They watch a National Geo special one evening late in 2001, and one of the images Callahan will never forget is a leopard attacking a quiet chimp as it sits on the grass, its back to the camera, telephoto lens filming over the great cat’s shoulder. The Leopard stalks slowly toward the chimp as it picks peacefully at something on the ground. Then the great cat tears across the grass, leaps to bite the motionless chimp on the neck—one swift bite—and the chimp falls sideways, dead.
“My god,” Callahan says.
His wife says nothing but he notices her at the end of the show digging through her stack of National Geographics, and later, when he walks into the bedroom and pulls down the blankets, he sees it there, the issue she had found: The Leopard! Striding toward the camera, full body shot, its head turned slightly to its left, eyes scanning, the tip of its pink tongue on view.
“Yaaii!” Callahan shouts, and his wife, who has had her back to him and has been pretending to sleep, rolls over and laughs. He laughs too. He falls to the bed, holding the issue, and they both stare closely at the powerful cat, marveling that a thing so beautiful would be so swift to kill.
The next night as she fixes dinner, she opens a cabinet in search of seasonings to find … The Leopard! The issue has been placed there quietly, discreetly amid the rows and columns of spice. She lets out a small scream and from the living room, reading a book, a can of Miller before him, Callahan laughs.
Then she steps silently into the room, holding the issue of National Geographic to her face. She walks slowly, slowly toward him, bending down to put The Leopard near his neck. It blurs.
A night later his wife says to him as he prepares for bed, “I heard a leopard about, earlier.”
“Yes,” she says. “I heard it moving through the grass, just before I came to bed. In fact, I’m quite sure I heard it all through the evening, lurking about.”
Callahan smiles. He slips away to find it. He looks in the living room along the cushions of the couch and on every chair. He gets on the floor and looks along the carpet, too. Beneath the couch. In the hallway closet. Beneath the dining table. He opens every cabinet in the kitchen and looks all over the guest room, too, but still he can’t find The Leopard. Twenty minutes later he stands in his bedroom doorway, mouth parted, panting slightly. “I can’t find it. I can’t find it anywhere.”
“My,” she says, half asleep. “I was certain you would have found it by now. Well, good night.”
Defeated, he goes to the kitchen for a beer, the very last beer in a half-case of Miller, every can of which he has drunk by himself the past couple of days. It’s a stressful time, the end of the term looming. And there beneath the carton, as he lifts it to pull the last can out, he finds The Leopard!
His wife is sleeping; there’s no point in screaming, no audience to appreciate his play. He returns the magazine to its stack and sits in the chair where his wife had stalked him the evening before. He reaches up to turn out the light and sits there while his eyes adjust, the streetlight hitting his living room curtains just enough to allow him to see the outlines of the furniture, the flower arrangement by the TV, the carpet on the hard wood floor, all shades of gray. Then finally Callahan hears his wife’s sleeping breath. It slips down the hallway, glides above the furnace grate, passes through the doorways, filling his small house with its calming sound.