The National Conference on Self-Esteem is having its annual convention at the Des Moines Civic Center. I see a woman who looks almost exactly like an older version of Nora, my first great, deep love. I was seventeen, and back then we sometimes referred to kissing as “making out” or “petting” or “necking.” Nora and I must have been necking because one time I bit her neck—an enthusiastic accident. I apologized. It made me love her more, but I did not see much of her again.
Now the woman at the conference has my attention. I stare at her as we circle the salad bar. My eyes follow her as she climbs the steps to the hotel’s mezzanine. I think she is beginning to notice how I gape, how I gaze, how I watch her wherever she goes. Embarrassed, I ask a friend from my Breakout Group to speak to the woman and explain, feeling I should keep my distance. “Are you crazy?” she says. Then she smiles affectionately. “Well, okay, I’ll try.”
The two women become good friends. The fixation-woman, whose name is Laura, says she understands. Then the three of us become friends. We attend panel discussions, PowerPoint presentations, and breakout sessions. Laura sweetly forgives me for staring at her all the time.
The conference is over; it’s time to leave. We stand in front of the busses, waving good-bye. Some of us are hugging, and I can’t decide whether to kiss Laura on the cheek or on the lips. I decide the cheek, but that side of her face seems to be strangely paralyzed. Maybe it’s just due to aging, but then, as my lips brush her cheek, I notice her neck; I notice the scar.
She starts to step onto the bus. Then she turns, leans over, and says she thought she knew me from somewhere before.
“But you weren’t that skulk, thank God. He died long ago.”
Dick Bentley has published fiction, poetry, and memoir in over 250 journals, magazines and anthologies on three continents. His books, All Rise, Post-Freudian Dreaming and A General Theory of Desire, are available on Amazon, and at www.dickbentley.com. His poems include graphic “wall poetry” that has been displayed in art galleries.
If you enjoyed Flesh Fiction, leave a comment and let Richard know.
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