A reminiscent pain struck Chris Wiewiora when and where he least expected it.
“Is anyone sitting there?” I pointed to the chair to a girl’s left.
“Oh, no. You can sit down,” she said.
“This is the room for the grad school presentation, right?” I asked.
“I hope so—”
“—Good,” I said. “I was in the next room and the presentation was on radiation.” I sat down and thought I’d throw in a joke. “I don’t want to get cancer.”
The girl next to me nodded. She smelled like my ex-girlfriend—vanilla perfume and lilac shampoo. The curls of her hair were still slick from a morning shower.
We’ll be starting in a few minutes. Come up to grab some informational papers.
I stood up.
“Hey, can you get me some?” the girl next to me asked.
I didn’t know her name.
“Sure,” I said, “No problem.”
I put one leg over another girl’s leg to my left, then stretched and crisscrossed myself over a guy’s lap at the end of the row, like theater seating. I stumbled into the aisle.
I came back and gave the girl next to me my duplicates. She took the stack of papers and started to shuffle through them. I didn’t know if she felt lost or was putting them in order or was just ignoring me.
Well, let’s start off with any questions.
I raised my hand, glanced at the girl next to me to see if she was watching me, and then I stood up to ask, “How important are the GREs and when should you take them?”
Important. As soon as possible. Know that you can take them multiple times.
The girl next to me bounced her foot—toe pushing off the ground and reverberating up her calf to her thigh. I remembered how my ex-girlfriend used to shake her leg each time we sat next to each other. I checked out the girl next to me. Her jeans must have had spandex woven into the cotton, because the denim stretched so tightly that they looked like a blue lacquer right on top of her legs.
“What’s the difference between a master’s you do research for versus a thesis?” the guy asked on the end of our row, whose lap I almost straddled.
The arm hair of the girl next to me brushed against my forearm. I felt filled with possibility, like my arm was a match rubbing against the friction of her skin. I held onto my papers, tempted to put my right hand with its open palm up in my lap, so that the girl next to me could hold my hand. Like how my ex-girlfriend’s fingers would go index, index; middle, middle; ring, ring; to pinkie, pinkie.
“Here I am, Here I am.” I wanted to echo the children’s song.
The girl next to me bit her nails. She tore the whites off and finished at the cuticle. My ex-girlfriend always destroyed her manicure making jagged zigzags of stray nail from the smoothed rounded edge. The girl next to me started on her thumbs.
We have time for a few more questions….
And now the girl next to me was putting her papers into her homemade paisley red handbag slung on her shoulder. I didn’t say anything to the girl next to me. I didn’t even try. I just watched her out of my peripheral as she got up to leave—taking the long way, away from me.
—Photo Conor Lawless/Flickr