I Am an Executioner: Love Stories

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9780307595928: I Am an Executioner: Love Stories
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An explosive, funny, wildly original fiction debut: nine stories about the power of love and the love of power, two urgent human desires that inevitably, and sometimes calamitously, intertwine.
In I Am an Executioner, Rajesh Parameswaran introduces us to a cast of heroes—and antiheroes—who spring from his riotous, singular imagination. From the lovesick tiger who narrates the unforgettable opener, “The Infamous Bengal Ming” (he mauls his zookeeper out of affection), to the ex-CompUSA employee who masquerades as a doctor; from a railroad manager in a turn-of-the-century Indian village, to an elephant writing her autobiography; from a woman whose Thanksgiving preparations put her husband to eternal rest, to the newlywed executioner of the title, these characters inhabit a marvelous region between desire and death, playfulness and violence. At once glittering and savage, daring and elegant, here are wholly unforgettable tales where reality loops in Borgesian twists and shines with cinematic exuberance, by an author who promises to dazzle the universe of American fiction.

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About the Author:

Rajesh Parameswaran’s stories have appeared in McSweeney’s, Granta, Zoetrope: All-Story, and Fiction. “The Strange Career of Dr. Raju Gopalarajan” was one of three stories for which McSweeney’s earned a National Magazine Award in 2007, and it was reprinted in The Best American Magazine Writing. He lives in New York City.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

THE INFAMOUS BENGAL MING

The one clear thing I can say
about Wednesday, the worst and most amazing day of my life, is this: it started out beautifully. I woke up with the summer dawn, when the sky goes indigo-gray, and the air's empty coolness begins to fill with a tacky, enveloping warmth. I could hear Saskia and Maharaj purring to each other at the far end of my compound. I'd had to listen to their cooing and screeching sex noises all night, but it didn't bother me. I didn't know why yet, but I realized: I was over it. Saskia could sleep with every tiger in the world but me, and I wouldn't mind.

I stretched and smacked my mouth and licked my lips, tasting the familiar odors of the day. Already, I somehow sensed that this morning would be different from all the other mornings of my life. On the far side of the wall, hippos mucked and splashed, and off in the distance the monkeys and birds who had been up since predawn darkness started their morning chorus in earnest, their caws and kee-kees and caroo- caroo-caroos echoing out over the breadth of our little kingdom. These were the same sounds I heard morning after morning, but this morning, it was all more beautiful than ever; yes, this morning was different. It took me a little while to puzzle out the reason, but once I did, it was unmistakable:

I was in love.

It wasn't with one of the tigers in my compound-no, I had exhausted the possibilities of our small society long ago, and other than Saskia, there hadn't been any new arrivals in years. In fact, the object of my love wasn't another tiger at all. I was in love with my keeper, Kitch.

I know it sounds strange. It kind of caught me by surprise, too, but there really wasn't any avoiding the conclusion.

And it was all the stranger because I had known Kitch for years. When I was a cub, he had been something like an assistant to my first keepers. He wore wire-frame glasses then, and he was skinny and nervous. It was amusing to see him struggle to keep a clear path between himself and the compound door, in case he needed to make a quick escape. It's true what they say about us: we can smell fear, and that's why I noticed him. I was nervous around people then, too, and his manner piqued my particular interest.

Over the years, other keepers came and went, tigers disappeared and new ones arrived, but Kitch was always there. He grew a moustache. His cheeks got round and his belly filled out. His hair went thinner and thinner every time he took off his cap. He shaved his moustache. He lost the wariness that I had once found so intriguing.

His manner changed, his appearance changed, but he was always the same sweet Kitch. And that Wednesday I had woken up and realized: Kitch. Kitch! I love Kitch. Realizing I loved Kitch was like realizing that a bone you have enjoyed chewing for months is actually the bone of your worst enemy. The bone hasn't changed, nor your enjoyment of it, but suddenly things are seen with a whole new perspective. Actually, that's a very negative example, but the point is this: I had just discovered a deep and endless love for the best friend I had ever had in my life.

I should probably clarify. This wasn't the sort of love like when you see a hot new cat and can't keep your claws off her. I didn't love Kitch like I had loved Saskia, not with the same, shall we say, roaring passion. This love wasn't as agitating.

This was a different love. Every morning, when the big metal doors opened in the fiberglass rock, and pound after pound of cow meat and fresh organs came slithering down the passageway, whose face was there in the dark distance, shovel in hand? Kitch's. When Maharaj growled and got restless and came looking for a fight, who was the first to hear his shrieky howls, to fire a water hose and scare him off me? Kitch. I was inexhaustibly interesting to him, and he was an inexhaustible curiosity and a comfort and joy to me.

I think I'd call that love.

And once I realized I loved Kitch, everything else in the world seemed to make so much perfect indescribable nonsensical sense. Saskia rejecting me; fiberglass walls; lonely, zoo-wandering old ladies; little children eating caramel corn; cockatoos and monkeys; and everything under the sun, so funny and strange, and I just loved it all. I had food and water and friends and Kitch. I really didn't need much more than this, did I?

It's a little embarrassing even to think back on it. That was Wednesday morning.

It didn't take long for things to take a turn for the worse. The first sign was when I walked to the fiberglass rock down which my food usually came slithering, leaving a trail of red, wet glisten. This morning I walked to the rock, looked up, and waited. Nothing came. I sniffed and I waited. I closed my eyes and opened them.

No food.

I waited some more. And I waited and I waited. I started to play a game: I would shut my eyes for a few moments at a time, and while my eyes were closed I would convince myself that as soon as I opened them, the food would be there. I kept them closed for longer periods each time, but the food never arrived.

Now I was very hungry, and when I'm hungry my head hurts. In fact, it pounds. I shut my eyes firmly and tried to sleep it away, but the sun was quickly becoming unbearably hot-this was the middle of August-and I didn't want to go in search of shade lest I miss the food when it finally came, and Maharaj, finished with his own meal but greedy still, would come and pilfer it.

So I lay down right there, under the sun, and tried to quiet the pounding in my head. By this time the people had started to arrive-not just a few early morning walkers, but thick hordes of people, huge summer-vacation swarms, three or four deep, five or six herds of summer campers alone, plus tourists and regulars.

Normally, I don't mind the people who visit the zoo. They have their business, I have mine. They come, watch for a few minutes, point and stare, talk about me, eat their ice creams, whatever, I don't care. But today there were so many of them, and they were so loud, and I was so hungry. My head was pounding and I was just trying to relax, to stay calm and wait for my food, but they kept talking; and some little kid started to scream, "Wake up! Wake up, tiger! Wake up!" And then a whole chorus of kids joined him. "Wake up, tiger! Wake up!"

I might have been able eventually to block them out and fall asleep, but right then I smelled Saskia, and that smell made me perk up. She was walking directly toward me, with that little sashay, that little walk of hers. I loved to contemplate the fluffy patch of white fur right beneath her tail, and the way her tail brushed over it lightly as she swayed from side to side to side. As I said, I was over her. I was totally fine with the idea of her together with Maharaj, fucking Maharaj. But that didn't mean I had to stop appreciating her walk, that didn't mean I was prohibited from inhaling a deep whiff of her gorgeous aroma as she ambled toward me.

I purred to her, very casually. Just a "Hello there, Saskia" kind of purr. I waited for her to return the greeting, but she didn't even look at me. She walked past me like I wasn't even there.

Now, this annoyed me. It's one thing for her to sleep with Maharaj. That's her business and her prerogative. But to ignore me like that, as if we were no one to each other-that was too much. I felt a little stupid for having let myself get carried away with admiring her walk and everything, and just to show her that she had put me out of sorts, I snarled. It was a small snarl, accompanied by a little swat of my paw: a warning swat. There was no way I could have made contact. But when she saw me lift my paw, she jumped around and roared so loudly that I swear to God I almost pissed right where I stood. All right, I actually did piss. Then she walked away as cool as could be.

I could hear the schoolkids laughing at me now, but I ignored them and curled around and lay down again. Then I heard a familiar noise in the bushes, and I started to get nervous because it was the sound of Maharaj. Maharaj is a massive beast of a cat. He has almost three times my bulk, so he makes a lot of noise when he moves. He must have heard Saskia's growl and was coming to check out the situation.

Maharaj took his time, moving real slow, hefting his huge body through the brush, and I could smell him now-it was definitely Maharaj, so the fear and the pressure were kind of building up inside me. I was debating: should I try to get away, and risk attracting his attention; or should I sit still and stay as quiet as possible and hope he'd ignore me?

I decided to make a move for it, but this turned out to be the wrong decision. As soon as I got up and started to walk, I heard Maharaj break into a run, and in three quick bounds-boom, boom, boom-his heavy body was on top of mine and his claws were in my back and his teeth were sunk deep into my ass.

I screamed and writhed, but he kept me pinned down for thirty seconds or a minute, during which time I heard him fart, casual, loud and stinky, as if to demonstrate how relaxed he was, how little effort it took him to keep me locked down and in pain. Finally, he released me, as calmly as you please. He got up and started to walk away. (He didn't even look at me-just like Saskia.) He paused in front of the metal door in the fiberglass rock where I usually got my food. He crouched down and sent out a fat stream of piss. That smell would stick to that rock for days, and he knew it.

At this point I was thinking: Kitch. I just want Kitch. I just want him to show up and salvage this day and restore it to its original promise. I want Kitch to bring me my food and wash my rock. I want Kitch to hang around for a few minutes and keep Maharaj away from me. I want to hear Kitch's voice flattering me and telling me what a good cat I was, and telling me what to do. Actually, it would have been fine if Kitch didn't do any of these things. He could have forgotten the food and said not a word to me, for all I ...

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