Chester Before Cheetos

What they don’t want you to know is that Chester is a white cheetah. When we met he was young but fully grown, and larger in size than all the other cheetahs on the plain. He was intelligent, and beautifully spoken. He didn’t strut and preen like the other males. He didn’t need to.

When he heard about the audition, he grew excited. We could afford to leave the plain, he said. We could live in a house.

He just assumed that was what I wanted.

They informed him that he would have to dye himself orange. No problem, he said, I’m not vain about my fur. He did it in the bathtub and when he emerged he must have seen my disappointment.

It’s to make me universally appealing, he said. They say white cheetahs are intimidating. We’re already a bit bigger.

And then the commercial aired. Why are you talking like that? I said.

He looked sheepish and answered, It’s just acting.

When I said nothing, he continued: They didn’t think I sounded like an authentic cheetah.

It’s a job, he said. It’s only for now.

But the years went on. In the beginning, I complained about the orange dye rubbing off on our towels and the seats of our chairs. Orange fingerprints edging every white dish. It splatters when he shakes after a bath so our walls are covered in sherbet-orange speckles.

Why can’t they just paint you for the commercials, I asked, some kind of makeup?

They want me to be recognized everywhere. He showed me his dazzling, expensive new smile. I couldn’t help it, he’s beautiful when he grins.

I bought an orange couch. I bought tawny dishes. I had furniture made from cherry wood.

Sometimes, now, I forget he was ever a white cheetah. I’ve grown accustomed to the ways he’s changed, the deepened voice and elongated vowels shouldering their way into his speech. I’ve come to like his Hollywood friends. We have an exciting life and a lovely home for our children.

He is still well-read; I still delight in the depth of our conversations.

The other day we were watching a programme about cheetahs on the savannah. We like to see if we recognize anyone. It made me think of those early days, when all we did is bask and eat, before we were surrounded by cubs.

That night we made love like in the old days. I felt everything I’d missed, his animal scent, his every paw and growl. When we finished he rose and stretched himself, claws flexing against the rug, haunches in the air. He sauntered down to fetch us both some water.

I rose and shook myself; I made to rearrange the sheets. When I pulled back the duvet I gasped: it looked like a massacre. Even when I realised what it was, I couldn’t release my gaze, panting at the smear of the sheets, the russet-tinted carnage. The orange, it was everywhere.

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