by Laura Halferty
You wish you could stop freeze-framing every private moment you witness into a tableau, but your brain is a digital camera with a soft-focus filter and no delete button.
Like that time at Wegmans when you saw a toddler in a grocery cart fling her orange cheese-powdered fingertips to the November sky like some tiny goddess commanding the heavens, waiting for her mom to lift her out and say, “How about a nice grilled cheese and tomato soup for dinner?”
Or that Saturday at the ice rink when a freckled boy stuck one skate and then the other in front of him so his hunched-over dad, glasses slipping down his nose, could pull the laces tight and double knot them. And then he clumped onto the ice, disappearing into a swirl of colors and refracted joy.
That morning on your commute, idling at a stop sign, when a girl burst through the front door of her house, scattering the tabby sunbathing on the top step, and ran down the daffodil-lined walkway, pink backpack bouncing. When she reached the road, her mom caught up to her and tried to grab her hand, but the girl swatted her away.
That afternoon in the school parking lot when a teenage boy with shower-damp hair slid out of an SUV, sunglasses on, Air Pods in, bag slung over his shoulder. His dad rolled down the window to say “Good luck” as he walked away, but the kid just nodded his head and motioned for him to drive off, too cool to look back.
And that day at Marshall’s when a barefoot teenage girl wearing retro silver braces and an elegant strapless black dress padded across the dressing room like a nervous cat, leaving flip-flops, jean shorts, and hoodie in a pile behind her. She knocked on a door, and when her smiling twin of a mom opened it, the girl lifted up her arms in a tentative question.
It’s the gestures that haunt you.
So much unspoken love in those little movements.
Yeah, it’s the gestures that wreck you.
It’s the gestures that make you wish you were someone else, maybe someone who wasn’t full of rotting eggs left behind like the ones no one finds until weeks after Easter.
It’s the gestures that make you wonder what it would be like to be someone who doesn’t read a story into everything, but no, you have to be a fucking writer who gorges on other people’s lives, getting images lodged in your brain like time bomb prions.
It’s the gestures that make you rush from stores abruptly before the world can get blurry, rudely leaving half-filled carts in the middle of aisles, because if you’ve learned nothing else from your dead father, it’s that you don’t expose your weaknesses to anyone. Ever.
It’s the gestures that make you drift across the double solid lines during your long commute, those moments, safe and alone, when the world is softly padded with snow, when you allow yourself to travel to some alternate timeline where things turned out the way they were supposed to.
It’s the gestures that remind you that by some accident of biology or DNA, you’ve been shut out of something basic and human they all take for granted, that you are Grendel in the petrol blue night, lurking in the shadows just beyond the glow of Heorot, rage and jealousy in your heart.
Because the truth you haven’t quite learned to live with is as inevitable as a lake effect storm in a Northern New York winter: No toddler is going to lift up her hands; no boy is going to stick out his skates; no girl is going to swat your hand away; no teenage boy is going to nod his head, too cool to look back; and no teenage girl is going to look at you as if you possess secrets about which magical dress will change her life.
Laura Halferty teaches English and creative writing at The State University of New York at Oswego. Her nonfiction has been anthologized in From the Waist Down: The Body in Healthcare; and her fiction has been anthologized in Blink: Flash Fiction Before You Can Bat an Eye and Women Behaving Badly: Feisty Flash Fiction Stories. You can also find her writing in Under the Gum Tree, The Fem Lit Mag, Wordgathering: A Journal of Disability Poetry and Literature, and PopMatters. She lives in Syracuse, New York.