Published Sept. 25, 2015 in
Saturday Night Reader (gone, sadly)
This story was originally written for a class taught by AnnMarie O’Malley. She was gentle in her (needed) criticism and urged me to revise and submit for publication. This is for you A.M.
by DL Shirey
Nearly every day I followed her. Bohemian and quite thin, it wasn’t physical attraction. Physicality, perhaps, as she slalomed sidewalks with that enormous fake Fendi bag, switching hands, using its weight and momentum to navigate through gaps in the crowd. She was g.lentz according to a Labelmaker font beside the apartment buzzer.
The grocery store had a sandwich window and stainless steel counter along the front glass. I sat on one of the stools waiting, her last stop as certain as Tuesday. I imagined her leaving the shabby Brownstone, with its warren of medical offices, adjusting her foot-speed to catch the crossing signal changing from red hand to green man. If her timing was off, avoiding the cluster of pedestrians by inspecting the pawnshop window.
In she came, using the fake Fendi as a barrier between her and shoppers. She snatched up four usuals and bolted toward the open cash register. Having trouble thumbing bills with gloves, she plucked out each finger and slapped the cash on the mat. As she waited for change, a woman hugging a Chihuahua pushed in behind her. Feeling the presence, g.lentz shuffled the Fendi between them, accidentally brushing her bare hand against the dog-cradled arm.
She crumpled below the counter, spilling magazines as she fell. “Don’t touch me! Don’t touch me!” she cried, yanking a long sleeve over her exposed hand, wedging head between elbows.
The man at the counter gave a knowing huff, “Please, please, a moment for the lady. Please.”
I too had seen this paroxysm before. While everyone stared at the thin ball of mumbling woman, I noticed Mrs. Chihuahua. She was affected as well: mouth open, catatonic, oblivious to the barking dog squeezed in her talons.
It wasn’t even a minute before g.lentz fled with groceries. I offered Mrs. Chihuahua my stool. “For a second there I thought my life was over,” she said, mostly to the dog. “What the hell happened?”
I had the exact same question, and for nearly two weeks I tried for the answer. Today I timed my exit from the Brownstone to her clockwork arrival, looking for any patch of pale skin visible between layers of coat, scarf and hat. Seeing none, I widened the berth between us and said in a soft, frightened voice, “Please don’t touch me.”
After two quick strides up the carpeted stairs she stopped and turned around. “What did you say?” Two steps down to the hardwood, her gloved hand hesitant on my forearm. “I heard what you said.” I raised my free hand between us, as if I wanted to stop her advances. She softly folded her cheek into my open palm.
The rickety 8mm projector of my mind’s eye saw images flashed at breakneck speed. Snatches of me, beard turning pepper then salt, face sprouting glasses, hairline an outgoing tide; snippets of people, known and unknown, some in shadows, others in clear view. Through the clatter of time, Genna Lentz became the most frequent face in fast forward, growing grey as I did, until the flickering images suddenly slowed.
She was there pulling back from a lingering kiss, above the walls of my lacquered box.