Anime Butterflies

a fable by Joe Beine

“You look like a snow leopard,” boyfriend said. “With that cat stare you have.”

“Cats don’t have dark eyes like I do,” Eden replied, then decided to ignore boyfriend. She was busy making a sketch of him while he lounged in a ragged easy chair next to the couch she was sitting on. At twenty he still had a chubby babyface, but his features were slowly settling into something even more angelic, like a young David Bowie. And really, the older David Bowie too.

Eden was using charcoal for the drawing in her sketchbook. The page was getting smudgy, but she didn’t care. She knew charcoal was messy and she liked how it sometimes made marks she didn’t really intend. It made her feel a bit out of control, something she never was.

“So a mysterious dark-eyed snow leopard, then,” boyfriend said.

Eden didn’t reply. She was concentrating on her sketch, working on boyfriend’s light messy hair.

“You can’t be real,” boyfriend once told her. “You look like an anime creature. I must have made you up for my movie.”

Boyfriend was writing a screenplay for an anime film about people who behaved like cats in the wild. But it was actually Eden who thought she had made boyfriend up because he liked her so much. And no one could possibly like her that much. She was slight and tiny and nobody.

Eden’s hands were turning dark from the charcoal, but she didn’t care. She could draw with her fingers if she had to. She had been drawing things since she was a child. Her sketchbooks were filled with flowers and cats and boyfriend.

Since he was being ignored (although when someone draws you, they are certainly not ignoring you), boyfriend started thumb flitting, which was Eden’s phrase for what he did with his iPhone. Stare at tiny screen, move thumb rapidly. Eden thought the internet was full of junk and it sucked the poetry out of the language, the way so many people wrote posts and messages so carelessly, like they didn’t care about feelings, just their own and nobody else’s thoughts. Like every piece of useless clutter that comes into my head I will put on the internet even though no one except me cares.

Eden thought many people were being made stupid by social media. Although boyfriend was sitting across from her, while thumb flitting through a mass of narcissism and disinformation, he was still a cherubic young Bowie face. And he adored Eden even though she wasn’t real and neither was he. Just characters in an anime film that had yet to be made.

Eden had pastel rainbow hair, streaked with silver, blue and purple, and snow leopard eyes (boyfriend was right about that), except they were very dark and very quiet. Her mouth was slightly downturned in a pleasant sort of scowl. Frowny, she called it. Her skin was translucent, like she rubbed olive oil all over it, but she did nothing to her skin, it was just that way. The only thing she ever changed about herself was her hair. She was always fussing with it, growing it long, cutting it, changing the colors.

Eden wore black t-shirts with colorful patterns she designed herself. Some were abstract, some looked like flowers, some like imprinted cat paws. Some had splotches she thought looked like herself and boyfriend, but no one else did.

Boyfriend read old science fiction books by writers like Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury and Philip K. Dick, really old paperbacks with faded covers showing martians, androids, cyborgs and lots of tentacled creatures. He found them at used bookstores and devoured them. But his screenplay was not science fiction. It was a fantasy about the struggle between humans and the natural world. Boyfriend told her most science fiction was about the struggle between humans and the technological world, a place they had created rather than the place they had come from.

Eden asked him why he didn’t just read the books on his iPhone like everything else, and he said, “I can’t smell the words on my iPhone.”

Eden said, “You mean the ink.”

“I guess so, yeah. Old ink adds to the texture of the story.”

This made Eden smile. Maybe she could stop him from thumb flitting someday. The internet. Not enough poetry. No old ink odors. Just too much junk.

At night boyfriend curled around Eden until they became like twin caterpillars sharing the same cocoon. That was the best part about boyfriend, Eden decided, the way he held her. It was especially nice in the winter, engulfed in his warmth. Eden knew someday they would emerge as butterflies, maybe anime butterflies. But for now she would be frowny and slight, and he would be cherubic and warm.

Eden spent many quiet afternoons and evenings working on storyboards for boyfriend’s movie. He would tell her his ideas and let her read the notes he had made for his screenplay—handwritten pages in a battered spiral notebook. And she would make sketches drawn from her imagination and his.

The story was about people who had been transformed into jaguars and tigers and leopards, and now lived in a forest where they were hunted by men from the nearby town. The people in the town didn’t seem to realize these wild felines had once been human like them. The cats spent much of their time cleverly hiding from the hunters. They were smart and cunning and understood human behavior since they had been human once. They also had cat instincts and swiftness, so they were often able to elude the hunters or scare them away.

Eden’s apartment had a bay window with a wide upholstered windowsill where she often sat to work on the storyboards for boyfriend’s movie. She liked the way sunlight or rain or wind would touch the glass panes while she sketched out the storyboards. Snowy days were the best because Eden felt cozy and warm while the flakes fell so close through the window. It was like being in the cocoon without boyfriend, just herself and her sketches. She would put a hand on one of the panes, feeling the iciness outside, her palm and fingers leaving a steamy imprint on the glass like a cat’s paw.

Eden sometimes fell asleep on the windowsill, dreaming of snow leopards and tigers, and boyfriend would gently rouse her and lead her down the hall to the bedroom. She would slide sleepily into the sheets and blankets, wondering how she got there. Boyfriend would get in beside her and gently push her back into full sleep with his warmth. And her feline dreams would continue.

In the bay window Eden felt like she was dangling out into the world. A world she didn’t understand. It was filled with too many hurtful things, too many guns and wars. But she always felt safe in boyfriend’s grasp and her bay window cocoon.

The people of the town actually looked somewhat cat-like, while the wild felines had subtle human features. But the town people insisted the cats were different and savage and dangerous.

Eden made a storyboard that showed two snow leopards who had trapped two humans by simply circling them. The humans were too afraid to run away. It was often like this, the men and the animals playing a chess-like game, but the men’s guns trounced any sense of sportsmanship. In the next storyboard, the snow leopards let the two people go, but they didn’t seem grateful.

Boyfriend’s notes were tangled and messy, but buried within them were imaginative ideas about nature and balance. Eden dug into his words and pulled out images for the storyboards, often adding her own ideas. Her biggest contribution to boyfriend’s movie was making the town’s women sympathetic to the wild felines, while the men hunted them.

Eden drew storyboards showing a young woman reaching out to a snow leopard, another petting a tiger, a pastel-haired third, who resembled Eden, curled up with a mountain lion, both asleep. When she showed these to boyfriend, he nodded approvingly and said, “of course,” then went off to form more tangles of words. Eden knew she was translating boyfriend’s crude boyish language into softer feminine images.

Eden drew one of the hunters so he looked like boyfriend, the anime version anyway. Bigger eyes, exaggerated cherub-Bowie face. Silly crazy anime cute. She thought most boys were dirty and stupid, but boyfriend was ridiculously nice to her all the time, even though he sometimes gently made fun of her. And he needed her for his movie. They needed each other.

Eden rinsed the dye from her hair, leaving shiny wet Asian black. After she dried it, short strands hung loosely around her face. She thought it looked frowsy. She plopped a denim bucket hat on her head, leaving only black strands showing over her forehead and at the back of her neck. She decided to let it grow. Boyfriend claimed he preferred her hair un-dyed. He liked it natural, he said, but Eden wasn’t sure. She liked coloring her hair like an artist.

“Silly hat,” boyfriend said when she came out of the bathroom and sat down on the couch next to him. She pulled her legs up on the couch and crossed them under her. Boyfriend was reading a sci-fi book. He put the book down and pulled Eden’s hat off, then set it back on her head.

“Pretty hair,” he said.

“It needs a new color,” Eden replied. “I just can’t decide.”

“Looks fine the way it is.”

“All Asians have the same hair,” she said. “I want to be different. I might dye it purple.”

“You are different.”

Eden shrugged.

Boyfriend read a little more from his book, then put it down and watched her. She seemed forlorn.

“I don’t understand the world,” Eden said, looking at the TV, which was showing images of people shouting at each other, but the sound was turned down. “It’s gone completely mad. Too many people are being harmed for no reason.”

“Stop watching the news,” boyfriend said. “Or reading it. It’s like poison.”

“That doesn’t make it go away.”

“But we’re doing okay together,” he said. “Just us. That’s what matters.”

“I know.”

Boyfriend put his arm around her.

“And we have our anime film,” he said.

Eden knew that working on their movie was how they were quietly dealing with the turmoil around them, all the anger and guns and crazy weather.

“We’re making something about returning balance to the world,” boyfriend said. “We’ll dream about it, then put our dream into our film, and then it will happen.”

Eden wished it was really that easy. She wanted to cry, but just sitting next to boyfriend made her feel a little better. She turned the TV off from the remote, then leaned into boyfriend. She felt content. She would leave her hair alone for a while and maybe wear lots of different hats until it got longer, even though boyfriend was always hiding them.

Eden and her Anime Butterflies by Laure NgoNear the end of the movie the women convinced the men to put down their guns and stop hunting the cats. The men buried the guns in a big pit and the metal eventually rusted and returned to the earth, never to hurt anything again. The men still played their chess-like games with the cats, but all agreed to do no harm. Eden sighed. If only the world she and boyfriend lived in could be like this.

After a while the cats and people started to blur together, and soon no one could remember who came first or which was which. They still had differences—dark panthers, solitary tigers, strong mountain lions, feminine snow leopards, and many others—but no one seemed to care. They celebrated the richness this variety brought to their lives instead of fearing the differences like they used to.

Eden drew her character and the mountain lion curled up like before, but it was difficult to tell which was human, which was animal. She gave her character snow leopard features to appease boyfriend since he thought she looked like one.

Eden’s hair stayed dark. She stopped wearing the hats. Mostly.

“I think you’re slowly turning into a cat,” boyfriend said. “Just like in our movie.”

Eden shrugged. She was in her bay window cocoon, one leg dangling over the windowsill, while boyfriend was sitting cross-legged on the floor, pouring over notebooks, untangling his words for her, putting final touches into another notebook. Eden was looking over her sketchbooks, three of them, following the story from the beginning, surprised that it seemed to work and actually made sense. Boyfriend’s notes didn’t always flow very well, but her drawings did. They did to her, anyway.

Eden glanced at boyfriend, saw him gazing back at her. They decided to swap. He started going through her sketchbooks and she read over the final draft of his screenplay. They were in sync. Eden smiled. Boyfriend smiled. Eden felt elated but sleepy. Yawning, she slipped out of her bay window cocoon and followed boyfriend to her other cocoon down the hall. She dreamed of anime butterflies.

Eden awoke deep in the night and returned to the bay window, turning on a single light next to it. She sat in her cocoon, still fuzzy with sleep, and drew the final storyboard. It showed the character who resembled boyfriend standing at the place where the guns had been buried, now overgrown with thick vines and flowering plants. She drew two yellow butterflies perched on white flower petals. Then she glanced out the bay window into the darkness, into the world she didn’t understand, wanting it to be different, wanting it to be like their movie.

You might also enjoy: Exchanging Van Goghs, a novella by Joe Beine

Illustration by Laure Ngo © 2017
Visit her website: Laure Ngo - Illustratrice

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