My love's hands are deformed. They were deformed at birth. If you see her on the street, or walk up to her at our library's reference desk, you will see that three fingers on her right hand are shortened and webbed, and her thumb is curiously shaped. Her left hand is more affected—all the digits are stubs, so that it looks something like a paw. On its own your face will swing to her hands. You won't notice, or will forget, her tired-looking eyes, always tired looking though green and bright, and though she never acts tired. It will be at later meetings that you will realize her eyes are the centers of galaxies of freckles, or that her lips are full and her mouth is friendly. You won't be able to help yourself. You'll try to look only sideways, in glances, but you'll miss the auburn hair that brushes her shoulders. You might notice her breasts. I did. Her breasts are round, and they stand apart as though competing for your attention. Using only the library's poor reference collection, she solved a research problem for me before I officially started teaching at her school, and I noticed her breasts when I first saw her. But there were her hands too.
I don't think she has any real limitations, but that isn't the point. Of course other children were cruel to her, and adults showed too much concern. With the best of intentions they focused attention on her hands, so she was always an outsider, always the different one. Oh, she developed an engaging way about her and was studious and competent. She even had boyfriends and was once a little wild, I think a little desperate. Everyone liked her, but she didn't believe that any man could ever really love her, because she was a freak. Well, she was wrong.
The library is a quiet place where she can meet people on her own terms, where her competence shows through, and where she can help people. Any library is holy to me, even a small one in a liberal arts college up in the hills. It was an auspicious place for us to meet, on my third day on campus, my office just set up. I was jumping into research as part of the plan to start anew. The need for a reference librarian would give me a chance to learn something more about my new home and to talk with someone. The department was pretty vacant, it being summer, and there was no one in my empty apartment.
She was efficient, but also warm and friendly, and I saw immediately the things she did to take attention off her hands—long, loose sleeves, holding her left arm a little behind her, keeping her right hand partly closed. I had written a book on stigma and the practices of people with stigmas, and I thought: Don't mention the damned book! And don't stare, either at her hands or away from them. We would get to them if we became friends.
I thought: Look at her breasts. They're safe.
We chatted for a bit, and I knew she knew that I was trying to keep her hands from being a focus, and she was resigned to it. I can't just ignore these things when I first encounter them any more than anyone else can. You have to get past that first meeting. But her face and her breasts helped.
She had been reading a copy of Snow Falling on Cedars when I came in, and she had put it down the wrong way, spine up. I asked what she liked most about the book. "Oh, the description of the landscape. I love the details of it, how beautiful and important it is, but I can't get past the irony of how it is finally just a setting for human conflict."
I told her I had read it mainly for the sex, and she laughed, her tired eyes crinkling and her lips opening. She answered, "Then you must have been disappointed, since it was mostly unhappy or unconsummated."
"What? There's some other kind?"
After she laughed again, and looked around quickly to see if any rare summer patrons were offended by the noise. She talked about the issue of love between Japanese and whites in that period, and I said something enormously romantic like, "Today Asian American women have the highest out-marriage rate of any group in the U.S."
We sociologists do have the golden tongue. But there was a spark, by God! I could feel it and, tired as they were, her eyes showed it. I leaned in toward her over the counter to talk. I was already wondering what excuse I could use to come back, but the time wore on, with me looking for any sign that she needed to get back to work, or wanted to, and she showing no sign of either, instead coming up with new topics when we finished old ones. Finally I simply had to leave, and I must have forgotten to be concerned about her hands, because I just stuck out mine to shake hers. Oh shit! She had to shake it, of course, but I could see she was reluctant. Her hand was soft.
It was a dark wood house on a hillside. Deep twilight. The other hills stood out as blue-black shapes against the midsummer sky, and the shapes of trees were easy to make out. Close by, individual leaves were lit eerily green with moonlight. There were a few scattered houses in the distance, lighting the hills like large stars, and more were clustered down in the hollow. Above were the real stars, and one or two feathery clouds framed the moon.
I was glad she was at the party because I didn't know many people yet, and because she was alone. We were both singletons. I'm sure that was planned by our hostess, to have equal numbers of men and women. It was too soon for people to have started trying to set me up with single women, the game I hate. I'd almost rather be alone. She was well-known enough for people to have stopped trying to set her up, so there were no pressures, and I could enjoy being with her.
I circled the veranda, chit-chatting, learning the folklore of the school. She drifted aimlessly over to ask about my research, and pretended to be interested in it. We got drinks and went over to the railing, where we could watch evening mist sift out from the woods and set a backdrop for the fireflies.
There was a time when I would have gone on about my research until I had bored her completely. Times change. The moon lit her face while she told me about a grand sexual scandal that had led to the departure of a president a decade past. It was a great story, but I could see individual eyelashes. Even individual freckles showed, but not on her throat. That was pure cream. I had an idle thought about what she would do if I bent to kiss it on the line between shadow and light. I thought: Sweet cream lady, I could eat you with a spoon. What would you do if I said that out loud? Instead I asked, "You think Puck is down in those woods?"
"Robin Goodfellow? Oh heavens no! I'm sure he's off on some errand involving a changeling. Oberon and Titania summer down there, though. It's a little known fact. And nights like this are reserved for passion, surrounded by all their court of fairies."
"In a group no less! You know, I always lusted for Titania. And in these woods!"
"Hand in hand, with fairy grace, will we sing and bless this place."
My, she knew her Shakespeare, or at least that play. A lucky choice on my part. Or was it? By coincidence or not someone started a CD of Mendelsohn's "A Midsummer Night's Dream," those otherworldly, opening strings, sounding like Tinkerbell wings in the night air, and we both suddenly had chill bumps. We had to laugh. Had someone been listening to us? It would be too eerie otherwise, but the night had now gone mystical. When we laughed we leaned into each other, and I kept the contact as long as I could without being crude.
She asked, "You don't think that's an omen, do you?" Her pupils were large now.
"Maybe a summons. Maybe we should go down there to seek enchantment."
But instead we were called in to play "Trivial Pursuit." We resisted leaving the night, but it was okay, because we were teamed together, squeezed against each other on the floor around a tiled coffee table. We were a very good team, too.
We were especially good because of our unique strengths—she knew the answers and I cheated. In the middle of the game I told her to watch me, then I picked up a piece of pie and put it in our token right in front of everyone, and nobody noticed. We almost couldn't continue because she was laughing so much. I did it again. Folks were wondering what was so funny with us. We were wiping tears and we leaned our heads together conspiratorially, and then we kissed.
It was just a quick kiss, not much more than a peck, but we looked at each other for a second, maybe two, before going back to the game. I 'fessed up to everyone about my conniving and put back the pie pieces.
Sometimes coincidence deepens into magic. Things happen for some easily explained reason or no particular reason, and the world transmogrifies, changing itself into an enchanted garden where everything has special meaning and nothing merely exists. It happened. For her next question my freckled librarian was asked the role Mickey Rooney played in the 1930s version of "Midsummer's Night Dream." We had to stop to stare at each other. No one would believe it. We hardly believed it either, but it happened just like that, and I felt my hair stand on my neck for the first time in years.
She shivered and gasped and I put an arm around her and said, "Maybe we're already under a spell."
.... There is more of this story ...