The first time it happened was an accident.
Lemons were being peeled, that Kevin Costner film was on a rerun, summer had heat, and ice was being chucked in glasses. It had been a long day of packing boxes, with a suddenly friendly neighbor who volunteered her Sunday in a fit of elevator generosity.
How do you even thank someone you barely know, but who has a jagged sense of irony, can organize chaos, and is just plain nice, when you’ve found them, just when you are moving. So he made lemonade. Would have added some liquor, but it oddly felt inappropriate while the sun was still out. No one would have questioned that ethic in Spain…ah Spain…
A shock of lemon squeezed itself into her messy curls, and he decided to pluck it, without permissions. It was barely perceptible, but he saw her lips twist into an awkward smile, lopsided, as if the right side of her face was stroke-ridden, but it wasn’t grotesque, just odd…ly charming in a paralytic sort of way. An evolved chimp fear grin…
He didn’t see her again for a while.
They had stayed in touch, as promised, but his new job, and her constant travels, seemed to unmake the coffee cup that shouldn’t have been so hard for two same-city dwellers. They were occasionally invited to the same parties, but somehow they never seemed to arrive at the same time. Her face, now and again, would pop up in friend’s photos, and he’d think: “Now that’s a five-star girl.” But he never saw that lopped curve on her lips in any of them. And the memory faded.
Once while riding the subway he had a eureka moment: “She never did call in that IOU for strong arms when moving!” Hence, she must still live in his old building. Perhaps he could go there with the pretence for checking for old mail, but it had already been weeks, and the more he thought about it, it seemed to grow into a disproportionately stalkerish idea.
He let go.
After a while he stopped looking out for her at street corners, stolen gazes, coffee places or laundromats.
Two Fridays to that lapse in judgment, he found her again, abruptly.
It was in Aisle 3 of a supermarket he didn’t usually go to, but it was on his way to a friend’s housewarming. He was in-charge of cheese. She turned a corner and ran over his left foot with her overwhelming grocery cart.
And there it was again, that unmistakable arch of her oral orifice, pulling a Beyonce.
To the left, to the left.
Pleasantly embarrassed at having found him and run him over at the same time. (It’s easy being bipolar in urban settings.) He told her about cheese; she said she was getting supplies for a soup kitchen she volunteered for. They crowded Aisle 3 for at least ten minutes while irate shoppers tried to meander around them.
“Listen,” he said after a suit made him step aside to dive into a shelf of gourmet crackers their presence was embargoing, “I was heading to this party…”
“Oh don’t let me keep you…”
“Uh…actually, I was wondering if you’d like to come along?”
“I have to get these supplies to the kitchen, and really I am not dressed.”
“You look fine, its low key, and I’ll help you drop off the groceries.”
“I don’t even know anyone there…”
“You know me.”
An inept silence, then he spluttered.
“I’d like you to know me.”
There it was again then, that semi perk of the lips, which he was dangerously close to ego-maniacking as an exclusive communication.
“I’d like that, but without background noise…maybe we can get coffee after you are done there?”
“That’ll be late.”
“I don’t sleep much.”
“So it’s a date?”
“I’ll text you as I’m heading out, we can go to the all night diner by my old…by your place.”
“Ok midnight warrior, see you then.”
Another half smile later, Aisle 3 was clear.
But his mind wasn’t. He thought about her all evening, through cheese, wine, grapes, and some odd-poofy thingees–canapés gone haywire. He thought about her throughout the chatter, the tour of the nearly empty rooms, the board games, the pizza delivery guy messing up the order (pineapple on cheese? really?), and some late-arriving drunk walking in on the new white carpet with wet soles, and the ensuing hoopla (did you know spilling Diet Sprite on top is a cheap home-made remedy?). He thought so much he calamitously munched on a handful of peanuts.
Yes he’s allergic, yes there was a rush to the ER, yes that was faster then calling the ambulance, and no there was no midnight text nor warrioring nor coffee.
The next day he agonized about calling and explaining, but it all felt like such a story. At noon, he got a text from her.
“I fell asleep early, and I guess you had a late night, c’est la vie.”
Now that’s five-star girl!
He called her/she didn’t pick up/he didn’t leave a message/she didn’t call back.
He didn’t see her again for a while.
Then he heard she maybe dating his college roommate’s sister’s ex-boyfriend. THAT cad, I mean seriously what the hell is she thinking! Did Jockmeister even get the nuances of the smile? Did he get that she was an absolute five star girl! It seriously led to a decline in his opinion of her. I mean if she’s taking herself to town with THAT subspecies of the human race, why the hell should he want ANYTHING to do with her. Damn the torch, he had more qualitative things to do with his time!
One Wednesday to that lapse in judgment, he found her again, abruptly.
Ok no that’s a lie; he knew she would be at the Klimt prints exhibition. (No he wasn’t so in tune to her artistic tastes, Facebook Twitterings help!) He went there early, and he’d stay there all night if he had to. He couldn’t help thinking he had to ask her why that guy for God’s sake, why him!
She walked in, alone, wearing a sun-bright yellow dress that he though was completely out of place for such a setting. He let his gaze follow her till the hair on the back of her neck must have stood under the severe scrutiny, but she seemed to be lost in Klimt. He could bear it no longer. He strode up, and stood besides her staring at the ‘The Virgins’ and willed her to turn his way. But patience couldn’t outlive the righteousness of his revulsions, he vehmenced:
“I think Gustav’s reputation as a master of eroticism is an utter ridicule of his works, they are absolute labors and expressions of love.”
She didn’t turn. Her answer flowed in unperturbed knowledge of his presence and his stance.
“Eroticism is a huge facet of love.”
“But there is this whole desire amongst people to vulgarize it. Klimt was not a horn-dog.”
“There is nothing understated about Klimt, he saw it, he said it, minimalism is over-rated.”
“Not everything needs to be declared.”
She then let him see her lips rise in the familiar partial skew, as if it was indeed for him and him alone. It was even more tantalizing viewed in profile.
“Can’t we just take the guesswork out of…guesswork?”
He c/wouldn’t answer. She started to walk away then, in another direction. He had been mistaken, she had not come alone. Jockmiester was there, bodaciously laughing at someone’s joke. Despite himself, he grabbed her wrist. She returned his questioning gaze:
“So your vision of Klimt is more in line with ‘Mulher Sentada’?”
“‘The Kiss’. I revel in expressions. Its something I can sink my teeth into, respond to, follow, enjoy.”
“So there is nothing to be said for natural progression? Every thing must be chased?”
“I believe in seeking…and I want to be sought.”
She left then, that five star girl, he watched her walk to Jockmiester, he saw she kissed his cheek, her lips did not curl in the act.
It would be a while before he even dared to think of her again…this was going to be a write-off. It was official, recession had hit EQ.
It was a Monday, so cold-so blue, beginning of the week. There was a gentle tap on his shoulder as he was about to walk out with his morning cuppa. Her hair was longer, her cheeks seemed sharper, but he knew it was her, although he desperately wanted to see that smile as a reconfirmation. She seemed warm wrapped up in her woolies. He had a bizarre urge to run his finger down her lips, and forcibly mold on that signature contour.
She said she’d lost her old phone with his number. She’d meant to call him post-Klimt.
He said that may have left him verklempt.
There was muted laughter.
A moment, and then there it was.
“Where did you get that smile from?”
“I’ve wondered about it.”
“Its wondered about you.”
“If I didn’t have to go to work right now, I’d…”
“You know that you are a five star girl don’t you.”
“Well, you are.”
“How can I convince you?”
“I don’t think you can in a coffee line.”
“How about over dinner, sometime.”
“I promise not to eat peanuts!”
That Thursday, he was held back at work, he emailed her to let her know dinner may not happen, but maybe a coffee and that promised conversation? She emailed back:
“Ok midnight warrior, text me as you are leaving, you know I never sleep.”
He sat there thinking of her smile. He visualized it, felt his finger trace it across her face. He thought of the utter joy that randomly catching it every few months gave him. The stopping of his heart, melting into his gut, slipping through his soul. He though how it was fleeting bird, so beautiful in flights…of fancy.
He thought of pursuit vs. predisposition.
He thought many big thoughts about that smile on that five-star girl.
Then he deleted her number from his phone.