Earlier in April, I attended a public event on campus. I observed many little moments taking place throughout the event and I compiled them into this moderately fictional piece. Do any of these moments sound familiar to you? Can you figure out where I was for this? Maybe you also saw these moments take place.
When she leaned into him, whispering with her freshly manicured fingernails resting lightly on his thigh, he choked on the ice cube that had snuck into his mouth like an unwanted visitor, floating just barely above the purified water in his small disposable plastic cup. It was short-lived, under the radar. No one knew it had been there, lingering in his mouth like the last glass of chardonnay on her heavy breath: warm and dense, but empty against his neck.
Before she leaned into him, whispering with her freshly manicured fingernails resting lightly on his thigh, she had handed him a disposable plastic cup full of purified water from the glass water cooler on the table in the back of the room, behind them, behind the rows of chairs full of English students and English professors and random parents from the community all joining in this one room to listen to a man speaking at the podium with a shaky voice and long, bony fingers that covered his mouth when he giggled. Yes, she handed him the disposable plastic cup full of purified water and leaned into him, his arm across the back of her chair. But he pulled his arm away, resting it instead in his lap. Grasping the small disposable plastic cup full of purified water in both hands as if it was full of lead. As if he was not strong enough. Because he wasn’t, really. Was he?
“This isn’t working,” she whispered, leaning into him. And the ice cube that had slipped into his mouth suddenly slipped further, down his throat, a momentary panic as he felt the cold suffocating the lining of his esophagus and then halting in his chest before he let out a short cough, barely audible, and in that brief second, he knew: this is what it felt like.
They remained sitting next to each other, their shoulders barely touching in the second to last row of the room that bore too many shades of blue, everyone still facing the man at the podium, his preaching words nervously flipping pages of printed essays, muffled by the thought of counting each second until the End. Until they could stand up and walk out separate doors and pretend her freshly manicured fingernails were never resting on his thigh, pretend her breath was never warm against his neck. Pretend they hadn’t been pretending all along, floating unintentionally down this river of uncertainty.
Later, the man at the podium took a sip of water from the fancy glass next to his microphone. The crunch of the ice against his chattering teeth filled the stagnant room, the speakers vibrating with the scraping of cold against warm against hard against hard against hard. He knew it would be hard, but the sound was so beautiful that he had to turn to look at her, even though they were supposed to be pretending to not be pretending anymore. But she didn’t hear the ice, didn’t look up at him. She was only staring at the strips of her long blonde hair between her fingers, mindlessly snapping off split-ends with her freshly manicured fingernails, the fingernails that had earlier rested lightly on his thigh when she leaned into him, whispered, “This isn’t working,” right before he choked on the ice cube that had slipped into his mouth like an unwanted visitor.
-Maggie Sullivan ’15