What is Nasha doing?
Nasha is eating the Maestro. She is eating him up.
Nasha eats his exceedingly ugly face. Nasha eats his tongue. She eats the inside of his mouth, his fat cheeks. Nasha eats his small, eroded teeth. Nasha eats his fat belly. She eats his well-tailored but shabby clothes. She eats his old shoes. Nasha eats his thighs. Nasha eats his brains, his mystical knowledge. She eats his fine, strong hands full of gesture and misdirection. Nasha has blood on her mouth, and on her tigress face. Because it is dark, the other men in the car can’t see anything. The men followed the Maestro and Nasha after the show and now they are in the boxcar and it is pitch, pitch black; nobody can see that on a train crossing the desert at night, a tigress eats a man.
Nasha eats the Maestro who turned her from a woman into a tiger. The other men hear Nasha’s knashing; they feel warm drops of blood hit their faces.
“I think something is going on here,” says the man called Doc Long.
“You don’t say,” says the man called Jack Packard.
The last man, the quiet Englishman, stays quiet.
Nasha eats. Nasha is hungry.
During their recent financial difficulties, Nasha did not eat much. She gave all of her food to the Maestro, to sustain his corpulence. Nasha did not mind. Nasha was from one of the countries on the far side of Russia. She could last three days on one piece of bread and a cup coffee. Nasha was proud of the fact that she did not have to eat much, it made her feel strong and superior to other women. But Nasha cooked for the Maestro, and thought she did not know how to cook very well, the Maestro ate everything she made. Despite their poverty, the Maestro swelled up fat like the fated pig.
Now Nasha eats the Maestro.
Nasha the tiger eats the meat from the bones of his fingers. She wraps her wide, flat tiger’s tongue around each digit and pulls the flesh off clean.
“I think that the tiger is eating the Maestro,” Doc says.
“Don’t be a jackass,” says Jack. “I am sure this is just part of their mysterious carnival trick.”
Reggie York, the quiet Englishman, who is so quiet one could almost forget him in the blind boxcar, says nothing as he wipes the blood from his glasses with his coat tail, and quietly feels his way towards the car door.
Nasha does not pay attention to the men. Nasha eats the maestro’s stringy guts. She eats his liver and his kidneys. She eats the thick muscle of his diaphragm. She does not eat his spleen or his large intestines, because they are foul. Reggie York pulls the handkerchief from his breast pocket and covers his mouth and nose to keep from getting sick at the maestro’s disemboweled smell.
“Jack, I think she really is eating the Maestro,” Doc says.
Jack fumbles for the matches in his pocket. “We’ll see about that,” he says.
“Jack, you mustn’t startle a feeding tigress,” whispers Reggie York through his hankie.
“What do you know about tigers?” Jack asks Reggie York, and lights a match. The effect is both greater and lesser than Jack hoped, but the men can see what is. The tigress that was a woman does not look up from eating. The floor is covered with the maestros’s offal; the walls are slick and slimy. Nasha’s giant paws have pulled the maestro in two.
As a woman, Nasha could never remember being a tigress, but she’d been told by people who’d seen her transformation that she was fearsome and glorious. She never remembered being a tigress and so she did not know–as a woman–what a tiger thinks of, or a tiger’s desire, or what the Maestro and the tigress did when they were alone. When the Maestro would recovered her from her transformations she felt as if she were coming out of an opiatic haze. For a moment she would have a foggy memory of a dream, but the memory would dissipate after her recovery, and she could never put words to it. The Maestro once told her that if he had too, he could kill her tiger self, would kill her, but this did not frighten Nasha. Nothing the Maestro said worried her. In her woman form, Nasha never worried; that was the only part of the tiger that carried over. It came the very first time, when she met the Maestro and he convinced her to let him try his transformation. Afterwards, she saw that she had lost her fear.
Almost as quickly as he lights it, Jack’s match goes out.
“That’s the end of the Maestro,” says Doc.
Reggie the Englishman quietly fingers the latch on the door. In the new, second era of darkness caused by the extinguishing of the match, Nasha hears for the first time in the car the sounds people make when they are talking, when they are moving about, when they are quietly fingering the door. Nasha has eaten the Maestro. She is covered in him, his blood and bits. She licks her paws and for the first time, she considers the other men she is trapped with on the train. She smells their anxious humanness, their small desires, so different from hers. Outside, a thin moon rises over the wilderness. What will Nasha do now? The train cuts through the desert like a riddle: Three other men, one tigress, one Maestro who can no longer reverse his trick.
Margaret Patton Chapman teaches writing at Indiana University South Bend and is fiction editor at decomP magazinE. Her fiction has been published in The Collagist, Diagram, Wigleaf and more. Her novella, Bell and Bargain, is forthcoming from Rose Metal Press in 2014. Find more at margaretpattonchapman.com.