Because he was a man and not a lion, the cuckold wanted the same thing they all wanted, which is to say: a simple thing, a thing he would not name except by its contradictions.
Vixen the Vainglorious did not expect to be outfoxed when she met the cuckold. He was a gentleman. He told bad jokes and gargled before he kissed. He had his briefs ironed and talked about the weather when he was uncomfortable. He was supposed to be the memory of a good man that would protect her, later. He was not supposed to be the cautionary tale.
He was polite in bed. She would never be able to figure out whether he didn’t know what to do, or if he didn’t want to do it. The first time they kissed, she sat in his lap and took his glasses off and saw him for what he was. Her empathy disarmed her. He had grown old without learning how to let himself be loved.
She treaded delicately in the company of other people’s secrets, because she never kept her own.
“He smells like an old man,” she would wail to the Ragfish, later. “The hair on his head smells like coconut oil and the hair on his chest smells like talcum powder. And now these things are mnemonics to me.”
And the Ragfish would roll her lidless eyes. “Oh, chill pill, honey. There will be other ex-boyfriends.”
Because she had no eyelids, Ragfish the Reformed was incapable of flicking her lashes at the elephant in the room. Instead, she stared at it openly and served it slices of sour green mangoes with chili powder.
Sometimes, she clucked her tongue. “You lusted after the satyr, you love the cuckold, and now you have to live with yourself.”
Sometimes, she cackled. “If you ask me, it was the perfect paradigm. Sugar for your sweet tooth and castor oil for your soul.”
And sometimes she would crack her knuckles and sigh with something that shimmered like mercy but wasn’t. “You were right. You were perfect for each other. Maybe the next time you see Love, you tortured creatures, grab it by the horns.”
“That man,” the Vixen rued bitterly, “wouldn’t know perfection if it bit him on the nipple. Which, believe me, it has.”
And then she would close her eyes, because she could.
Ragfish the Reformed had still had her pelvic fins when the Vixen met her. This was before she had reformed, when she still gyrated like a washing machine full of dirty laundry, before she settled down to a life of judgment and insurance.
“For an invertebrate, you have an awful lot of skeletons in your closet,” the Vixen observed once.
“The more you have, the less you care,” retorted the Ragfish. But the Vixen knew, even then, that she was lying.
When she first met the satyr, Vixen the Vainglorious thought he was like Rochegrosse’s chevalier basking in the meadow of maidens. Beautiful as absolution and so utterly self-absorbed that even the reflection on his armor recorded no visage but his own.
“So of course you had to have him.” The Ragfish laughed. “That’s terribly unoriginal.”
“Oh it took a little more contemplation than that.”
“I’m sure... Spare me the sordid philosophy. And then you met the cuckold.”
“And he was a cuckold long before I met him.” Vixen the Vainglorious paused to light a cigarillo. “There was a great tradition of cuckolding the cuckold. Apparently all his lady friends did it. The last one among them did it in his own nest, leaving him for one of his own flock.”
“Flock? I never liked that collective.”
“A murmuration of snarling starlings. A pandemonium of perchless parakeets. I know - a murder. A murder of crows.”
“I have had six significant love affairs in my twenty-six and a half years,” sighed Vixen the Vainglorious. “And among them all, the cuckold was the worst. Nobody does damage like the damaged.”
“Uh huh,” drawled Ragfish the Reformed, pursing her fat mouth. “Well, I don’t know how many people I’ve fucked. Don’t remember most, either.”
“Well, if I may misquote Lacan, what does it matter how many lovers you’ve had if you didn’t enjoy sleeping with any of them?”
“Touché.” The Ragfish narrowed her permanent gaze. “Have you considered how both satyrs and cuckolds are cornuted?”
The Vixen laughed, because she hadn’t. “So am I, in a manner of speaking.”
“You were looking for a lion. It’s not your fault you wandered into a glass menagerie.”
After he left her, there was no place left to go but to the other one. “You don’t know this, but sometimes I watch you when you sleep,” the satyr whispered into her wet ear, tenderly, and the vainglorious one thought only and immediately of Picasso’s minotaur leaning over an oblivious woman in her slumber, his buttocks taut and his eyes closed, balanced on his knees and fists so as to keep his weight off her. Breathing on her dreams.
She was suddenly cold. “I have to go,” she said. “I have lost my bearings in this labyrinth.”
Because the satyr would not drive her there, she walked down to the beach to find the Ragfish. They lingered on the shore and watched a weak moon spider its way up a gun-metal sky.
“The horns on his head did not fit the holes in mine,” wept the Vixen.
“There, there,” said the Ragfish, cradling the vanquished Vixen, and as the dark gave way to day and the day gave way to dark, she kept saying it, as though she held a compass that revealed a clear way forward. “There, there.”
Vixen the Vainglorious stayed still in saltwater for a long time after. Heart like a lighthouse, cutting across the darkness for something equally without safe harbor.