The Hyenas

It was one thing to see the iconic animated hyenas of The Lion King. There was something approachable and friendly about the notion of Whoopi Goldberg voicing a “sassy” hyena. Shenzi. And her doltish supporting duo, Ed and Banzai (which is strange to note was voiced by Cheech Marin in retrospect). With the simultaneous benefit and curse of hindsight, it said something that Shenzi was the ringleader; it seemed to unwittingly impart the knowledge onto children that female spotted hyenas reign supreme over their dominion. But Desmond never thought about that until later, always liked Ed best, the clear stoner of the group–the one who was content to just be lazy and exist as a free spirit. What he used to be before Olivia.

Seeing these hyenas in the flesh now, all he could envision was women. Most especially his own girlfriend, trying to oppress him and prevent his freedom. Even from afar, while he was meant to be enjoying this trip to Kenya that his father had so generously decided to include him on so as to have a companion for his fiftieth birthday. Already prone to vanity and bouts of denial with acknowledging middle-age, Lucian was not about to go it alone when his “special day” arrived on June the eighteenth. And with Desmond being the only son with a loose schedule (he was yet another freelance graphic designer in the endless pool drowning New York), he insisted upon treating him to a safari. When he told Olivia this, she was automatically beside herself, much to his disgust. She had grown accustomed to the sight of his face each day, turning over every morning to see him, relying upon him to buy certain essential groceries before she came home from work. This had been their routine for two years–thus, for him to suddenly declare he was taking a vacation without her felt like an unwarranted blow to all the obsequiousness she had so diligently employed thus far. What had she done to drive him away? was the thought running through her mind when he told her that the trip was going to be for most of the summer, from the beginning of June to the end of August. After all, there’s no point in traveling so far if you’re only going to do it for what amounts to a blip. But then, isn’t everything a blip, even a relationship that scars you for far long after it happened in comparison to the amount of time you were actually in it?

It took Olivia all the strength she had not to allow her pallid skin tone to become flushed with the redness of rage at Desmond’s quickness to leave her behind without so much as at least pretending to half-heartedly offer the suggestion that she ought to come as well. She wouldn’t have taken him up on it, that’s why it hurt even worse that he didn’t bother to at least faux exhort her to join.

And after she suppressed her immediate reaction of anger by finishing her glass of Sangiovese, she smiled at him sweetly and said, “That’s great, I hope you and your dad have a wonderful time.” Desmond was well-aware her tone was dripping with venom, it always seemed to be, especially of late. But he ignored the pitch. That damned pitch that was becoming so dull to his auditory senses that he couldn’t even process it past his cochlea anymore. June was only a month away, and he would finally be free of all this constant stiflement. This tiptoeing around to avoid the landmine of her perpetually hurt feelings. He didn’t know how to avert some minor explosion anymore. Maybe that’s why he felt like he was drowning all the time–from being so metaphorically limbless.

The following morning, he managed to sneak out of the house early, before having to deal with the awkward conversation about the activities he would engage in on his journey–the thought of sitting there politely chewing his cereal while she feigned supportiveness was too much for him to withstand after having already endured her plastered smile of a reaction last night.

So he was off, knowing full well he would pay the consequences for “abandoning” her later. He was so tired of always being the villain, always somehow being in the wrong no matter how docile he found himself becoming–a far cry from the person who had basically dry humped her against a wall the first moment they met. No, now she was the one with the pseudopenis. Just like a female spotted hyena, its elongated clitoris extending to give the same appearance as any average male appendage. In fact, he got so bored at work that day he found himself tacking on a penis to an image of her in his blank Photoshop file. She looked good with it. Raunchily poised. His boss probably didn’t think so as he approached from behind in that timely way that only people in managerial positions seem to be able to intuit. “Interesting work, Desmond. Is that for the Bacardi campaign?”

Desmond tittered. “I’m just doing an avant-garde warm-up.”

Eric arched his brow. “Not a bad looking girl. Maybe don’t ruin her look with that anti-gender binary trend.” With that, Eric turned and walked away, leaving a pungent old white man scent in his wake. Desmond sprayed some air freshener in the space of his cubicle and then left to take his lunch break.

Checking his phone as he sat in Bryant Park eating an Asian-Mexican fusion taco, Desmond shuddered at the sight of three new texts from Olivia. He already knew what they were going to amount to–the accusation that he was acting weird and shouldn’t have left without saying goodbye, especially since they had so little time left together before his departure. What a co-dependent little annoyance, he found himself muttering. What was he in this relationship for if it was only serving as an added source of anxiety in his already fraught day-to-day existence? He strained his mind to attempt remembering a moment when he didn’t look at Olivia with anything other than silent contempt. The only thing he could think of was the first Valentine’s Day they shared together, when she had been endearing enough to actually buy lingerie for the occasion. He found the act sweet in its retro 60s sort of way–as though she had read a vintage “Ten Ways to Please Your Man” article. But that was long ago now, and nothing she did was evocative of his affection so much as a cold feeling inside his chest. To say nothing of how much of a challenge he found it to become erect for her lately. It was all like some sort of performance test that he didn’t even want to bother trying to pass anymore. So he would placate her with head and then say he was just feeling really tired after having satisfied her well enough. When he reflected on it all, sitting there eating his fusion taco, he could see that he had become a prisoner, a member of the the sudden mass of abused and maltreated men that were paying for the sins of forebears whose actions they had no control over. Even his father, recently divorced, was still apologizing to Desmond’s mother in cash form. Forever paying off Eudora for his one-time slip-up of kissing a woman he had flirted with at the gym in the parking lot one night. That he felt guilty enough to confess was telling of just how much power Eudora had over him. Still did, and always would. She was another hyena. A grand suppressor of male prowess and authority.

It felt natural that Desmond and Lucian should join forces on this journey. Long a mutual dream of both to go to Africa–for yes, it is so often ironically a white man’s dream to do so–it was like they were at last fulfilling a vision quest. That’s why Desmond, without a second thought, decided to head out to the continent even earlier, casually telling Olivia that he needed more time to himself to think about what he wanted. This caused her to lose her mask of cool, for once unable to conceal her true feelings. And as she went off on him, running her mouth like the harpy she was, he just glazed over. The further he went into his glaze, the more animated she became, in turn, making him care even less.

*****

In a savannah of Southeastern Kenya, he could still see her. She was right in front of him, cracking a cackling smile as the hyena that stood defiantly with her pseudopenis in his view. Lucian snapped a photo on his phone before turning to Desmond to remark, “Horrifying, isn’t it?” The vision of these powerful and dominant female hyenas was clearly unnerving not just to Desmond and Lucian, but every man in the group, of which there was a large ratio, as it is primarily white men that not only enjoy going on safaris, but also enjoy the luxury of being able to afford them.

“Female spotted hyenas have no vaginal opening,” the tour guide offers up with the glee of a first-time grad student teacher. “Which is an added source of pain for males in the community struggling against a penis that’s bigger than their own. And with all this extra testosterone the female hyena has, it’s only natural that she’s a bit promiscuous, never prone to forming a pair bond like so many others in the animal kingdom.” It was this term, “pair bond,” that struck Desmond the most. It dawned on him that Olivia didn’t see him as her pair bond because of who he was as a person, but because she had asserted her dominance over him. A dominance that he needed to shake now, while this rare opportunity of being apart from her had afforded him the divine comfort of not being scrutinized by her at all hours of the day, of not having her inside his head to telepathically scream, “If you ever leave me, I’ll fucking end you!” But what could she really do to him from approximately 7,350 miles away? Not a goddamn thing. She was no longer his controller–his master manipulator, wielding vulva for vengeance, nostalgia for profit. Because from this vantage point, no sentiment was left. He could see her just as she was: a snickering spotted hyena who preferred to see him at the bottom of the hierarchy rather than elevated to the top where he belonged. Where all men belonged. It was no wonder this sect of the animal world was an anomaly–every other species knew better than to let female dominance thrive. It was doomed to upset the natural order of things, turn love into hate, lust into violence.

“Being that the false scrotum of the female blocks the pseudopenis from unwanted penetration, it is also virtually impossible for a male to rape a female hyena.” Desmond and Lucian turned to each other to flash a look as though to say, “Then what’s the point of having sex at all?”

The tour guide accented, “It is always a woman’s choice, for she must retract her clitoris to allow entry.” A collective tittering among the group, as though it was a joke that a woman should be able to decide anything, have control over her destiny in any way. And as though to prove that Olivia would never exert dominance over him again, he decided to “accidentally” FaceTime her that night while he was in the middle of having sex with one of the only age-appropriate females on the campgrounds. Her abrupt and effusive sobs sounded rather a lot like laughter. Which Desmond tuned out effortlessly, having now conditioned himself to be deaf to most feminine pitches.

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