Grandpa called her Tiger and would take her on his knee and whisper tales of splendour and beauty, of the camouflage of long grass, the silence of stalking, of strength and resilience.
Grandpa called her Tiger and when they went to the lido, he distracted her from curious stares by showing her how tigers swam and they glided together through the water, heads just above the surface paws pedalling furiously below.
One day Grandpa took her to a museum. They stood before her namesake as lightening flared and rain sliced the sky, and the tiger’s tail coiled around the grasses, anchoring him there. Grandpa called her Tiger and said, “See he’s just like you.”
When the boys at school ambushed, called her freak and pulled her tails she turned on them and pounced, tearing their flesh with her claws and roaring, roaring, roaring. Grandpa summoned called her Tiger and told the Head her nature was to fight, and they wouldn’t apologise for that.
Grandpa called her Tiger as he stroked salve across her striped skin and soothed her tears with sympathy and love. Grandpa told her the stripes were beautiful, that they made her a tiger, and that’s why he calls her Tiger.
One day she visited a parlour, and the artist, covered in stripes of his own making, stung a tiger on her smooth calf and now she has stripes all over, everywhere. Later, much later, the tattooist caressed the striated scars – the melted skin, ridged and tender – across her face, her chest, her back and she described the searing heat, the gagging smoke, the burned burger scent that made her mouth water, the endless, boundless agony, and he kissed her and, like Grandpa, called her Tiger.
Maria Thomas is a middle-aged, apple-shaped mum of two. She has work in various publications and was shortlisted in the 2022 Oxford Flash Fiction competition and a finalist in the London Independent Story Prize (LISP) 2022. Maria won Retreat West’s April 2022 Micro competition, was a runner up in their AMOK themed quarterly flash comp, and took second place in Propelling Pencil 2022. She can be found on Twitter as @AppleWriter
Photo – Joshua Lee
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