He reaches a hand across the table. She can see its motion out of the corner of her eye, a force so much larger than its representation. It takes over the table, the restaurant, the hotel they are in, but not in together, not like that. Just co-workers at a meeting. So typical. But not, really, not like that. Just friends. At least they were until he started moving his hand, inch by inch, gently pushing aside the unused utensils it its path.
What are the words that go along with the force of the hand? They are odd, and she is so completely focused on the hand, that she almost asks him to repeat, but no, here they are, “I wish I could clone you.”
She laughs. The smallest of giggles, a tiny breath of sound though smiling lips. Such a tiny sound, but with a power strong enough to stop the hand. The hand slows just as it is passing her salad plate. It slows, stops, reverses.
The words kill the depth and passion of the moment. What does she say in return? She can’t remember. Something nice. Something that will boost that fragile male ego.
They move on, see each other at the odd meeting here and there. Never a word spoken of the ‘cloning incident,’ as she remembers it.
But she never forgets. He wanted her. How could a girl forget being wanted? He wanted her enough to defy convention and tell her, that despite the ring on her finger, he thought of her as a person worth wanting. Every time she sees him, she feels more beautiful, not just physically, but mentally too. Altogether more everything.
Years go by, and things change. The ring is removed from her finger.
She sees him again, some meeting somewhere, some restaurant, some hotel. They sit next to each other, and behind the mask of louder conversation among their co-workers, she tells him the truth about herself. But she drinks too much, says too much. The next morning, her sober, hung-over brain will recall the way he leaned away from her as she shared the facts of past acts of infidelity, the reason for the end of her marriage.
And it becomes painfully clear that he only wanted her when he couldn’t have her. When he thought she was clean and pure. Something very different than what she is. The happy memories of feeling beautiful, tarnished by the fact that he didn’t really want her, he wanted a made up version of her. A cleaner, nicer version.
Another time and place. He is engaged to a person tall and athletic, not a thinker, but a doer, like him. He reeks of smug superiority. At dinner, he is the one drunk, and he calls her a terrible word. She reacts with nasty words of her own, slashes his ego to ribbons. She is far smarter than he is, after all. A thinker, a planner.
And finally, he is married and all the things she found attractive about him are gone. The sweet loyalty, the casual kindness, the relaxed laughter, all gone. The stress and strain show in the lines on his face, the hunch of his shoulders. Another meeting, another hotel, he treats her like a disagreeable sibling. She avoids him and declines his invitations to dinner. With co-workers near by, he reaches a hand out, to grab, what? The hand is both mean and meaningless.
“What happened to you, so wild and fun?” He asks, when she says no, again.
She laughs, a large laugh, a laugh to shred conversation. She remembers plans made and broken, opportunities missed, and instead of regret, finally, she feels relief that it never worked out. It would have ended so badly if it had ever started. Usually she can’t picture the endings, but this one is clear.
Despite the clarity, she can’t make herself understood. How can she tell him that she does not exist?