Watching (an excerpt)

entry_206“You’re shy, aren’t ya?” Michelle asked, her chair squeaking as she leaned it forward on two spindly legs. I thought I heard her tongue falter on “aren’t,” like she was translating from the twang of her native “ain’t.” She asked the question in earnest though, and it wrinkled her brow.

I could only grin, but it felt more like a wince. The break room was nothing more than a converted closet, appointed with a perpetually-hissing coffee maker and a couple of derelict chairs. There didn’t seem room for an answer in such a confined space.

My job’s primary attraction had been that there simply weren’t many people around on midnight security. Yet now Michelle’s pale eyes were steady on me, like she was trying to see straight through me to the back wall. It was all I could do to avoid turning away. My arms felt exposed and leaden, and I couldn’t find a natural resting position for them, so I folded them across my chest. What an unfortunate confrontation.

She took my silence as confirmation. “Shy!” she said, this time with conviction. Michelle was a woman not given to subtlety, so I could find some comfort in her obliviousness to my discomfort. I’d often found myself studying her schoolyard caliber flirtations from across the employee office, where fewer than a dozen of my crew mates spent the last half hour of shift before turnover. The conduct there tended toward the aggressive, and bawdy jokes or sports bickering set the tenor of the mornings. I’d ascribed it to the forced intimacy, but I’d always felt a distance from it, like a transient at a family gathering. I could relate to my shift mates as far as the job went, and my work was something for which I was well-regarded. But the friendship of colleagues had never been a part of that. They were here, after all, more as a factor of necessity than choice. And now, face to face with the company’s most volatile personality, I felt positively awkward. Calcified. It was an indelicate reminder that I had succeeded only too well in distancing myself–the stolid observer had become more a fossil than anthropologist.
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Handy Man

entry_205Damned if my hands didn’t look good around Claire’s throat. But then, my inability to perceive an act so visceral with any subjectivity was the very reason I was finally giving my agent the throttling she deserved. It sent me into a rage that there was a part of my mind, even then, that wasn’t focused entirely on squeezing with every ounce of strength I could muster. I could just hear the photographer’s direction: “Now lace your fingers behind back there, and turn the hero head just a little so we can see your thumbs. Nice!”


It’s impossible for me to lose myself within any activity, particularly anything involving my exceptional hands. You’ve probably seen my hands–the tools of my trade–fondling various products over the past decade or so, though you’d never know me on the street. I am a plain man, it’s true, but my hands are widely-held as the finest the advertising world has ever known. My introduction to hand modeling came early, sparked by an off-hand comment during a visit with Mother’s best friend Claire.

“Will you look at that?” said Claire, swirling her martini glass so that the ice cubes tinked against each other.

Mother looked up from her nails, “Mm?”

“The boy’s hands,” she said. Just like that: the boy. “They’re like little porcelain spiders.”

I looked down at my hands as if I were wearing them. At the time I was holding the chocolate bar Claire had brought me, still wrapped. It had melted in the summer’s heat, and I’d been squeezing it between my fingers, enjoying the fluid resistance within the candy’s foil sheath.

“Jeffrey, don’t play with your food,” said Mother. “It’s rude.”

“It’s not food, it’s candy,” I said. I put the bar in my pocket where, incidentally, it would melt even more.

“The boy could be a hand model,” Claire said. She turned to my mother. “I’m serious. Have you ever thought about bringing him in?”

I didn’t like the sound of that. In my limited experience, “in” was not a place to be brought. The thought of small severed hands on black conveyor belts had me massaging my wrists.

Mother shook her head. “All children have perfect hands,” she said. “You forget. That’s what hands look like before you’ve worked a job, or done your drugs, or been divorced-”

Claire chuffed. “Maggie, stop.”
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Once More

entry_204I met Tasha late last year at the rec center pool. I was doing my usual laps, and forcing myself to remain submerged as long as I could bear it. When I surfaced at the pool’s edge, her ankles were the first things I saw. Tasha stood there with a look I could only interpret as expectation, like she was close to remembering me from somewhere else, and only hoped that I would make it easier by remembering first. I could only shrug. “Sorry?” I said.

“No,” she said. “I was just admiring your submarine-like abilities.”

“Ah,” I said. “Yeah, it kind of runs in the family. That and a copious bladder. None of the men in my family urinate but once a week.”

“Which makes you excellent pool material all around, I’d say.”

We hit it off right away. Our rhythm was curiously free of the usual newborn fawn clumsiness, and I felt not the slightest hesitation when she asked whether I was hungry. “Your people do eat, I assume?”

“Of course,” I said. “But I eat only things that I’ve caught and shaken to death in my own teeth.”

“I can’t wait to meet your family,” she said.

It was about a week later, when work week poisons had attained dangerous levels once more, that I paid another visit to the rec center. My routine there is fairly regular, more ritual than relaxation. So I suppose I shouldn’t have been too surprised to see Tasha there again by the pool’s edge as I surfaced from my last lap.

She had that same look on her face–it’s unique to her, somewhere between private humor and deep confusion–and I didn’t have it in me to spoil the drama. So I shrugged. “Sorry,” I said.

“No, I was just admiring your submarine-like abilities,” she said. I felt that momentary mental tug that happens whenever I’m pitched out of the moment. That’s pretty much what she’d said the first time we’d met, wasn’t it? And I was immediately won over.
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