Work

The man who’s embracing me in the street because I have a piece of dust in my eye: yes, I know him. He grips me above the elbows, makes me fix my flickering gaze upward. Through startled tears I look at a square of sky until a big shape—his face—interrupts one corner.

“Relax, I have saline,” he says. “Relax. Can you see me?” Has all my work culminated now, in something as mundane as a man and a woman hugging?

We’ve shared a coffee cart for years. The first time I saw him was in periphery as I finished buying my breakfast.

“Hey, no fair,” he said, so I pivoted in my mud-spattered boots. “That’s what I was going to get!”

I walk dogs. I said “Sorry!” then pulled the dogs aside, thought about my Bavarian creme donut in a new way. From that moment, I’d be watching him; I wondered, with satisfaction, how long he had watched me and I hadn’t known.

I wondered what his briefcase was full of. I tried to remember ever having been watched before by someone with a briefcase. He seemed to own things, and I wondered, What kinds of things does he own? but guiltily, because what should have been enough was that he owned his shoulders, his broad back, the hands that put a dollar on the counter and carried away a paper bag.

Now this man’s body is over me and he is flooding my eye with drops of greasy water from a bottle that was in his pocket. Papers swirl everywhere because he has flung down the briefcase, and it has opened. I have let go of the leashes, thrown the coffee cup; the dogs bite the papers and lap the brown liquid. A horse may be whinnying nearby, or I may be imagining that.

I’ll admit I once thought about making love to him surrounded by things he owned: good umbrellas, leather-bound books, letter openers. Hey, no fair, I heard myself say, referring to some fine shoehorn or vase, but looking at his mouth which I was about to kiss. That’s what I was going to get! We collapsed right into each other.

I know how to recover from dust in the eye, I could have said a second ago. This isn’t the first time dust has been in my eye. But it’s too late. He grips my chin, like a veterinarian giving a pill to a cat. The drops are giant and cool.

“Blink,” he says, his voice disturbing the hairs inside my ear. “You can see me, can’t you?”

The piece of dust floats away in a torrent and I close my arms around him, I smear my wet eyes on his soft, expensive shirt.

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