THE LEANING MAN • by Stephen V. Ramey

The leaning man — I will not use his real name in this report — suffers an unusual deformation of the ankle-foot joint. Rather than rising straight from the heel, his ankles bend sideways, causing him to list significantly to his right. Those of you who follow my reportage know that we at the Cindy Seeks Vlog are drawn to the unusual. I knew the moment I read the news clippings that I had to find this man. Is he lonely? Has he forgiven his chosen deity for this cruel affliction? How does he cope day to day? Just because someone is different, does not make them unworthy. We all have our secret strange.

For the on-camera interview, he agrees to take us on a tour of his grounds, which are walled off from the street by a six-foot-high stone fence. The leaning man does not often appear in public, and who can blame him? The stares, whispered conjecture, the sheer volume of close inspection, this is the problem with intolerance.

It’s drizzling, and has been since I started my drive over here. I open the car door and make a dash, holding a binder above my head to divert the worst of it.

He meets me at the door, using a folded umbrella as a cane. I am drawn to his suitably crooked smile and verdant green eyes, such a pleasing contrast to this gray day. I ask to hold the umbrella for us, since the palmcam only requires one hand.

He shakes his head. “If I were to open it, what would I use to keep my balance?” I offer to postpone the interview, but he pooh-poohs that idea. He’s been wet before, and so have I. We soldier on.

I film him sliding sideways through the doorway in order to avoid his head striking the frame. “The ways we cope are interesting,” I tell him. He smiles at that, and nods. I stand close as we walk, arm brushing his, auras overlapping. I expected an older man, face lined with bitterness, perhaps, but he is about my age and seemingly quite content to have me here.

The gardens are a maze of brick paths and plantings, replete with herbs and vegetables and flowers. The paths are circular, and slightly banked.

“It’s much easier to walk in circles,” he says.

When I ask if he has considered wedge inserts for his shoes, he dismisses the idea. “We are born as God intended. Perhaps we’d best not monkey with that, eh?”

His words resonate for me. We are born as God intended. I wonder, sometimes, if we are not brought to a particular interview in order to be perfected.

Another aspect of the leaning man’s mutation is a protruding jaw and narrow cheeks, not dissimilar to my own distinctive face. Whereas I use makeup to minimize these features, the leaning man leaves them raw. And he is not unattractive as a result, in fact far from it. He feels real to me, unafraid. I wish I possessed his courage.

By the time we complete our tour, his umbrella has filled with rain. He leans heavily against the doorframe as he empties it out. Water splashes across the decking, leaving a film.

“Have I told you how the world began?” he says.

“Why, no, you have not.” I follow him inside, and sit as he bustles along the counter to make tea. The kitchen is cozy, white cupboards, soft blue walls, a tidy stove and fridge. I feel comfortable here, almost at home.

“When God created us we were Adam and we were Eve,” he says. “Two perfectly formed individuals joined into one in His garden.” He glances sideways. “Earl Grey or Green?”

“Either is fine.”

The stove burner clicks and lights. He fills a pot with water. “Well, the story goes that Eve heard the snake, and ate of the apple, and got them both thrown out, but the truth is a much simpler thing. What actually happened, you see, is that as Adam and Eve’s familiarity became stale, they grew apart. Distance formed between them like an axe mark until all that connected them was their feet.”

He puts the pot on to boil. I watch the deft movements of his hands, the small changes in his expression as he does this. His face slants toward me. I feel warm.

“When God saw them in such a condition,” he says, “He took pity and separated them completely. Adam and Eve went their separate ways that day, the eighth, and the world took form where they stepped.”

“I’ve never heard that version,” I tell him as he delivers my cup. “It’s quite intriguing.”

“Oh, yes,” he says. “And, of course, there’s more, at least a little.”

“Do tell.”

“The world will never truly be perfected until Adam and Eve come together again.” He slides the fingers of one hand into the fingers of his other. “Until they cleave. That’s when disease and death will disappear, and only love remain.”

“Is that so?” I say.

“It is.” He sits across from me. Our eyes meet. I feel a power rise up, a tingle intertwined with dread. I watch his hands, clasped tight upon the table. My fingers twitch. Should I do it? Should I reach beneath the table and undo my shoes? Should I reveal the wedges and the braces that have kept me standing straight all these years? I wonder. Is there love enough in this room, this world, to make it matter?

Stephen V. Ramey‘s work has appeared in a variety of places. He also edits the Triangulation anthology from Parsec Ink, and trapeze, a twitter zine. He lives in New Castle, PA USA, where he regularly visits the odd ducks that live along the river. His collection of very short fiction, Glass Animals, is available from Pure Slush Books via and Amazon.

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