My neighbor bought a leopard. He bought it when it was eight days old. He said it tried to roar and sounded like a bird. He had to bottle-feed the leopard every few hours. It’s like having a baby, he said: getting up in the night, wrapping the little body in a blanket, and waiting for it to relax and become dead weight in your arms. I asked if I could pay the leopard a visit, sometime. He said there was too much risk I’d pass on a disease. It seems relevant to mention that we lived on the ninth floor of an apartment block. Our parking lot was a popular location for drug deals, and a body would occasionally be dumped in the alley that separated our building from the next. Real estate agents always claimed this part of town was ‘going places’. Going where, I wondered. They never gave us the specifics. I saw my neighbor almost every day in the months after he brought the leopard home. His beard grew out, and a faint, pissy smell wafted from his clothing. How’s the leopard? I’d ask. He’d answer in one word descriptions: restless, irritable. Once he said depressed, and I imagined the juvenile leopard sulking on my neighbor’s couch, watching re-runs in the dark. Then I didn’t see my neighbor anymore. It took me a while to notice. But once I did, I began to worry. I knocked on his door. I knocked for three days in a row, calling ‘Hello? Hello? Is anyone there?’ That third day, I saw a shadow pass in the gap between the door and the carpet, and heard a noise, muffled, a sort of wumph – like someone sliding their back down a wall and slumping on the floor. My neighbor had given me a spare key, in case of emergencies. The following day, I used it – I threw a raw steak into his hallway, and slid a bucket filled with water in after it. Then I slammed the door. I did the same thing the next day, and the next. And we went on like this. Because something kept taking my offerings, and something kept wumphing and shuffling and pacing in that apartment. Maybe I should have called the police. But I didn’t want to get my neighbor into trouble. Besides, I liked the idea of having a leopard next door – someone who stayed up nights, like me; someone else who knew they were in the wrong place but didn’t know how to get out.
During the summer of 2015, we held our second annual Flash Fiction Contest with Amy Hempel serving as judge. This story is one of Amy's winning selections.
Chloe Wilson is the author of two poetry collections, The Mermaid Problem and Not Fox Nor Axe. She won the 2014 Val Vallis Award for Unpublished Poetry and the 2015 Fish Publishing Flash Fiction Prize. She lives in Melbourne, Australia.