Morning. The sun through my east-facing apartment window shines brightly against my still-closed eyelids. The heat is enough to make me throw off my single sheet, reveling bare-skinned in the warmth, soaking up the radiant energy. Although I live in Chicago now, my skin still responds to the heat, reminded of my native desert. Deliberately not opening my eyes, I travel back in my memories, the old ones of bright-colored tents spread under baking sun, hot canvas against my hide, sand against the pads of my feet.
My present appearance is that of a girl recently done with childhood, a dark skinned slim figure, short by modern standards. When I originally assumed this form, I appeared unremarkable, was considered not especially attractive, save by those who preferred skinny, boyish girls. Now, most men think me exotic-my present lover calls me ‘cat-like’. I wonder how he would respond to my previous,respond to my previous, original form. An order of magnitude in difference, but certainly still ‘cat-like’. More often lately, I am tempted.
Whether creature borne of a mother like myself, or a sport created by the gods, or some great wizard I do not know, and at my earliest memory, there were none who could tell me. I lived in the tents of a desert chieftain, companion and bodyguard to his children. When they were tiny, they rode upon my back, as they grew, they braided my hair with ribbons, fed me meat scraps from their hands, and later confided in me their secrets. My claws protected them from attack by wild animals, bandit raids, and punishment of wrathful servants alike. As they grew, I remained ageless.
I was given as dowry for the older daughter, when she married a prince in one of the river kingdoms. In her old age, as a powerful queen, she ordered made the likeness of me that sits there today. It is a fair image of me then: Body of a lioness, with the head and breasts of a woman. I protected her against all her enemies save the poisoner who finally slew her.
When she was gone, I remained a property of the court, and as none of her heirs survived, fewer and fewer of the new dynasty took the time to converse with me, as few knew her original tribal language, they assumed that I had no more to say than my stone twin. When a kingdom across the sea demanded tribute, I was sent there, along with other exotic animals. I rebelled against my captors, killed their king, and fled into the hills. I became a local legend, stealing livestock from passing drovers, or beasts of burden from travelers. If my stomach was full, I might stop travelers and question them for news. Another legend rose out of those interrogations.
In the passage of time, a wizard who was both a scholar and alchemist sought me out, thinking I might know ancient secrets. In payment for my answers, he fashioned for me the necklace I wear now, the one that allows me to assume this human form. His apprentice was my first lover. I accompanied them back out of the hills and began my life among men. He later took service with an Italian prince, and I once again lived in the court, now seemingly a young serving girl.
The violence of that period all too soon took the lives of both of them, the last who knew my origins, and I made sure none knew of my great age. I kept the necklace on always; save when surprised by the roving thieves, bandits or pillaging armies; none who saw my claws in those times lived to report them.
I accompanied a succession of men, none too royal or too famous, but all able to keep me in a comfortable fashion; above the common herd. I am not fertile with humans, and many left me for being barren, or I fled when my youth became too conspicuous. Witches were routinely burned or stoned in those times, and I did not want that fate. I listened to traveler’s tales, hoping for word of others like me, but in each story I heard only accounts of my likeness, or the Persian sculptures. Wings? The rise of the new religion in my homeland closed it to travelers, and soon only the riddle and the statute were known in my European home. When the new world opened, I accompanied another young husband to New Spain. No other sphinx there, either.
With the present era, in this land, a woman can own property, and thanks to earnings from safe, long-term investments, I am no longer dependent on others. I have gently teased my presengently teased my present lover about ‘keeping’ him.
Speaking of which, the sound of his electric razor intrudes on my reverie. He will be finished with his morning ablutions and return to the bedroom soon. I review the point of consideration. How would he respond if I took the necklace off? I imagine his expression as I sit in the classic pose: eyes facing him, chin level: with a slight smile. Breasts perked upwards above my front paws, haunches squared beneath me, tawny, tuft-ended tail curled around to one side, twitching.
I finger the necklace. He would be surprised certainly, but would he scream and try to run, or perhaps, return to my bed?