And now, Scary-Crayon presents...
The Lion That Wore Glasses
by: Wes

Lions don't wear glasses, but this one did.

My son noticed it first. He laughed and cried, "Four eyes!"

I instinctively responded. "Son, I've told you before -- don't call your sister 'four eyes'!"

But then I remembered that my daughter was on a camping trip with the school that weekend, so I revised my statement: "Son, that's not a very nice way to refer to your sister, even if she isn't here."

Then I looked down and saw that he was pointing at the caged lions to our right, so I said, "Son, it's not polite to point!"

Finally, noting that lions aren't people and probably don't care whether the zoo's patrons point at them or not, I gave up lecturing the boy and turned my eyes towards the animals in the cage.

That's when I noticed that one of the two male lions within the enclosure was wearing a pair of oversized eyeglasses. It was a handsome pair of spectacles, actually -- wide lenses supported by a saddle bridge, the thick black rims resting on his tawny muzzle, and long, curved temples that wrapped around his head and disappeared into his mane before reemerging from the shock of dark hair to curl around his ears.

I didn't know how to respond to my son regarding this observation, so I turned to the man standing next to me. He was wearing a tweed jacket and glasses of his own, and from his furrowed brow and twisted mouth I imagined that he had taken in the same unusual sight that I had seen just moments ago -- and, like myself, was trying to make sense of it.

"Say," I said, "do you see that? That lion is wearing glasses."

"So he is," the man said, a smile crossing his lips. I waited for further comment from him -- after he smiled, his thin lips parted as if he meant to say more -- but he merely moistened them with the tip of his tongue, closed his mouth, and continued to stare at the scene in silence.

"It's rather strange, isn't it?" I offered, hoping that the man would take my cue and give voice to the thought that he had just declined to share. "I mean, why do you suppose the lion is wearing glasses?"

The man straightened at once and whirled to face me, his eyes narrowed, his temples throbbing, his cheeks red, and his shoulders shaking with apparent rage at my interruption of his pseudo-religious apprehension of the marvel of the bespectacled lion. "Why indeed!" he shouted at me. "Have you never -- ever -- in your insignificant, pea-brained specter of a sphere of rational ideation, considered that a lion might wear glasses for the same reasons that human beings do?!?"

My response was immediate. "Actually, I hadn't. For one thing, lions have exceptional eyesight -- at least, that's what I've always been told -- and therefore wouldn't require glasses to improve upon it! Furthermore, lions lack the craftsmanship and skill to actually fashion a pair of eyeglasses, let alone put them on."

By the time I had finished voicing this protest, the man was already roughly thirty feet away and heading in the direction of the Primate House. Apparently he'd heard, however, for he yelled back, "And yet lions regularly take down gazelles at fifty miles per hour -- I'd like to see you do that barehanded!" He was lost to the company of the apes before I had a chance to reply.

I turned back to the lions. There were five of them in the cage -- three females and two males, one of whom, as I've said, wore eyeglasses. For a moment I shifted my attention from the most interesting member of the group to focus on his companions. I watched the lionesses intently -- would they shun the bespectacled lion, thinking him a nerd, and exclusively devote their affections to the other? Or would they, like me, find the glasses to be especially captivating and pursue the lion whose accessory endowed him with the brainier appearance? And if the other male were to come into possession of, say, a monocle, would that have any effect on the lionesses' decision?

But perhaps the lionesses could care less about the eyepieces of their mates. At least while I watched, they seemed to show no particular preference towards one male or the other -- mostly they just lolled about on the grass of their terrain and occasionally looked up at the people standing outside their cage. At one point, one moved forward to drink from the moat that surrounded their island habitat. It wasn't just that they didn't choose between the males -- they didn't even seem to acknowledge that the males were there at all.

I found myself thinking, Could they be lesbians? but then countered with, Perhaps -- after all, homosexuality has been documented in animal species -- but what a silly notion, man! You're thinking entirely too much about these lions.

"That may be true," I said aloud, "but the fact remains that one of the lions in that enclosure is wearing a pair of eyeglasses -- and, in the presence of so unusual a spectacle, an excess of thinking is both warranted and appropriate."

My son said, "Are you talking to me, Daddy?"

"No, son," I said. "Daddy's just thinking about something."

''Where did the lion get the glasses?''

I continued to do so. Where did the lion get the glasses? I found myself surprised that this hadn't occurred to me sooner; it now seemed to me that this thought, by rights, should have immediately followed the initial observation. But the response that my mind supplied at once -- and the attendant images, rendered in greyscale with splashes of arterial red -- lent the once merely curious sight a touch of underlying horror.

I envisioned some poor innocent -- an adventurous child, or a childlike, mentally handicapped adult -- escaping from his guardians and approaching the bars of the lions' cage, delightedly viewing the animals within through bespectacled eyes and desiring to stand among them, petting their pretty manes the way he stroked the fur of his auntie's seven cats and the plush kittens in the Animal Alley at Toys 'R' Us. I saw his determined hands grip the bars and rise, one after the other, again and again, as he deftly scaled the side of the cage. I saw him slide over the top of the enclosure; I saw him fall through the air in slow motion and land in the still water with a splash; I saw him surge forward through the water by means of the front crawl technique -- both unusual and admirable because, until he beheld those beautiful cats on their distant island, the adventurer had instinctively avoided water for fear of drowning. But now, swimming like a pro, he braved the waters until he reached the rocky shore. Once there, he rose from the water and stalked towards the animals elated, his wet clothes clinging to his thin body, his hair slicked back and shining in the moonlight -- for although zoos typically close their doors to the public before the onset of evening, I can only imagine such a scene taking place at night. I saw him smile, filled with wonder and love, and extend his arms to receive the five lions.

The lions saw him, too, and began to stalk forward -- but where his eyes seemed to sparkle with affection, theirs darkened with hunger. Had we seen him on that fateful night, this glittering figure with outstretched arms would have called to mind stained-glass representations of Jesus Christ: endlessly loving, endlessly forgiving, filled with light and life and yet willing to die for our sins. "Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life," said the Son of Man, "and I will raise him up at the last day." The lions' perception of the scene was not entirely dissimilar, though they know nothing of immortality or the Last Judgment.

He cried out as they fell upon him. The stillness of the night -- first disturbed by the shallow grunts of the climber, again broken by the gentle splashing of the swimmer, then silent once more -- was violently torn asunder as the lions ripped our screaming Savior to pieces. Blood sprayed in every direction; a lioness retreated with a still flailing arm held fast in her jaws. Despite the lions' station in the animal kingdom, there was no majesty about the slaughter. The way they carried on, tearing and gnashing and gorging on the unfortunate's flesh with ravenous abandon, they might have been starving coyotes. They might have been wolverines.

I looked at them presently: The three lazy females on the grass; the two males perched on the rocks above -- with our bespectacled friend occupying the highest position in this visual hierarchy. Friend? I thought. I should call him a monster, devouring that poor simpleton in gruesome fashion and plucking the glasses from his half-eaten face -- probably so the beast could more effectively slurp his frightened, lifeless eyes from their sockets. The setting sun gave the water a slight red tint -- I imagined that this was blood.

At the bottom of that moat lie the remains of a human being, killed by creatures he might have loved and left to rot in a watery grave -- that is, if any meat remains for rotting. I did the math. According to the placard outside their cage, an adult lion typically consumes 15-25 pounds of flesh a day. Taking into account that the weight of the human skeleton is roughly 18% of the total body weight, estimating the weight of the average adult at 170 pounds -- I had referred to the victim as "he", but for all I knew a woman might have fallen prey to the beasts -- and allowing for overeating on the part of the lions, I surmised that five lions could very well have cleaned the carcass of the average person. The corpse of a small child would have been little more than a midnight snack.

Horrible, I thought, and yet I sense no guilt on the faces of the lions -- no more than one witnesses on the faces of churchgoers after they take communion. On the contrary, the lions seem relaxed -- sated -- contented -- at peace. Perhaps that was the victim's intention after all?

Jesus said, "Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven."

The innocent descended into their midst from the height of their world -- he swam through the cleansing waters to reach them. Perhaps, I thought, he came to feed them and give them life. Perhaps he left them his glasses so that they might see.

I looked away from the cage. In the distance, I saw a man slowly approaching -- his arms outstretched -- a pair of glasses on his face. Could he be the specter of the lions' Savior, coming to calm my troubled mind: to tell me that yes, he suffered, but to put an end to suffering -- and that, now, everything would be okay?

No. His tweed jacket came into focus. The man from before had returned from his sojourn in the Primate House.

"You should see," he said, "the things those apes will do for bananas!"

The man joined us at the bars, and I explained my recent ideas concerning the source of the lion's eyeglasses. When I finished, he nodded sagely, smiled, and said, "Christ's head must have been awfully large, no?"

When I didn't understand, he pointed at the cage. "Those glasses, you see, appear to have been specifically tailored for the lion -- note their size. So unless this young man was sporting a huge head, which would support your theory that he might have been mentally handicapped -- or even somehow divine, if his oversized noggin were indicative of a godlike intellect -- I think it is highly unlikely that the glasses were a gift from some noble individual who now rests, partially or entirely devoured, at the bottom of the moat."

I looked again -- yes -- the man was right. And I had noticed their size before. Why had that fact escaped me when I constructed this vivid scenario of love and death and sacrifice? I suddenly felt as if, like the lions, I were trapped on my own island, surrounded on all sides by unusual questions whose answers eluded me.

"C'mon, Daddy!" My son tugged at my sleeve -- apparently he wanted to catch one more exhibit before the zoo closed for the day.

"Hold on, son," I said. I reached down, withdrew my camera from the pouch at my hip, and surveyed the scene one last time through the lens. Five lions. Three lionesses reclining on the grass; one lion on a rock bed, staring off into the distance; and, at the height of the rocks, his royal highness -- the lion that wore glasses -- who now appeared to be staring directly at me. I zoomed in on his bespectacled face and depressed the capture button.

As the flash went off, I realized too late that I'd forgotten to disable it. The photo would come out fine -- the flash has virtually no effect when shooting outdoors -- but the sudden burst of light had the unintended effect of startling the beasts. The lionesses batted the air with their paws; the other male lion whirled to face me; the intelligent king let out a mighty roar that left my son bawling and clutching at my pants leg. As I smoothed his hair with one hand, I quickly switched off my camera with the other and replaced it in the pouch.

"Well," I said to the man in the tweed jacket, "enjoy the rest of your day at the zoo." He nodded but did not take his eyes off the cage.

As I turned back towards my son, my eyes passed the scene within one final time -- and now I saw that the lower male was padding around the grassy floor with the females, pawing the ground and turning his head this way and that with narrowed eyes and an almost frantic expression.

"Hey," I said to the man on the right as I took my son's hand and gave it a reassuring squeeze, "what do you suppose he's doing?"

The man faced me and smiled. "I imagine," he said, "that he's searching for his contact lenses."

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