3.21.2006

IF ONLY...

It came on so suddenly.

A normal day at the office. I've got my head down, working out some phrasing. Pen in hand, I mark up the page. Click, click, and the pen's tip retracts. Time to walk it over.

It should have been a simple exchange.

Hello.
Hi.
Here it is.
Thanks.

A passing off of paper, and a big piece of paper at that. Two hands, seventeen inches apart. No room for a connection. Not even for the chance of it.

But it didn't go that way.

I approached him from behind, saw the hunch in his shoulders, his unruly shock of brown hair. I'd noticed him from afar, before, because of that hair. It couldn't have belonged to anyone else. A gimmick? Or something he couldn't be bothered to deal with? No matter now.

What matters now is the way he looked at me. It was our first time, you see, this handing off of paper. I don't know what he was expecting. What I was expecting, you already know. A simple exchange. Clean. Nothingness.

But he looked at me, and without looking away, he did a double take with his eyes.

You know that look? Stupefaction. As I hovered over him, he raised his head, expecting ... who knows what. And instead, he found me.

Me. What did he see? He saw enough to lose the words. I'm sure he did. For a moment, hesitation.

H- … H- … H-hi.

And his eyes. The double take. It was as if he first looked at me with workingman's eyes. Dull eyes. Indifferent eyes. But then, when he saw me, recognition: a flash of his true self. Those brown eyes opened up, for just an instant, the better to see me. And in that instant, he betrayed himself.

And I believe my eyes did the same.

Then, perhaps twenty, thirty seconds of painful awkwardness. My heart pounding, I tried to explain my ink scrawls. Here, we need this, and here, it should be this, instead of this. Struggling to keep the paper steady. Hoping my hands wouldn't sweat on the page.

And all the time, we did a tango with our eyes.

Imagine a similar scene playing out in a pub. It's late, and the two spy each other from across the room, or from opposite ends of the bar. There are the furtive glances, the stolen looks, the quick turns of the head to conceal intent. But in a bar there is drink to help the butterflies subside. Liquid courage. Emboldening fluid. A warmth in the throat and belly to melt any timidity away. And there is darkness, too. The cloak of nighttime, wrapped in candlelight. Somehow, the flirtation goes down easier. And so, eventually, the eyes meet, and the bodies follow.

Not so in the workplace, where all eyes are open, all ears attuned. This tango we did ... a risky dance. And I think we both knew. For it was almost immediately down to the business at hand, to the business of ink scrawls but also of hot glances and feigning nonchalance. Thankfully there was the page to save us. The page, where we could point to the words, let them guide us, even though as we spoke the dance went on: my eyes to his face, his to my hands, mine to his fingers, his back to my face...

And then, hasty smiles, and a retreat.

Thanks.
Sure, thank you.

Back to my corner.

That should have been the end. Such things are supposed to disappear amid what is real: the work, the friends, the man at home already in my bed.

There is no good reason for me to want him. And even more, there is no reason to think that he wants me -- that this tango dance, this double take, was anything more than an illusion. A silly girl's fantasy.

But for now, that doesn't matter. Because I do know one thing.

I can't stop thinking about him.