by Chris Huang
Her perfume smelt of rosewood: a natural, earthy smell punctuated with a faint sweetness recalling, of course, a rose. Our eyes were closed only because our lips were millimeters apart. Such proximity allowed me to feel her calming presence. With her smells, her warmth, and her tenderness, I could not move, I did not want to leave, I did not want to do anything else except keep my face near these things that made the world so very peaceful for the moment.
“Michael! Are you paying attention to me?”
I looked up. I was back in mother’s car.
“Are you paying attention to me?” mother asked again, exasperated.
There was a brief silence, in which I decided whether or not to answer. An implicit yes would have to suffice.
“Good. As I was saying, you ought to go out and join clubs. You know, to meet people. It’s good to have a life outside work. I’m worried about you. You never seem to have any friends.”
“Yeah,” I answered, half-heartedly, looking out the window at the countryside. We were just passing an old abandoned barn, its decrepit wooden structure seemingly on the verge of collapse.
“It’s good to have a hobby,” she said, this time taking her eyes off the road to check whether I was still paying attention. “It relaxes the mind and lets you blow off some steam.”
I nodded absent-mindedly and gave a faint, agreeable smile. I could not figure out what went wrong that night. It was one of those windswept, epic evenings in which we both admitted our feelings towards each other. We found each other, through the thick mist of uncertainty and loneliness. We clung to each other with abandon, as if we were adrift on a raft, stranded in the ocean during a violent storm. We whispered words to each other in order to calm our fears, to convince each other that together we would find our way out of the wild. We looked deep into the other’s eyes, reveling in the newfound discovery of our naked souls.
“Michael, did you hear me?”
“Yes,” I mumbled, still staring out the window. There were now cows in the fields.
“Your father and I,” my mother explained, “we met through friends that we made through extra-curricular activities.”
“Uh-huh,” I mumbled. I could not figure out why she was so distant when we met the next day.
“At first he wasn’t that interested in me,” my mother went on. “But, I was persistent. You have to be persistent, Michael. You have to treat her right. Be gentlemanly.”
We had lunch like strangers. It was as if the connection that was forged the night before was broken. Or did not occur at all.
“Hello, Michael,” she said upon entering the deli. She avoided eye contact.
“Your dad, I knew there was someone else he was seeing, but that was okay. I knew that he was the one for me. I knew we would eventually be together.”
We did not hold hands on the walk home. Her arms were crossed. She kept a safe distance between us.
As we approached her apartment, I tried to hold her, but she pulled away. When I leaned in for a kiss, she quickly said good-bye and ran inside. I replayed the scenario again in my head. There must have been something that happened, something that I did.
“Michael, what’re you thinking about?” My mother turned to look at me again, worried, “Michael?”
But there was no answer from her son, not even an implicit yes this time. I was consumed with analyzing every gesture, focusing ever harder on the passing countryside, as if the answers were dormant in the smeared green-yellow of the grass and fields and trees. Somehow I knew that if I stared hard enough into the abstractness an answer would snap out of hibernation and speak to me.
My mother looked at me once more to offer wisdom. Then, changing her mind, she turned her head to the road, eyes filled with sadness, and continued driving.