The Lions of Mexico, a short story by Thaddeus Howe
Sci-Fi/Fantasy: Short Story
Title: The Lions of Mexico
Author: Thaddeus Howze
Word count: 588 words
Manuel Rivera woke to the blue sky of Pacifico, Chihuahua, feeling old and just a bit tired. He could see the cloudless sky from his bed and was grateful for being able to open his eyes one more day. He kissed his crucifix, and thanked God for his blessing.
His wife Consuela was already up making breakfast. Her breakfast smelled good and he wondered how she managed to sneak out of bed without his noticing again. The late nights watching the garage were taking their toll. He was simply too old to be staying up past ten o’clock anymore.
Sitting up, he got up and shuffled to the cocina to see how breakfast was coming.
“Put some clothes on, Papa, and come eat breakfast.”
“Did it happen again?”
“Don’t worry about that right now. Eat breakfast, then worry about the garage.”
“I don’t know what to do, Mama. I was awake until eleven. I was sure they would not be back.”
“First things first. You can worry better on a full stomach. Clean up, breakfast will be ready in a few minutes.”
Manuel went back upstairs and washed up in the bathroom sink. They broke in again. What did they steal this time? It wasn’t like he had a lot. His little garage and storefront had some tools, auto products, snack foods, and assorted items that the neighborhood wanted when they did not want to go to the supermarket further in town. This little store had been part of his retirement plan, and until the young hoodlums started harassing the neighborhood, it was perfect.
Manuel liked being a fixture in the neighborhood. He got to see the children growing up and his son and daughter, while they lived in Pacifico, lived on the other side of town, just far away enough for him and Consuela to feel independent. He was going to solve this problem without his son’s help.
After eating breakfast he surveyed the damage. They climbed the fence into the yard and broke the door into the storefront. Once inside they stole some of his tools from the garage and food from the store. And they made such a mess. He spent the better part of an hour cleaning up before opening the garage and storefront for business. Angela arrived to help run the store while he worked in the garage on an old Chevrolet Impala that needed a tune up.
When customers waited, they would sit in the shade inside the garage and read old magazines his son would bring from the library where he worked. His customers appreciated having something to read while they waited. Manuel was not a slow worker. He knew his way around anything with wheels, but sometimes things take as long as they take. He never rushed, and they never hurried him.
When he was finished with the Impala, he looked over at the pile of magazines and saw an issue of National Geographic. Their feature was ‘Los Leones del Serengueti.’
“That’s what I need. If I had my own lion, no one would ever break in here again.” Then he had an idea.
“Mama, does Manuelito still have that ugly yellow dog with the long dirty fur?”
“Si, Papa, but I thought you hated that thing.”
“Is he still planning to get rid of it because their apartment is too small?”
“You know little Cielo loves the old thing and has managed to sweet-talk Manuelito into keeping it. I don’t know how much longer he will do it, though. He says the apartment smells like a zoo.”
* * *
“But Abuelo, why can’t he stay here with me?” Cielo was using her best little girl voice. She was determined to keep her dog with her. She did not think being a guard dog was a very dignified job. She was sitting on the edge of her bed with her arms around the neck of a large dirty looking terrier mix with dusty brown fur and mournful brown eyes.
Manuel shuffled uncomfortably. In her room with all of her little girl things, he felt like such an intruder. He was not happy with the situation because it felt a little bit dishonest, but he tried to think of it as a chance to benefit everyone. “Because a dog like him needs more space to move around.”
“Abuelo, he is very old, he barely moves at all. He stands around or sleeps almost all the time. He barely even barks.” Cielo was describing everything she thought would make him an undesirable guard dog.
“Just the same, I think your father was going to send him away. If we do this, you can come and visit him every weekend.”
“Okay, Abuelo, if he will be safe and happy with you. I will come and see you every weekend.”
Manuelito stood disapprovingly over this transaction, and Manuel looked sheepishly at his son. “I will take good care of him, mijo.”
“Papa, you’re scheming again. You know he is too old to make puppies or whatever plan you have up your sleeve.”
“When was the last time I had a scheme you didn’t approve of?”
“When you bought that garage.”
“And you see how well that turned out, right?”
* * *
“Did you get everything, Angela?”
“Si, Don Rivera, but why do you need shears and scissors?”
“We have a project. Put the garage door down. Turn on the fan and open the car door.” Out jumped Lupo, happy to be leaving the tiny car.
“He smells terrible.”
“I know, he will need a bath before we can make him beautiful. Let’s get to work.”
Lupo had never been effectively bathed before. He was relatively cooperative, likely because he was too old to put up much resistance. His fur was so tangled it took nearly an hour to comb out all of the matting on his belly and hip areas. Overall, he was quite disheveled, but after three washings and rinsings, he smelled much better, and after his hair had been cleaned and combed, it was surprisingly long.
Looking around the garage, Manuel found that copy of National Geographic and opened to the centerfold of a lion from a side view. Perfect.
Hair flew everywhere and Manuel achieved a state of mania as he cut and shaped the fur on Lupo’s neck and feet. Meanwhile, Angela shaved the back end close, and the more she shaved, the more she realized how closely Lupo’s coloring did match a lion’s.
Manuel clipped and cut around the mane and the feet and the tail of Lupo for another two hours. In another life, Manuel might have been a hair stylist, for when he was done, Lupo was transformed. He was a Mexican lion.
“Angela, put the sign up, just like we talked about, and then meet me in the car.”
Manual cleaned up the garage and papered the car windows so the back seat was invisible from the street. He ushered Lupo into the car and Lupo promptly lay down and went immediately to sleep.
As he closed the door, he hears his wife ask the question he was dreading. “Papa, why is the store closed?”
Recovering quickly, he closes the garage door and turns back to his wife. “Uh, we are closing up early. We are going to go and get our new Mexican lion.”
“A Mexican lion?”
“Yes, to watch the store. Once we get a Mexican lion, people won’t dare try to rob us anymore.”
“Papa, is this another one of your schemes?” Mama loved her husband, but at times he would tax the patience of Jesus himself.
Shaking her head, Mama went back into the house and started to make dinner. She heard the car putter off into the distance, and it was gone for about an hour. What was he talking about, Mexican lions? Does Mexico even have lions? When he came back, she was just about finished with dinner. She heard the garage door close and him getting out of the car.
She was finishing washing some salad greens when she heard the kitchen door open. “Papa, did you take Angela home? We have enough dinner for three tonight.” She turned to look at him and…
“Ay, Dios!” There was a lion in her kitchen, standing right next to her. She screamed, and Manuel came running into the kitchen.
He saw her back against the wall holding a frying pan. “No, Mama, he’s harmless. Scared you, though, didn’t he?”
* * *
The next morning, he got up early and brought Lupo into the house. When he went to the storefront, it was as he left it.
Lupo happily ate his breakfast before retiring into the living room to sit on his large soft pillow. He liked it much better than the cold ground at night. Several times people came to visit last night, but they seemed very disturbed by something. No matter. The food here is much better than with that little girl, and I get to see her as often as I can stand her. Now if only I could get some fur to grow on my rear end, life would be perfect.
Lupo served as the only living Mexican lion for several years. During that time, burglars refused to come back to Manuel’s garage, and when Manuel retired for the second time as a mechanic, he found he made even more money as a pet stylist for the well-to-do in Pacifico, Chichuahua.