Once upon a time, on the dusty plains of Africa, a lion chased a zebra.
"Come in to my mouth," urged the lion. "You can rest there. My teeth are like the rails of your childhood bed. Then, when you're ready, you can sleep in my stomach." The lion spoke gently, making all of this sound quite reasonable and appealing.
However, the zebra knew about lions and so she kept running as fast as she could. Even though the zebra was quick, and had marvelous hooves and strong legs, the lion kept gaining.
"I know what I will do," said the zebra. As dusk fell over them both, she used her black and white stripes to play a trick on the lion. She split herself, giving her black stripes to the night, and her white stripes to the stars. "Try to chase me now!" she cried.
The lion never missed a step, leaping up into the sky after the zebra, but, unable to see her in her split disguise, the lion leapt all the way to the moon, where he stood blinking and still hungry.
Now, lions are good climbers, but are better at getting up than getting down. "Won't someone help me!" the lion called, again and again. "I am just a poor kitty stuck in a tree." Close enough, thought the lion with a shrug.
Far below the lion, a Gypsy slept. The Gypsy dreamt that a lion was calling, calling for a song from his guitar. The light of a full moon woke the Gypsy, and he found that his dream was true; there really was a lion up there, calling for a song.
So the Gypsy began to play.
Como canta la zumaya,...
(How the owl sings,
ay, how it sings in the tree!
The moon crosses the sky
with a child by the hand.
Inside the forge the Gypsies
scream and weep.
The air is keeping watch.
The air is watching over her.)*
The Gypsy became caught up in his song, playing and singing with such emotion, that without thinking, he raised the neck of his guitar so high that the lion stepped out onto the strings and slid back down to the African plain.
"Thank you," said the lion. "I am so sorry to have interrupted your sleep. Come, rest in my mouth. My teeth will be like the wicker shades the Gypsy ladies make. Then, when you're ready, you can sleep in my stomach."
The Gypsy was feeling sleepy and the night still had hours to go, so he agreed, and climbed into the lion's mouth. After a while, the lion burped and spit out the guitar, which made a musical sound when it landed on the ground.
The lion's appetite was satisfied, but he didn't get off Scot free. After eating the Gypsy, the lion could never stay still for very long, and spent the rest of his life wandering the African plain, as his children still do to this day, chasing zebras and roaring at the moon as if they had been there, and remembered.
*the Gypsy's song is actually a section of "Ballad of The Moon, Moon" by Federico Garcia Lorca.
The top painting is The Sleeping Gypsy by Henry Rousseau. The bottom painting is Repast of The Lion also by Rousseau.
Written for Mag #209.