Layers, Part I
(June 2, 2009)
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He found her sitting in a corner booth at the coffee shop, just as he'd hoped; he'd invited her here, but that hadn't meant she would actually appear. He slid onto the bench across from her with what he hoped looked like a warm confidence, moving with slow care as if approaching a timid animal.
"Hello." Her smile was present but threatened to vanish at a moment's notice; her shyness was so pervasive that it began to infect him, leaving him feeling oddly breathless and off-balance in his own body. Her voice was sweet, and it had been a major factor in convincing him to ask her out: every word she spoke was hard-won and precious, and he enjoyed a challenge with the promise of payoff.
Physically, the girl was more conceptually interesting than conventionally pretty. Her lips were enticingly full, and red-brown hair flowed around her face like a mermaid's, defying gravity and suggesting the weightless pull of the ocean. Offsetting those aesthetically pleasing assets were her cheekbones, hidden as they were under a layer of fat, and her chin, which vanished seamlessly into the smooth expanse of her neck. The overall effect was of a sea creature given legs and instructed to start a new life on land without having received sufficient documentation from Posidon. He was attracted to her in the same way he was attracted to distinctive folk art, curious about the series of events that forged her face and primed her personality. Her imperfections were as intriguing as her features, and he suspected that if he could coax her into conversation, he'd find stimulating ideas on her mind. Unfortunately, that -if- seemed determined to avoid growing into a -when-.
Her hands were wrapped tightly around her coffee cup; the ceramic and her arms worked together to act as a shield, blocking his view of her breasts in what he assumed was an unconsciously self-conscious gesture. The fingers of her left hand were tapping a staccato beat against the decal printed on the side of the cup, frantically arrhythmic. He hoped that the tempo didn't match that of her heart, because nothing made a date awkward as quickly as spontaneous acts of resuscitation.
He leaned toward her, pressing his palms against the syrup-sticky tabletop as he tried to make eye contact. Her gaze was everywhere but on him; she looked at the grimy salt and pepper shakers, the cracked pleather of the booth, the ceiling fan rotating slowly overhead, then at the oil-dark surface of her coffee, never focusing on one spot for more than a few seconds. Despite the fact that they'd interacted several times before this meeting, he still wasn't sure what colour her eyes were, because when glimpsed only from the side, they took on the hues of the objects they reflected. He was sure there was a girl in there, but she was closed off from him, hiding on the other side of an organic mirror.
"I read on your blog that you like to write. What do you write about?"
The question hung thick between them, draping itself across the space separating their hands; it blocked her from him as surely as if he'd upturned one of the menus there instead, an impermeable social membrane. She blushed and stared into the middle distance, squeezing the cup until her knuckles turned white.
He sighed. How could he properly appreciate a girl who was coiled so tightly inside of her skin that he could never touch her?
She might have been there, but then, she might have been absent; she was the only eyewitness, and her accounting of events was hardly reliable.
The state of her matter was always in transition; she liked the tangible importance that came with being a solid, but in his presence, she flowed like liquid when she didn't evaporate completely. No matter how she focused on the concrete smoothness of her skin, the way her hair tickled her clavicles, or the reassuring discomfort of her weight pressing her feet against the floor, it slid away from her when he walked in. She'd misplace the sensations of her body the way she lost track of her clothing, the way it initially had a distinct character as it pressed against her torso, then vanished into the background. She became one with the wallpaper, the retail accoutrements surrounding the booth, even his clothing; her essence was animatedly inanimate.
When she tried to speak, her lips were no more tangible than her breath, and all that flowed forth was unshaped air.