a fable by Joe Beine
You look like a snow leopard with that cat stare you have, Gabriel said.
Cats dont have dark eyes like I do, Eden replied, then decided to ignore Gabriel. 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 cherubic babyface, but his features were slowly settling into something even more angelic, like a young David Bowie.
Eden was using charcoal for the sketch, which was messy, but she liked how it sometimes caused marks she didnt really intend. It made her feel a bit out of control, something she never was. Eden had been drawing things since she was a child. Her sketchbooks were filled with flowers and cats and Gabriel.
So a mysterious dark-eyed snow leopard, then, Gabriel said.
Eden didnt reply. She was concentrating on her sketch, working on Gabriels light messy hair.
You cant be real, he once told her. You look like an anime creature, one I made up for my movie.
Gabriel 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 Gabriel up because he liked her so much. And no one could possibly like her that much. She was slight and tiny and nobody.
Since he was being ignored, Gabriel started thumb flitting, which was Edens phrase for what he did with his iPhone. Stare at tiny screen, move thumb rapidly. Eden thought the internet lacked poetry and grace. Too many people wrote posts and messages carelessly like they didnt care about anyone elses thoughts or feelings. And right now Gabriel was sitting across from her, thumb flitting through digital clutter that was probably a blur of narcissism and petty whining. Eden watched him closely while she finished her sketch. She sighed, wondering how to break his attachment to the cold digital world.
Eden had pastel rainbow hair that was streaked with silver, blue, and purple. She was always fussing with it, growing it long, cutting it short, changing the colors. Her mouth was slightly downturned in a pleasant sort of scowl. Frowny, she called it. She had a shy look that made her seem a bit aloof, like a cat, which Gabriel kept pointing out.
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 Gabriel, but no one else did.
Gabriel read old science fiction books by writers like Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, and Philip K. Dick, really old paperbacks with faded covers showing Martians, 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. Gabriel 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 didnt just read the books on his iPhone like everything else he read, and he replied, I cant 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.
At night Gabriel curled around Eden until they became like twin caterpillars sharing the same cocoon. That was the best part about Gabriel, 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.
Edens apartment had a bay window with a wide upholstered window seat where she often sat to work on the storyboards for Gabriels 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 Gabriel, 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 cats paw.
Eden sometimes fell asleep on the window seat, dreaming of snow leopards and tigers. Gabriel 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. Gabriel 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 didnt understand. It was filled with too many hurtful things, too many guns and wars. But she always felt safe in Gabriels grasp and her bay window cocoon.
Gabriel would tell Eden his ideas for the anime film and show her his notes for the screenplay—handwritten pages in a battered spiral notebook. Then she would go off to her bay window and work on the storyboards. The movie 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 didnt 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, swift, and cunning, and used their understanding of human behavior to elude the hunters or scare them away. The town people actually looked somewhat cat-like, while the wild felines had subtle human features. But the 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. The men and the animals often played these kinds of chess-like games, but the mens guns trounced any sense of sportsmanship. In the next storyboard, the snow leopards let the two people go, but they didnt seem grateful.
Gabriels 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 Gabriels movie was making the towns 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 Gabriel, he nodded approvingly and said, Of course, then went off to form more tangles of words. Eden knew she was translating Gabriels crude boyish language into stronger feminine images.
Eden depicted one of the hunters so he looked like Gabriel, the anime version anyway. Bigger eyes, exaggerated cherub-Bowie face. Silly, crazy, anime cute. She thought most boys were dirty and stupid, but Gabriel was always nice to her, even though he sometimes gently made fun of her. And he needed her for his movie. They needed each other.
Eden decided to rinse the dye from her hair, bringing back its natural shiny black color. 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 dark strands showing over her forehead and at the back of her neck. She decided to let it grow. Gabriel claimed he preferred her natural hair color, but Eden wasnt sure. She wanted to color her hair like an artist.
Silly hat, Gabriel 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 in front of her. Gabriel was reading a sci-fi book. He put the book down and pulled Edens hat off, then set it back on her head.
Pretty hair, he said.
It needs a new color, Eden replied. I just cant decide.
Looks fine the way it is.
Too many people have hair like mine, she said. I want to be different. I might dye it purple.
You are different.
Gabriel read a little more from his book, then put it down and watched her. She seemed forlorn.
I dont 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. Its gone completely mad. Too many people are being harmed for no reason.
Stop watching the news, Gabriel said. Or reading it. Its like poison.
That doesnt make it go away.
But were doing okay together, he said. Just us. Thats what matters.
Gabriel 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.
Were making something about returning balance to the world, Gabriel said. Well 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 Gabriel made her feel a little better. She turned the TV off from the remote, then leaned into Gabriel. 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 Gabriel was always hiding them.
Near 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 Gabriel 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 differencesdark panthers, solitary tigers, strong mountain lions, graceful snow leopardsbut no one seemed to care. They celebrated the richness this variety brought to their lives instead of fearing the differences like they did in the past.
Eden was sitting in her bay window cocoon, her sketchbook propped against her legs. Her hair was still dark and she was no longer wearing the hats. She 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 Gabriel.
Eden was so immersed in her storyboard that she almost didnt notice Gabriel come into the room with his notebooks and sit down on the floor near her. She heard papers rustling and glanced down at him. He told her he had been putting final touches on the screenplay. And he was almost done.
When she finished the storyboard, Eden looked through her sketchbooks, following the story from the beginning, surprised that it seemed to work and actually made sense. Gabriels notes didnt always flow very well, but her drawings did. They did to her, anyway.
She glanced at Gabriel, saw him gazing back at her.
I think youre slowly turning into a cat, he said. Just like in our movie.
Eden smiled softly at him.
Gabriel said, Lets swap. He started going through her sketchbooks and she read over the final draft of his screenplay. They were in sync. They shared a smile. Eden felt elated but sleepy. Yawning, she slipped out of her bay window cocoon and led Gabriel 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 Gabriel 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 didnt understand, wanting it to be different, wanting it to be like their movie.