Stories from the Left Hand World
by Jill Zeller
A World War II army nurse experiences the invasion of Bataan in a wondrous way. The sea is rising and a young girl finds magic in a quilt. A woman struggling with depression and her aging mother finds healing via tiny dragons. Read these and Part 1 of the series The Left Hand World. Nothing is as you imagine it to be.
Read a sample:
My cat Neuron is an elf, or mage. Perhaps a djinn. He possesses abilities we are unable to sense with our fine five senses. He can see into the infra-red, detect sounds in sonic netherlands, see around corners and through the windows to our souls and watching and waiting, deliver commands for our next steps.
I was loading the dishwasher that fateful day, scraping plates in a mundane fashion, thinking of how my day might unfold. Today, I thought, would be The Day. Something around the corner, Somethin’ comin’ I dont know what it is but it is gonna be great, something for me like in the song. In the movie Tony’s Day was meeting Maria. And my Day? Seeing a handsome man standing the train, cell phone in hand, his chin and smooth skin and dimples. Walking alone to the cafe and chatting with the barista—should he be a baristo?— with the half-shaved head and the narrow glasses and lovely lips.
Waiting for a glimpse of the boy in data management. The tall one with a beard and a little heavy-set and with just the right amount of slovenly indicating he doesn’t care about dry-cleaners and business suits and leather laptop cases.
Another day of fascination with the male sex, their shoes, hands, noses, the way they scratch their necks, the way they adjust their earphones. Another day thinking one of the many of them could one day see me, really see me, and want to know me.
That Day, Neuron padded over, left rear leg a little kinky from a fall from the roof in his younger days, yellow eyes fixed on me, a studied and careful meow indicating a greeting of, Mereeyow?, hello, I’m bored, what are you doing? Is there any butter left on that plate?
He sat down, just the tip of his tail twitching. It is a ritual we share, every three days I load the dishwasher, and he attends, observing in a friendly manner; I envisioned him starting a conversation. Did you hear on the radio how they have found the exact location of where the StoneHenge monoliths came from? His voice is lisping and deep, soft and careful.
He would be lisping, I thought, because his two upper canines have been removed. He’s an old guy; like all cats, his true age is unknowable.
Now, as I closed the dishwasher door and punched the appropriate buttons, “pots and pans, regular, fine crystal”, I knew that now we go into my bedroom, I start to get dressed, and he jumps on the bed to watch me accomplish this task.
But he didn’t follow me. I walked down the hall and glanced back, and no Neuron. Such odd behavior. Without question I went back into the kitchen to see where he was, but he was gone.
Then came the searching of the house.
He was not on the blue chair, where I had positioned the fleece blanket and the pillow. He was not at his food bowl. He was not on my bed or under the bed. He was not on the peak of Cat Mountain, the many-tiered cat-tower in the front window.
He did not respond to my noises, calls we make together, corresponding back and forth. He was not on the front steps. He was not under the bird bath. He was not following me down the front walk.
The day turned cold. Sun glinted through leaves and the sky burned blue but I froze inside. I couldn’t go to work now. It was not possible. It was not a thing I could do. I needed to find Neuron and I needed to find him now.
Back to the house, under the spare bed, couch, rocking chair. Flashlight into the crawl space. Closets, cupboards, cabinets. Back to the garden, shed, carport, under the car. Back to the house. I even, sickened, stopped the dishwasher and looked inside.
I made this circuit three times. He had vanished, walked through the wall like Schrodinger’s cat into the adjoining universe, wherever the universe rubbed shoulders with the neighboring one.
Now the neighborhood. The street was quiet except for birds and the odd neighbor approaching his or her car, starting the motor. Another neighbor walked down the street toward the bus stop. There was the neighbor’s rhododendron, where Neuron liked to hunt. I’d told my neighbor to chase him out of there all she wanted, to protect the hummingbird who lived there.
I must make him a house cat. An indoor cat. Safer for the birds, safer for him. Safer for me.
Once more around the house, inside and out. I squeezed my hands until my knuckles went white and I swallowed the panic clawing my throat. Neuron had never disappeared like this before. I could not survive if he were gone forever.
Yes you can, I told myself. You would live and grieve and go on.
“Neuron! Where are you?”
Back to the street. No cat lying still and twisted on the tarmac.
A big truck turned the corner, softly roared toward me. A dumper towing a chipper. Behind it, another even larger truck rumbled. A bucket truck. I remembered the neighbor of the rhododendron telling me she was having some trees trimmed.
I watched them pull up in front of her house, across the street, a little south of me.
A man jumped out of the bucket truck driver’s side. As he was the first worker I saw I approached.
He walked straight toward me. He must think I live here. Clutching my jacket to me I ran toward him and he seemed to notice something about my face, distress, maybe or utter terror.
“Did you see a cat? A black cat, anywhere, as you came down the street?”
As his lips parted he gave me a quizzical look—thought I was nuts, probably, another psychotic cat lady. Pulling myself straighter I took a deep breath.
“Sorry, sorry, I just. I was wondering, is all. I’m really worried about him.”
“No,” he said, fumbling with a pair of work gloves in his hands. Big hands, well-veined. “It’s just weird. I lost my cat too. An orange tabby. Short hair. I let him out this morning and he didn’t come back. He always comes back.”
I stared at him. Then I began to notice things. Brown curls catching the sun. Wide-set blue eyes. Orange t-shirt stretched over a fine, muscled chest and upper arms. A crooked smile crawled onto his face.
“You didn’t see him, did you?”
I could have asked the same question. I almost did, at the exact same time.
We both shook our heads at one another, looked away, as if hoping to catch a glimpse of black or orange slinking under a parked car.
“You live here? Are you— ” he read a name off a paper he pulled from his pocket.
“No, I live there.” I pointed at my house across the street.
He squinted, as if trying to read my address from the numbers partially concealed by my flowering quince.
“You live there? You’re the one with the pear tree?”
I nodded. My feet got hot. My feet got hot whenever I saw a good looking man.
“I live right behind you!” His grin widened. “I just rented that place a month ago and I really like your garden.”
Squirrels ran around under my ribs. I hadn’t even seen him, or known who was living there. People moved in and out all the times.
My neighbor was approaching now, and I backed away, knowing she wouldn’t like me interfering with her workmen.
I ran toward my house, hoping to see Neuron standing on the porch, tail curling question marks, meowing, intently wishing to be let inside. But he wasn’t there.
I worked from home. From my computer desk I could see the workers across the street, and hear the chainsaws and the chipper. Orange T-shirt guy appeared to be the crew leader. They worked swiftly and efficiently and every time I went outside to look for Neuron, I saw how well they trimmed and how thoughtfully they shaped her garden.
I would have to hire them, too. I thought. The catalpa and the empress tree both need haircuts. The squirrels started up again.
That night I felt sick. I made soup but I couldn’t touch it. Shadows stretched across my garden from the setting sun and swallowed up all hope of catching a glimpse of Neuron.
I slept on the couch, half-sleeping, really, listening for him, under blankets that, if he were here, he would snuggle into.
I sat up. I thought I heard him. Listened. Nothing.
Lay back down.
A soft meow. Right at the front door.
Flinging all my blankets to the floor, I ran for the door, fighting with my robe which insisted on hanging upside down. Fingers struggling with the lock, I opened it carefully, slowly. I didn’t want to scare him.
And there, under the front porch light, sitting still with head tilted and green eyes staring up into mine, sat an orange tabby. Short hair.
The squirrels scrabbled in my throat. Kneeling, I stretched out my hand and my neighbor’s cat approached, rubbed his chin against my knuckles. Picking him up, I held him as he nuzzled my shoulder. Damn. I would have to put him down to find my shoes.
Standing on the sidewalk, I tried to judge the quickest way around the block so that I could knock on the arborist’s front door. North or south? Icy air wound around my neck, crawled under my scarf and hat. The orange cat snuggled close.
Finally I chose the southern route, which appeared to be a little shorter. I was not generally afraid walking at night in my neighborhood, because I always had an escape plan and I always carried my phone in my hand. Stars glinted strongly in the night sky, brighter than I had ever seen them. A few homes had strung early Christmas lights that lit the night with sparkles. Turning the corner, I smiled to myself. At least my new neighbor, the nice young man with the large, well-veined hands, would get his friend back again. I hoped my goddess, or whoever piloted my wayward ship, would give me a nod and a promise that Neuron would be waiting for me when I got home.
As I walked toward the next street, I saw someone come around the corner. I almost stopped, turned to go the other way. I held my phone firmly and inhaled the cold night air. I am ready, I told myself, I’ll kick you in the balls if you try to touch me and this cat.
With measured strides the stranger and I approached each other. He was wide and large, cloaked in a black, bulky coat and cap. He could be very strong, I thought, and I almost faltered.
Keep going. Be confident.
We came close, now fifteen, ten, five feet away and the stranger stopped.
I held my cat close. But he struggled, pushed his head out from under my coat.
The stranger blurted this strange word and then, right after, I heard a sound that began to melt me on the spot.
He laughed first, and I could see his mouth and teeth and his chin. “Hello!”
Then I laughed, and I opened my coat and we exchanged cats, both laughing our heads off. He had a great laugh. Great puffs of mists flew from our mouths.
“He was sitting on my porch.”
“I can’t believe this.”
“It’s too bizarre.”
I held my furry, purry ball to my chest and watched my arborist watching me over Pineapple’s orange ears. What did I know about cats except that they see through the windows to our souls and watching and waiting, deliver commands for our next steps.