After falling asleep in the corner of the tent, Farah woke to find stars above her instead of navy polyester. The Line had become a procession of campfires, each burning up into purple smoke that hung in a violet haze over everything. Gautam was not beside Farah. Instead, Deepti twitched in her slumber and breathed in smoke. Farah put her hands on her mother’s shoulders and shook her has viciously as she could, but her mother would not wake. She only breathed.
Farah began to breathe then, too, and the smoke tasted like jasmine. It was rich and light and it crept into everyone as they slept beneath slouched palm trees. Instead of shops and restaurants, the trees lined the walk way, trying to tuck everyone away from the stars, without realizing that the stars were hiding on the undersides of their leaves. Farah walked.
Farah walked because at the end of the line, she saw the gleam of the silver-topped pillbox. It rose up like a moon peering over the horizon, and the campfires made tiny swirled reflections of red in its surface. Farah walked to see what her face would like like in the silver, in the dark.
When she felt the small hairs on the back of her neck stand up, Farah turned to see a tiger peering at her from behind one of the thick-trunked trees.
“Gautam,” she whispered, then breathed in more smoke. There was a chiming like a tiara around the inside of her skull. She smiled at her beloved. At first she had been frightened of his large nose, his bright yellow eyes, but then she smiled, for this was her beloved.
Once they reached the end of the line together, Gautam pressed his nose to the mirror and it fell back into a lake that sprouted green weeds at its edge. He found the boat first and sat down in it, nearly filling it with his orange and black and the energy of his low, low growl.
Farah looked right into his eyes while she tried to dig her toes into the mud on shore. But he growled again. He called her toward him – low, low – nestled deep into the boat so only his eyes were above the edge.
She stepped out onto the bow, feeling the humid night wrap around her nude body and tongue the sweat off her skin. When she looked back toward the line, she saw the lights of the campfires slip up into the wide darkness above her and Gautam. There were clusters of stars spread out across everything she knew. They lit up the lake, stuttering over the calm, steady ripples that broke on shore.
She slipped onto Gautam easily. She straddled him so that only the tips of her big toes could touch and hold her balance. His fur pushed up against her: silky, firm, luxurious, strong with the rhythm of the boat as the woman and the tiger struggled to find balance in the shallow water. But they couldn’t and she slid over the edge into deep water, still with the feeling of him stroking her, still between her legs, buzzing and brushing. Even though she couldn’t breathe, she wouldn’t try to swim. She let the silvery water pull her down and pour into her and as she drowned, she climaxed, she awoke.
The tent disoriented Farah. She felt wet and warm between her legs, woke up flushed, and it didn’t make sense to hear Gautam’s scraping snore. She hadn’t touched him once in over six months. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d felt attracted to him without fear, or how their private love had ever been easy in the first place. She couldn’t remember what kind of passion would lead to an accidental daughter. But what she could remember were the nights she’d forced herself to go through with it, and how long she had to sit in the cool of the bathtub to calm down. She would walk out of the tiled room with the morning birdsong drifting in through the open window.
She shook her head to chase off the dream, to shake off the memories, but everything still hummed behind her ears, soft and low like a growl.