When he learned the truth, he was surprised by how calm he felt.
Normal reactions would have ranged from explosive strings of expletives, to acts of spontaneous violence directed at the walls, the furniture or even the person from whom the truth was uttered. None of these were forthcoming from Stanley. And to be honest, the cool level of calm that descended over him surprised him.
She was expecting a reaction though: something, anything, to let her know that she had hurt him, and in the worst possible way. She wasn’t asking if he was all right because she actually cared. She wanted to watch her words twist knife like into his flesh and draw blood.
“Say something,” she said. “Tell me how you feel…”
But Stanley couldn’t tell her in words how he felt right then. Mere words couldn’t give life to the feeling of blue calm that descended over his mind, cloaking “reaction,” opening the real eyes of his mind to what stood before him.
“Are you mad?” she asked. Of course, it was goading. In her head, he was mad. He had to be mad. She had just opened a veritable can of worms and had thrown its contents wriggling and oozing into his face. Of course he just had to be mad.
Only he wasn’t mad. In fact, the news only confirmed the suspicions he held. Thus, he took the poison she offered, as Socrates took that fatal sip of hemlock, and surrendered more or less to the machinations of fate.
In response to her question, he said nothing. He pressed his lips together in a kind of grimace. And then, he turned around and walked away.
Stanley O’Shea stared morosely at the poster depicting his grinning head in the maw of the vicious (word used loosely here) lion named Brutus. The irony of being a lion tamer but not being able to “tame” his assistant sent a sliver of pain like a dagger through his heart. Stanley, though, was a man of action and couldn’t abide sitting around stewing on the ramifications.
Therefore, after allowing the tide of calm to facilitate in structuring a suitable response to the hurtful news, Stanley acted.
Five o’clock saw him preparing the meat for Brutus’s evening meal. It was a messy job, given the quantities of fresh meat that the massive cat devoured. And the meat had to be bleeding fresh, to suit the lion’s somewhat fussy palate. Further to this, the whole feeding ritual centred around having to enforce the golden rules of the lion / lion tamer relationship, namely that the tamer was the boss and that the lion had to accept the food that was proffered piecemeal rather than just thrown at him like a pet dog.
Feeding time was therefore laborious; and yet, a labour of love. Only, Stanley very rarely did the task alone, though this afternoon, the issue was kind of forced upon him.
Brutus didn’t seem to notice the absence of the assistant anyway. His relationship was with Stanley after all. It was Stanley who had raised Brutus from a wee cub to the great behemoth he was today and it would no doubt be Stanley who would say kind words over Brutus’s grave when eventually the poor creature passed on. It was a kinship that had seen through many years and many, many changes of auxiliary personnel.
It was well after seven o’clock when Stanley left Brutus to clean the crimson stains of his latest meal from his paws and jaws. The big boy, stomach filled, would soon plod off to his den to sleep.
There would be no sleep though for Stanley; only the coldness of his duty and his dedication to his lion. With the tired resignation of a man whose life was stuck in a well worn, but comfortable rut, he took a last glance at the silly poster, before tearing it off the wall, scrunching it up into a ball and tossing it into the waste bin.
Then he went to the portable refrigerator he kept in his trailer for a bottle of well deserved super-chilled lager. It was only when the door was opened and a waft of cold air slithered over his blood stained face and hands that he realised that he’d packed the beer behind the head chilling on a plate for Brutus’s next meal...