i c a

My Friend Is Not a Leopard



I have this friend, and she is a bear. I think she is nice (or, at least, she wants to be nice), but she has a hard time accepting that she is a bear. For instance, she tells everyone that she is a leopard because leopards are much sexier than bears, according to my friend, and she believes that if she is sexy, she will hate herself less. In fact, if you don't call my friend Leopard or Lep (which strikes me as an especially unflattering nickname) or Sexy Cat (which also strikes me as unflattering for different reasons), she will, depending on who you are and what kind of mood she is in: 1) devour your left pinky finger, 2) devour your right pinky finger, 3) slash your throat with her claws and sip your blood from the slashed region with one of those long curling straws popularized by a certain Pizza Hut commercial that appeared before the VHS version of Land Before Time, or 4) jump up and down and shout I'm Lep I'm Lep before eating you slowly, beginning with your toes, in order to give you, at the approximate rate of one pound of flesh every seventeen minutes, the distinct pleasure of watching yourself cease to exist.


Nothingness begat Somethingness and Somethingness begat God and God begat atoms and atoms begat amoebas and amoebas begat blobby swimming things and blobby swimming things begat less blobby swimming things and less blobby swimming things begat dinosaurs and dinosaurs begat birds and birds begat bears and bears begat consciousness and consciousness begat fear and fear begat sadness and sadness begat Jesus and Jesus begat shame and shame begat fantasy and fantasy begat the Internet and the Internet begat more systematized fantasy and more systematized fantasy begat my friend's obstinate conviction that she is a leopard despite irrefutable evidence that she is bear.


My friend was born on a space station in the year 2347. Scientists engineered her creation. Apparently, after the Earth's demise, these scientists were attempting to populate a synthetic version of our lost world. The scientists wanted to build a world without hate, so they worked hard to model kindness. They told my friend everyday that she was special, that she was truly a remarkable bear. But my friend struggled to hear their generous affirmations and instead focused on the fact that, on occasion, the scientists gave her Gummy Bears as an after dinner snack, which struck her as unusually cruel, to feed a person a candy that resembled their corporeal form, a form she later denied she'd ever had. One day she ate the scientists and traveled back in time by means of a craft made with the help of extraterrestrials whom the scientists had paid a generous consulting fee. My friend returned to Earth in the year 1996 where she became the only member of my 5th grade class besides myself (I am also a bear) who could dunk on the eight-foot basketball hoops during recess. My friend, as a consequence of her being a bear, was, like me, rather large for a 5th grader (there were not many bears in our school district), and her impressive girth was filled with longing to be like the leopards in our class, those girls who were athletic and powerful while remaining slender, those girls who every boy wanted to French kiss even though none of them knew how. The leopards refused to invite my friend to drink milkshakes with them at McDonald's after school, so my friend became increasingly dejected. She dieted, but she continued to grow larger. A few months after her arrival, Michael Bogdonavich (a cocker spaniel) called her fat for the fiftieth or so morning in a row, and my friend snapped, so to speak: she tore off Michael's head. She then travelled back to the future before the police reached our school. She arrived at my door roughly two weeks ago, nearly twenty years after Michael Bogdonavich's death. She was dressed in leopard skin, which did not cover even three-quarters of her tremendous body (which is really quite beautiful, at least in my estimate). I made her tea and told her she could sleep on the futon in the guest room.


My husband who is also a bear has a goodhearted (though not very good-looking) friend who is single and also a bear. My husband invited this friend over for dinner (fried tilapia with mango salsa and lemon rice) last Friday. His friend told my friend that she was stunning, a veritable queen of the bears. My friend half-growled half-meowed then promptly devoured my husband's friend's left pinky finger down to the knuckle. My husband's friend praised my cooking (he especially liked the lemon rice) before he politely excused himself, with a napkin wrapped tightly around his bleeding paw.


My husband has another friend who is a leopard. His friend is handsome, but he is prone to self-pity, which makes him much less goodhearted. My husband invited this leopard over for dinner the night after his friend the bear had departed, without his pinky. My husband's friend told my friend (by now, she had tied the leopard skin around her neck as a sort of accessory scarf) that being a leopard was really not that great. For instance, there were the fleas, the leopard said, the fleas that would not stop nibbling. And then there was the business of rush-hour traffic after work, which he knew many folks had to deal with, but he was not many folks, and he was getting very tired of having to wait in traffic (he did not appreciate my suggestion to try listening to books-on-tape). It is not easy to be a sexy leopard in traffic, he said. He glared when he said this. And the idea that being sexy made you hate yourself less? Well, that just wasn't true at all. My husband's friend was quite sexy, but he hated himself plenty. In fact, just the other day he had contemplated swerving off into the current of cars on the opposite side of the freeway, allowing that onslaught of metal and glass to wash him away from this world, in a manner of speaking. Before this leopard (who, I must admit, was very sexy) finished his survey of the difficulties he struggled with despite his sexiness, my friend devoured his right pinky finger. My husband had to soothe his friend with several gin-and-tonics before the leopard stopped threatening to press charges. My friend shuffled to the futon where she remained, with the leopard skin over her eyes in an attempt, I assume, to hide her tears.


I invited Jesus over for a late lunch after church on Sunday. Jesus told my friend that He loved her unconditionally. My friend ignored Him at first. She was watching Land Before Time. Land Before Time had been, more or less, playing since my friend arrived. She said that watching the film or even just having the film playing as a sort of background muzak provided her relief, that its pre-digital simplicity and rawness along with its nostalgia, made her worry less about her lack of sexiness. Jesus told my friend, again, that He loved her. My friend asked Jesus if He thought she was a Sexy Cat. Jesus said he didn't think of her in those terms, he thought of her as family, as part of the holy family of which we are all members. My friend became angry. She slashed Jesus's throat. She sucked his blood with the straw she had made to resemble the one from the Pizza Hut commercial that played before Land Before Time. Jesus watched Land Before Time with extraordinary patience while my friend sucked at the slashed region of his neck with her very long straw. When my friend grew bored of sucking Jesus' blood, she covered her eyes with the leopard skin. I apologized to Jesus for my friend's behavior. He told me not to worry. He kissed both my cheeks before he left. He told my friend He loved her, again.


Since my friend's arrival two weeks ago, I have been having the same dream. In this dream, I am walking with my friend in a prehistoric landscape that resembles that of Land Before Time. My friend and I are silent. The farther we walk, the older the world becomes. The dinosaurs around us devolve into swimming blobs. The swimming blobs devolve into amoebas. The amoebas devolve into the face of God. The face of God (which is shining too much to see clearly) devolves into a blankness that is not shining. My friend asks this blankness (she calls it Nothingness) why it became Somethingness, then God, then atoms, etc., why didn't It just stay Nothingness, why create all this life, most of which isn't sexy in the slightest? This blankness doesn't respond. My friend begins shouting: I hate you Nothingness, I hate you, I hate you. The blankness remains silent. Then we are back in 5th grade. My friend is dunking on the eight-foot basketball hoops, and everyone is cheering every time my friend dunks. I am cheering. Michael Bogdonavich is cheering. All of the leopards are cheering. We are clapping our hands and shouting Woo Hoo. My friend stops dunking and asks us, with tears in her eyes, to stop calling her ugly.


Three scientists, after travelling back in time from before the moment they were murdered by my friend, knocked on my front door yesterday morning around eleven. My husband was at work (I work part-time at home from my computer). The scientists were very polite. They called me Ma'am. They asked me if my friend was with me. I told them Yes. They nodded politely to my friend who was watching Land Before Time, with the leopard skin now wrapped over her head like a babushka. They said How's our favorite bear doing? My friend was not happy. She jumped up and down and shouted I'm Lep I'm Lep. She knocked the scientists unconscious with her powerful paws. She tied them up with bungee cords from our garage. I pleaded with her not to hurt them, but she threatened to stop being friends with me if I didn't shut up. She began eating the first scientist (a thin mountain goat with kind eyes), beginning with his hooves. I left the house. When I returned from running errands (grocery shopping, an appointment with my allergist), my friend had just begun eating the second scientist (an elderly raccoon).


The same three scientists knocked on my front door today at eleven. My friend is eating them, again, right now. She is eating them even more slowly than she did yesterday. She is no longer wearing the leopard skin around her neck. In fact, she threw it in the compost pit in our backyard last night. I ask her what she hopes to accomplish by eating these poor scientists. She tells me between bites that she knows that she will never be sexy, but she hopes that, by eating her creators, if she's lucky, she will disappear.



VINCENT POTURICA's writing has recently appeared or is forthcoming in The Balitmore Review, Birkensnake, Columbia Poetry Review, DIAGRAM, and New Ohio Review. He lives with his wife in Long Beach, CA.

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