Touched

by Julie Benesh

Love Triangle I

Your mother to your father, “She lets boys touch her, but not us.” How can you explain?  At 15 making your mother jealous is farthest from your mind. If hugging her would make a boy jealous you’d be all over it. Boys are easy, they make no emotional demands, despite the emotions they evoke, emotions you grant freely. Your mother dreamed of you for years before you were born—you can never keep up with, make up for that.

                                    

Something About Harry

That guy, everyone says he looks like Harry Conniff Jr., but better, partner of a gay man you work with and a seminary student at the time. Stressed out one day in your 30s, like any other day in your 30s, wearing pewter snakeskin block heel Mary Janes with unforgiving soles and gray silk culottes, matching opaque tights, a silk tunic shirt jacket in cream with large gray dots, you literally collide. He asks what’s wrong and you looked into his eyes and babble incoherently. He does not ask if you “would like,” or did you “need” a hug.  He asks, “May I hug you?”  Like it’d be doing him a favor. You nod and imagine yourself on the cover of a contemporary romance novel with that very book itself clutched in your hand around his neck, your little painted picture nested on its cover, clutching hand, clutching book, regressing into infinity.

Years later at a coffee shop with a newish friend, a pastor, trying to figure out who you might know in common, you arrive at this Harry guy. “Oh, my God!” she shrieks. “Hottest guy ever!” She’s married to a woman; said she never liked boys.

Proving it’s not either of you, it’s him.

 

Melt with You

A professor at commencement, up on the platform, front and center, for hours, in a polyester cap and gown under hot lights after having taken the el and walked half a mile in July Chicago heat you get up and sit down fifteen times in front of a camera projecting your magnified sweating face to several thousand people. Everyone is squashed together and you are next to a dreamboat school executive, a beauty inside and out in the mode of Viggo Mortensen, and your gowned leg is pressed against his. You are so happy it’s him, of all contenders, and self-conscious to the point of nausea. When the person on your other side gets up to take their ceremonial turn, you move your chair a few inches away whispering, “I’ll give you a little space.”

“Oh, I come from a big Italian family—I don’t need much space.”

Just when you thought you had nothing left to melt.

 

Love Triangle II

The object of your menopausal crush is leaving the country for good and throwing himself a farewell party at his office. Your desire to…what? …overpowers your typical social anxiety. It’s an experiment, you tell yourself. Good-byes are hard, but closure necessary.

There are way too many boundary-less PsyDs in one space. People are squeezing in for pictures. A man you’d just exchanged business cards with gets next to you, whispering, “oh, good, I get to cuddle someone pretty,” stroking your side from shoulder to hip. You freeze, imagining elbowing, shoving, or hip-checking him. Would he deny he’d meant to touch you, like you were flattering your aging self?  Frozen you still have some dignity.

Conclude that your longing for your host/guest of honor has somehow contaminated the air and brought this on.

Last to leave you hang around chatting with your crush object silently beseeching him to ask you if he could hug you, but to no avail.  On your way out, listen to the handsy man’s voicemail saying, “I’m sorry. I’m going through stuff and was lonely. I should not have touched you like that without your permission. Forgive me.”

But hear: “Why didn’t you stop me? You could have stopped me!”

But then.

Wish you’d sensed his sadness and thought to ask if you could hug him: for your long dead mother, for hot Harry, for mellow Viggo.

For yourself.

About the Author

An alum of Warren Wilson College's MFA Program for Writers, Julie Benesh is recipient of an Illinois Arts Council Grant. Her writing can be found in Bestial Noise: A Tin House Fiction Reader, Tin House Magazine (print), Crab Orchard Review, Florida Review, Gulf Stream, Cleaver, Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, New World Writing, and many other places and is forthcoming in Hobart and Drunk Monkey.