The Panther

by Tess Jolly

You remember the panther pacing from one end of the enclosure to the other, loose skin draped over her shoulder-blades, hip-bones raw, exposed, and the day-tripping crowds gathered first wondrous, then pitying, then helplessly traipsing away. It’s true there’s always a choice you say as you order another black coffee, your flamingo legs folded beneath you, the trick of your stick-insect arms, fingers so thin now they slip though the silver hoops of your rings, but when you opened the cage in your mind to set the panther free what else did she know how to do but walk night after night across the damp forest floor like a patient down a hospital corridor, or dark lines inked on a white page?