My first job after college was working as a part-time host at a local diner. It was here that I met a woman. A customer, to be more exact. She had chestnut hair, emerald eyes, and a left-leaning tilt to her stance. When I first noticed her, standing alone at the front entrance, I experienced a vertigo so profound that I had to close my eyes to keep from dropping to my knees. The woman gave me the impression that the world was no longer spinning on its axis. For the axis appeared to be her, and everything surrounding her appeared still, tilted to the left while she remained sturdily erect on firm limbs.
The world, my world, had unexpectedly jolted to a halt. And I was keening on the sidelines, shedding layers from my surface as if I were being grated into thin strands, left to turn stale at the curve of a bottomless bowl. I didn’t know it then, but that would be my introduction to love: jarred and set aside as I watched events unfold from an oblique distance. That is what such a love felt like, and what love still feels like to this day, as I sit at my chestnut desk, writing about this woman in my emerald-green notebook, wondering if the heaviness in my heart and the wobble in my pulse will ever allow me to stand straight again.
I should explain that I consider myself to be somewhat of an anomaly. And those around me do as well. Before this experience, I was not one to feel deep emotion like love and hate. That is not to say that I didn’t experience some emotion — dull feelings located at the center of a spectrum, anchored between polarizing sentiments. But those balanced emotions weren’t enough to make me feel connected to humanity. In that sense, I let others come and go in my life, interacting with them as I do any object set in front of me: with courtesy and respect. For I had no reason not to react to their presence in any other way. But this woman — who, for clarity’s sake, we will call Alhub; a strange name, yet one with meaning — stirred my world so that I couldn’t see straight. And since then, my perspective has been rearranged. I can only perceive my surroundings as lopsided and left-tilting, as if I am leaning towards somewhere, but I can’t seem to take the step towards wherever that is.
So that morning, I tilted into that left leaning axis and stepped towards the enigmatic figure before me, dipping my dry toes into a puddle of emotions that coalesced to one side. Tripping and fumbling along, I brought the woman to the corner left table. With a graceful gesture, she lowered herself onto the padded chair below her. In my vertiginous state, I gripped onto the tables edge and closed my eyes shut. When I was settled enough to lift my lids to the world, like a curtain bringing daylight into a dark and stuffy room, I was confronted with her emerald stare. I blinked twice, and each time the world seemed to turn even more sideways on its axis. The woman cleared her throat with a husky cough and then — in stark contrast — spoke to me in a smooth, velvety voice. I couldn’t understand a word of those velvet strings of syllables, but I managed to place the menu onto the table’s wooden surface and slowly make my way back to the diner’s entrance. But the world remained tilted around me, even when — thirty minutes later — the woman exited the room with her slanted gait.
And yet she returned the next day. And the day after that. And the day after that day. In fact, she returned every day that week, and the following week, until my nerves had settled enough into their tilted state to allow me to form intelligible words.
Do you live in the area?
She glanced up at me, neither a smile nor a frown elucidating her feelings.
I’ve just moved. Two weeks ago.
That’s great. And what do you think of the area?
It feels a bit tilted. But I like it just fine.
I learned two things from that initial conversation. One: she wasn’t one to express her emotions. And two: she was aware of her power to tilt the environment around her.
I uncovered more facts about the woman after that initial conversation. But it wasn’t until I saw her resting on a park bench near my home — with an ice cream cone dripping down the translucent skin of her underarm, flowing downwards at an oblique angle, like a stream searching for a stagnant body of water — that I was able to hear more about her sideways existence. With my balance accustomed to an unsteady slant, I easily approached the woman and lowered myself onto the bench, maintaining an appropriate distance that was neither too close nor too removed. Despite the movement at her side, the woman remained in a statuesque state —the only detectible motion being the liquid cream snaking its way downstream. But after an interminable moment, she did move, slowly bending towards her hand and flicking her pale tongue across her wrist. As if the sugar had reanimated her from a trance, she glanced up at me and acknowledged my presence.
Hey. I saw you sitting here and figured I would stop by and say hi.
She responded to my greeting with another silent lick.
It is a great day for a cool treat.
Without moving a muscle on her face, she pushed the dripping cone centimeters from my pursed lips. Feeling coerced, I leaned into the item and gave a short and timid swipe with my tongue before retreating back into my slice of personal space. I made a fist with my left hand and brought it towards my wet mouth, wiping a mixture of spit and cream with the back of my palm and then clearing my throat into the crevice between the curl of my fingers.
Do you mind if I ask you something?
She bobbed her cocked head up and down in silent affirmation.
If you’re not from here, where are you from?
She smiled at me and — with a slanted finger — pointed in a sideways direction.
She bobbed her cocked head up and down once more before focusing back on her ice cream. I gave a deep inhale. A powerful gust of air seemed to provide me with the understanding that questions wouldn’t get me far down this woman’s sideways path. Nevertheless, she cut into the silence by speaking a short, declarative sentence into the down sloping breeze.
I have a cat.
You do! That’s great.
A tuxedo cat. Black and white. About even toned, but somewhat more black than white.
It’s big and fat. It’s stomach pools outwards like a balloon when it sits.
It must eat a lot.
That must have broached too close to being a question, for she closed her mouth with an expression that I perceived as mute petulance.
I have a cat as well.
Does it have a name?
My cat’s name is Mufassa.
Like the lion in The Lion King?
But she is a female.
My cat is a male.
A tense silence ensued, but my nerves were too on edge to speak into the soundless chasm.
Do people think your cat is a she because he is a house cat?
I glanced into her sparkless emerald eyes and considered her question. She was right in assuming that most people gendered house cats as female; for on the rare occasion that I had a guest over, they would invariably refer to Coco as a she.
Humans like to think of cats as females and dogs as males.
Is that so?
In society, women — like cats — are seen as mysterious and elusive. And men — like dogs — are seen as fun and playful.
I gave a quick nod, as if I understood the point that she was making.
Truthfully, neither gender is like a cat. As pack animals, humans are more like dogs. But if any of the genders are more feline in nature, it would be men.
She took a pause at speaking. It was strange to hear her utter more than a curt sentence or two. As if willing me to grasp her theory, she fixated me with that sideways emerald stare.
Women — as a whole — are more cooperative, more group oriented than men. More loyal, even, and more direct with their emotions and feelings. Men — on the other hand — are more competitive and solitary. Like predacious hunters, they leave their feelings sulking in the sidelines until they manifest themselves with a menacing pounce.
I let my jaw slacken, leaving my mouth slightly agape as I processed this information.
That’s one way to look at it.
Contrary to linguistics, feline and feminine are not on the same side of a coin.
In spite of her deadpan tone, I laughed at this.
It’s hard for you to not think of feline as feminine.
I admit, I’ve been taken by societal convention in this instance.
And verbal connotation.
I didn’t understand what she meant by verbal connotation, but I smiled and shook my head in vigorous affirmation, which proved to be a dizzying exercise when the world around me was at a sideways slant.
Do you have strong opinions on the gender of other animals?
Just the ones that society has strong opinions on.
I couldn’t think of a counter to such a response, so I continued on in silence, trying to straighten out the world by making imperceptible movements with my head. But as minuscule as these adjustments were, the woman seemed to take note. She never vocally expressed this notice, however. Instead, she stood from the bench with her askew stance, turned to face me, and motioned for me to do the same. I copied her movements, facing her head-on. But she remained enigmatically cryptic.
Can I ask why we are standing?
You are taking me to meet your cat.
As if I were choking on her words, I coughed into my left hand and began pumping my chest with my right to settle my squeaky, shallow breaths.
Why wouldn’t I be?
I nodded my head, still grasping for life with thick gulps of air. It would be my first time bringing a woman into my space. I expressed this concern to her, explaining that even my cat was a male. But she didn’t budge. Instead, her expressionless emerald eyes stared at me in wait, daring me with a secret end goal only she was privy to. With a final gulp of air that seemed to slip laterally down my trachea, I succumbed to her pointblank pressure.
Wordlessly, I brought the woman on the sideways route to my apartment. We walked down a left-slanted street for three long avenues, where we took a right turn down another left-slanted street for two short blocks. My narrow apartment building, which rose four stories high, leaned towards the adjacent cement lot to its left. But for some reason, the woman next to me seemed to have a differing perspective.
It’s remarkably straight.
I squinted my eyes, attempting to view the building from her vantage point. But all I could see was a leftwards tilt, subtly increasing in angle as each second passed, like a slow-moving flip book. As I stood there, studying the scene before me with a narrowed focus, the woman walked up the pale, cracked steps that led to the front door, twisting open the knob and entering into the dusky entryway. I trailed behind her with soft steps, careful not disturb her progress. Inside, she climbed up the crooked wooden staircase, which creaked in protest beneath her light frame. Once she reached the second floor, she stood for a moment before turning left, gliding down the dusty floorboards towards my apartment door. She twisted the knob. Inexplicably — without inserting a key — she was able to push the dingy slab of wood inwards.
In slight shock, I finished ascending the staircase and followed the woman into my now open apartment. By the time I entered, she had already settled into the furnishings, her feet curled up onto my emerald green sofa, the cat splayed across her lap. I lowered myself to the woman’s left, the cat’s tail swishing against my thigh in exaggerated side-to-side arcs.
So this is Coco.
This is Coco.
It seems lonely.
Maybe. He spends most of his time alone. But we keep each other company when we can.
I didn’t say he. I said it.
I looked around my sparsely decorated space. It did seem lonely.
Cats are solitary creatures. But humans aren’t.
With this, she picked the cat up underneath his furry belly and placed him onto the floor. He shook his head and gave a big yawn before arching his back and stretching his paws outwards — needing his claws into the scratched wooden surface. We studied the cat as he lowered into a prone position, splaying his back legs akimbo while he maintained a fixed glare at the door. Suddenly, however, my head was being pulled sideways by milky hands and pushed forcefully into a soft, pillowy mouth that tasted like sweet cream and smelled like rosewater. I inhaled this intoxicating scent, getting high off the saccharine aroma. With that blank expression still locked onto her face, she slipped off my shirt, and then my shorts and briefs, so that I was fully nude. She then removed her own clothes before pulling me onto the pile of discarded fabric. In view of the reposed cat, she made silent love to me, allowing the taste of sweet cream and the scent of rosewater to permeate my skin. When we were done, she quietly lifted herself off my supine body and dressed herself. I remained on the floor, watching the cat, who was now curled into himself in preparation for a nap.
Alhub never returned to my workplace after that day we spent making love on top of a pile of discarded clothes on the floor of my apartment. As seamlessly as she had entered my life, she had exited, sliding past the entrance with hovering steps. Behind her, the door had shut tight, the bolt locking with ease — leaving my balance, and my perspective, stuck with that left-leaning tilt to this day.
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