Wendy’s Tiger was first printed in Good Housekeeping after winning the magazine’s annual short story competition. The copyright is held by Jenefer Heap.
by Jenefer Heap
Wendy Kelly had a Tiger. A real one, not a toy or a moth-eaten old rug. Nor did it have a cute name, it had a proper foreign sort of name, with a ‘Boora’ and a ‘Chicroo’ in the middle, not that Wendy had ever seen it written down. Wendy’s Tiger spent quite a lot of time in her garage, in case of visitors. Of course, when they were alone, the Tiger had the run of the house. Wendy sometimes worried that the Tiger got lonely in the garage, but knew that he appreciated the reason behind it. If he was spotted, somebody would be bound to call the RSPCA – or the police. After all, not everybody would understand about a Tiger living in a semi in Muswell Hill.
The Tiger just turned up one evening. It was a warm August night and Wendy had left the French windows open. She went into the kitchen to make a sandwich and when she came back, there was the Tiger, lying in the doorway, half in the garden and half in the lounge. Wendy’s first instinct was to run back into the kitchen, shutting the door behind her, but something in the Tiger’s manner made her stop and think. He looked so relaxed and content and not at all hungry, and she noticed that he was looking at the television. The Tiger was watching an old Carry On film and smiling to himself. He hadn’t even noticed Wendy, so she edged her way back into the lounge and sat down quietly on the sofa.
As she started to eat her sandwich, Wendy felt the Tiger look up at her. Nervously she held out her plate to offer the other half, but the Tiger didn’t want it. He didn’t say ‘No thank you’ or shake his beautiful head, but he let Wendy know just the same. And he was such a Wonderful Tiger. Wendy could only gaze and gaze, half in fear and half in admiration. The Tiger paid no attention, he just lay there watching the old film and smiling to himself. Gradually, Wendy’s fear faded, and she began to smile too. When the film finished, Wendy asked “Did you enjoy that, Tiger?” and the Tiger seemed to answer yes.
In the weeks that followed, Wendy discovered that the Tiger was very fond of films, with a particular liking for vintage British comedy. He seemed to prefer Black and White to Technicolour, and Wendy agreed that, Yes, she also found Black and White films more atmospheric and, No they certainly didn’t make them like that anymore. As the summer slipped away and the nights became cooler the Tiger would allow Wendy to curl up against him, and his fur was softer than the softest, plumpest cushions and warmer than the warmest, thickest blankets.
Wendy never fed the Tiger in the house. Every evening, as soon as it was dark, the Tiger went out of the French windows and stayed out for an hour or so, always returning before bedtime. When he went out, he looked hungry – when he came back, he did not. Wendy never asked where the Tiger went, because she didn’t want to know. She wanted the Tiger to stay with her forever. As there hadn’t been a spate of grisly murders or mysterious disappearances from the neighbourhood, Wendy assumed that the Tiger went further afield on his evening excursions.
Autumn was Wendy’s favorite time of year, all the more so now that it reminded her so much of her new friend – not that the splendor of the turning leaves could match the Tiger’s glorious coat. Wendy often wished that she could take the Tiger for a walk, perhaps to Highgate, or on Hampstead Heath. Not on a lead, you understand, she would never try to tame the Tiger, but it would have been nice just to walk side by side, like friends out for a stroll, and to admire the season together. Wendy would have liked to be able to compare the autumn leaves to the Tiger’s coat. Perhaps the Tiger would become kittenish and chase the leaves – he sometimes played games with Wendy, but those were more like wrestling games than chasing games, although the Tiger was careful not to be too rough and always kept his claws velveted. Still, Wendy knew that they couldn’t really go for a walk together. After all, not everybody would understand about a Tiger living in a semi in Muswell Hill.
Some evenings, Wendy went out with the people from the office. She didn’t have many friends, finding it hard to mix because she was rather shy, but, if a group of people were going out after work, she would often tag along. Wendy was happier in a group, nobody expected too much of her and she could sit and listen to their conversation. She liked to listen because they had such interesting things to say, whereas everything she said sounded silly or dull. Lately, she had wondered what the others would say if they knew about her new friend. But she couldn’t tell them – they’d say she was going nuts or, that she’d had too much to drink. After the outings, Wendy would go home and tell the Tiger about the evening: about the pub or restaurant or bowling alley she had been to, who had been there and what had been said. Once the group went to the cinema, but the Tiger was not pleased to hear about that. He seemed jealous and hurt that Wendy had gone to see a film without him, so she never went again. Instead, she rented DVDs and they watched them together.
It wasn’t really a hardship to say nothing about the Tiger. Wendy was naturally rather quiet and, although the people at work spoke to her quite a lot, they didn’t really listen. But things began to change on the day that the new salesman arrived. His name was Alan and he took a real shine to Wendy. Although he was handsome and older and much more self assured, he asked her to help him find his way around. Wendy was happy to help; she had become more confident since the Tiger came to stay, although she’d hardly noticed it herself. So Alan took Wendy out to lunch that first week and she told him all about the office and the people – and how it really wasn’t so bad once you got used to it. And on the way home that evening, Wendy realised that she had done all the talking and it had been Alan who had listened. Wendy told the Tiger all about it and the Tiger purred with approval as she stroked his ears.
One evening, Wendy invited Alan home to dinner. She’d discussed this with the Tiger who had agreed to be out of the house as soon as it was dark and not to return to the house until Alan had gone home – Wendy would open the French windows as a signal. If the Tiger felt cold, he would wait in the garage. Dinner went very well; Wendy was a good cook and had chosen a simple but tasty pasta dish for the main course with apple crumble for dessert. Then they settled down in the lounge and Wendy asked Alan if he would like to watch a film. But Alan was only interested in modern films with car chases and stars like Arnold Schwarzenegger or Sylvester Stallone, although he did say that Wendy’s collection of Ealing comedies was ‘Sweet’. So they listened to a CD instead and cuddled up on the sofa, and Wendy soon found that they could have a very interesting evening without watching a film at all.
It was with a strange mixture of desire and self-concious embarrassment that Wendy allowed herself to be seduced. It wasn’t very successful, but Alan told her not to worry, as it often wasn’t the first time. Lying on the sofa, Wendy wished she was a smoker, the occasion seemed to call for that – and it would give her something to do with her hands. To preserve some dignity, she got dressed and went out to the kitchen to make coffee. She thought that it was strange, although they should be closer than ever, how distant and uncomfortable she had begun to feel.
When Wendy walked back into the lounge, Alan was standing by the French window, dressed and looking very handsome and safe again. He started towards her to help with the cups.
“It’s alright, I can manage.” Wendy said brightly, not wanting him too close again too soon.
He turned back to the window, saying something about the room being stuffy, and, before Wendy could stop him, Alan had opened the doors to the garden.
“No!” Wendy called out, “False alarm!” But the Tiger was already in the doorway. Alan’s face went very white and he backed away against the wall, his mouth opening and shutting although no noise came out.
The Tiger and Wendy looked at each other, and the Tiger seemed to say that he was sorry, but he thought he’d seen the signal.
“It’s alright,” said Wendy, sadly, “It isn’t your fault, I know.” But what, she thought, am I to do about it now?
The Tiger sat in the doorway as he had on that first night. Wendy knew that she would have to decide between the two of them. She could either have Alan, or the Tiger; she couldn’t keep them both. If it had been an imaginary or a toy tiger, it would have been all right; Alan might even have thought it ‘Sweet’. But it was a Real Tiger; that was the problem and the beauty of it. A Real Tiger who had been her friend for months now. She couldn’t expect Alan to keep quiet about something like that. Either Wendy must tell the Tiger to go, or lose Alan forever. He would never understand about a Tiger living in a semi in Muswell Hill.
Wendy’s thoughts spun round in circles. She saw herself in a few years time, in a beautiful detached house, the front garden swept and tended with tubs of flowers and honeysuckle growing on a trellis by the door. Her handsome husband walking up the path promptly at six o’clock as she was putting the final touches to his supper. The hall full of adorable, adoring children waiting for Daddy, jostling to show him their drawings from playschool or their glowing Maths reports. And Wendy herself, content in her lovely home with her lovely family and Alan so admiring and devoted to her. He had always been so respectful, and attentive – except for just now, on the sofa of course.
Then she thought of the long winter evenings watching films with the Tiger, her face buried in the thick silky fur, chuckling as Kenneth Williams struggled in Matron’s clutches, or Alec Guinness ‘Fell to earth in Berkley Square’. Wendy looked from Alan to the Tiger and from the Tiger to Alan and she gave a big sigh.
“It’s alright, Alan, I’ll take care of this.” Wendy spoke with a voice of new authority. “I’ll explain it all tomorrow. Just promise me that you won’t talk to anyone about it till then.” She led him gently past the Tiger who lay sadly, but obediently, with his head on his paws. “Just tell me that you trust me, and that you won’t say a word to anyone until I explain it all to you tomorrow.”
Alan nodded nervously, and Wendy helped him on with his coat and saw him to the front door.
The Tiger was waiting when Wendy came back into the room. “I had to do that, Tiger, he was so frightened,” she said, “and, besides, people from the office knew that he was coming here tonight. It’s about a twenty minute walk to the station. You’ve just got time.” The Tiger got up off the floor and shook his beautiful coat; turned and smiled at Wendy, then stretched his muscles ready for the chase.
After the Tiger had gone, Wendy sorted through her DVDs, arranging them in alphabetical order as she selected a special favorite. They would watch it together when the Tiger got home. There would be quite an upset at work tomorrow; no doubt the police would be involved. But nobody would suspect Wendy. As she’d seen Alan off at the door, Mrs Granger from down the road has called goodnight and stayed chatting as he walked off. Mrs Granger had watched him go as Wendy told her all about her handsome new boyfriend, who worked in sales. Wendy had an alibi. And, besides, nobody would ever guess what had happened to Alan. After all, nobody would believe there was a Tiger living in a semi in Muswell Hill.