Thoughts

Scrap: Revisiting “The Lady, Or The Tiger?”

  • The suitor, not trusting his beloved’s judgment, opens the door & finds that it is empty.  The room that had held the tiger was not prepared in time for the trial; the gamesmen had been killed in the courtyard as a result of a faulty cage & one of them who had had too much to drink.  Later, the court finds the tiger in the courtyard, sated & asleep by it’s feast of men & horseflesh.  It is killed without much trouble.  The king’s chance-based justice system is declared faulty.  The philosophers of the court state that man can choose his fate, but outside forces will determine how that choice is executed, thereby undermining the idea of “fairness & parity” that had guided the king’s creation of such a system, since not all circumstances are created equal.  The king is humbled & is moved to grant the suitor his daughter’s hand.  He puts aside his trial by chance & embarks on a lifetime pursuit of creating the most humane & objective mode of justice.  Meanwhile, his prisons fill until there is a new justice system in place.  The princess & her suitor find no more enjoyment in their affair since it has been recognized.  Since the princess knew which fate was behind each door, she also knows that her beloved didn’t trust her & chose despite her wishes.  The couple marries despite their disillusionment & gives each other merry hell for the remainder of their lives.

  • The suitor opens the door to the right, having full faith in his beloved’s direction.  Out comes the perfect & desirable handmaiden & the marriage is performed forthwith.  Surprised & shocked that the princess would give him to her rival, he tries to understand what has prompted her decision.  At an unsupervised moment during the wedding feast, the suitor corners the princess & asks why she has done what she has done.  She kisses him one last time & tells him to recite all the reasons he loves her.  He responds, listing her angry temper, her equally quick way of forgiveness, a scar on her shin from a horse riding accident, her refusal to use gloves when hawking & the marks left by the animals.  He goes one & on, listing all the imperfections & nuances he knows her by.  When he stops, she smiles, small & cruel, & says, “I have ruined you for other women.  She is perfect.”  As the years pass, the former suitor finds this is true, that the woman he has married is a living doll, with flawless skin, a perfect figure that seems impervious to time, & the most amiable & flexible temperament.  (Many blame this on her Nordic heritage).  She causes her husband no conflict, no worry, & no interest.  He cannot stop comparing her to his first love, the princess, & hates her a little more with each passing day, a condition that is exacerbated when she is found to be barren.  The princess never acknowledges either of them ever again, taking no part in their limited joy or growing sorrow.  Instead, she takes advantage of her status as a princess to leave her country & live as she pleases on her country’s revenue.  She took her hawks with her when she left & they say she died stabbed to death by a gypsy lover.

  • As Jake reads the last words of the story, he closes the book and contemplates the field around him.  It is summer; the grass is dry and crackles as he lies on his back to look at the bruised stormy sky.  The clouds are dark, it looks like rain, but it rarely rains anymore.  He comes here, to what people once called a battlefield & preserved out of a sense of history & honor, & reads.  He found the books in a rotting cardboard box off the old highway, beside the other junk people had dumped there.  Mattresses, tires, plastic bags, wallets with useless plastic id cards & worthless money, broken pots, dead animals.  He thinks, The lady or the tiger.  What is a tiger?  He knows that it is a beast.  That it is ferocious enough to kill men.  That it is a monster.  But there are so many things that are dead in the world now, he cannot remember if he has ever seen a tiger.  He thinks back on the dead animals in the road: the bones, the half-eaten heads, scraps of fur.  He tries to imagine a tiger out of these pieces but isn’t satisfied with the result.  Does it have two legs or five?  A tail?  How tall is it?  He cannot know & he cannot ask without revealing that he has found books.  No one has books anymore.  Tucking the books back in the mouth of a decaying cannon, Jake leaves & starts the long walk back home.
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