by John Danenbarger
It had been her hands. Her voice was confident. I sensed she, more than a flower, was strong and resilient - stem and roots. Her bright personality, her tilted smile, and rebellious hair were all fractionally above interesting, and might well have inflated into a whole number as we consumed the wine I had luckily remembered to bring as a gift, but for her hands.
She had laughed at my jokes at the Halloween party where we had first met. Although it had not been obvious to me at the time, her inviting me over for a private dinner almost immediately should have made it glaringly apparent that she felt, for some reason, an attraction. In my own opinion, I, myself, am a discarded stump of a person. Balding. Big nose and small chin. Crooked teeth. But I have been told my sense of humor works better because of my clownish demeanor and somewhat makes up for my below-see-level appearance.
Some days later at the dinner in her home, as the speculation of her intrigue had begun growing in my mind, the only part of that cold evening’s conversation I remembered later was that her station wagon had been broken into several times the past year while parked on her quiet residential street.
Guilt and confusion rose in me that evening, my mind like a sack of groceries. She had planned in detail just for me - prepared the house, cooked her specialties. Throughout the meal, I, discourteously, had been trying to devise an exit plan as I struggled with turning our talk of thievery into my escape clause. Afterwards, I assumed that I must have enjoyed the food in that the now-forgotten aroma, presentation, and taste had surely been good, as she seemed a discriminate woman.
Two years later, when I met her in town on the red-brick sidewalk one rain-filled summer afternoon - I with friends, and she with her current doting boyfriend beside her - she gouged me with the sharp edge of the painful disgrace of my hidden memory. In a short moment before turning away, her eyes stated for the world, “Your gaucherie made it clear that you are a broken soul.”
That long-ago evening I remembered that I had not, could not, entertain her inclinations. They - her hands, I mean – had distracted me. Her hands holding the plates. Her hands gripping a fork. Her hands brushing back her hair. That night they had crippled my wit and reasoning. That night, stumbling to make a plausible and polite reason to leave, I had said something cretinous which I have had reason to forget.
If, as postulated, emotion itself is only a fleeting phenomenon that requires art and ritual to sustain it, then suddenly that far-off moment had become a pathetic engraving - her hands gripping my ugliness and holding up the acid-etched vision of a buffoon, ceremoniously on display for all to revile.
John Danenbarger lives in Italy with his wife, one leftover son, and three cats. He has a degree in English and Creative Writing from Kansas University and established the Salem, Massachusetts, writers’ club.