At night the tigers pace. In the hall outside the little boy’s bedroom, they pace like patient, vengeful angels. They are pale green, like luna moths; their eyes are lambent milky jade. They are cold and silent; when he has to go to the bathroom at night, the tigers stare at him with their pale pale eyes, and sometimes they open their mouths, as if they were roaring, but they make no sound. Their breath is like the aftertaste of brandy and the cold sting of snow. They never come near enough to touch. He wants the tigers to like him, but he is afraid they don’t. They brush against the walls with a distant shushing noise, and even in his room he can feel the soft, relentless percussion of their padding feet. The moonlight shining through the hall windows streams right through them.
No one else can see the tigers.
The house is always cold. His desire for warmth causes his father to brand him a sissy-boy, a weakling. At night he hugs himself, because no one else will, and dreams of escaping this loveless house, these cold tigers.
Years later, his father dies. He goes back because he must, leaving behind lover, friends, work, passion—his adult life like a treasure, locked in a chest for safekeeping. The house is unchanged, his mother petrified in her harsh condemnation of the world and its inchoate yearning for love. She puts him in his old room at the top of the house, as if he had never left at all.
That night, he hears the tigers, the patient rhythm of their feet marking off the seconds until Doomsday. “You aren’t real,” he whispers to them, lying stiff and cold, afraid to close his eyes because then he might be able to hear them more clearly. But the tigers, unheeding, continue pacing until dawn.