A story about an unfortunate girl.
I have an inexplicable affection for his hands. They are thin, delicate, and wiry – pale in the way that you know that these are not the hands of a laborer but of a scholar. Ink-stained and dainty. I cannot help but love them.
I watch, almost bewitched, as he goes through mountains of paperwork, thumbing through them with one hand as another holds a second collective. He is meticulous; deep creases appear along his brow as a forefinger follows a line of text. He mouths the words and I bite my lip. A flicker registers before he looks up and I look down, and I go back to pretending that there are other beautiful things in the world.
After a moment the thought is lost and my eyes find his hands again.
The first time I noticed them, I was stuttering my way through a conversation about my work. He is amused – lips pursed, trying not to laugh or, better yet, retort so he crosses his arms, thin like the rest of him, and I see the indent of his wrist bones through pale skin. I pause in my explanation of literature, the sea, and mortal convictions and stare.
He thinks I am looking at his watch.
He unfolds his arms, stands up straight, and says, "A knock-off”. I blush.
I've lost my place and start again but I already know that I’m gone and there's no getting me back.
It continues for months upon months, building to a peak I shudder to reach. There are others besides him: Boys who aren't men by any means, but learning and belligerent, no different from the soft-skinned, almond-eyed girls that fascinate but remain, as always, untouchable. All of them do not last. I am hopelessly stubborn. He says so too on one grey Welsh day, a morning spray having left me soaked from head to toe. There is a reason for it, something about a seminar or presentation and a need to feed my ambition through false confidences. Yet, all I remember from that day is the soft look in his eyes as he hands me a spare shirt. He keeps two, in fact, in the bottom right drawer of his desk but I don't mention it on the day he spills coffee on himself during class and swears up a storm.
I sink my shame into cups of green tea over a kitchen table I share with my best friend. She is amused but not surprised. I have no experience with love nor with loving men like him – older, is what she means – but I'm more than willing to blame it on my childhood. She shakes her head, steals my untouched breakfast plate, cracks a pun, and he disappears from my mind like he never took up residence in the first place.
It doesn't last.
Later, just a year later, I'm on the eve of my graduation and I'm almost happy. I've broken, burned, and barred people, things, and opportunities in order to get to this point and the realization sets in when I'm in bed and the other half remains bare. I have not loved, I realized, but wanted. Lusted. What writer does not know love?
I am the aspect of carnal frailty, I wrote for him once; there is no saving me or my beloved. He asked, indifferent, that if it was about me or someone else. My eyes were downcast, disappointment or something close to lights me on fire. I watch his hands holding my paper and he watches me.
"Both," I replied and fled. I don't say anything but pleasantries to him for about a week. He is indifferent.
Now it's my birthday and I’m no longer the university student with a war-stricken gaze, but someone willing to sell my soul to make rent. An adult, maybe. Somehow, I shuffle back into his atmosphere because, despite my choices, I'm still a scholar.
I find him, suddenly, in an off-campus coffee shop. He's alone, wearing those black-rimmed glasses that make my toes curl. He doesn't frown, doesn't purse his lips as he reads through another pile of papers.
I sit two tables away and watch his hands. Thin, delicate, wiry – as I remember. His fingers crook, his knuckles pop, and without reason he looks up at me with a smile. There's a gap between us but I sit down with him anyway.