a lesson in the danger of niceties

When I was in middle school I told the boy I liked that I loved smoked salmon. The next day he came to school and tossed a bag of his smoked salmon at me in the middle of the hallway and said “see ya later” without breaking stride.

I knew two things.

I knew we had entered into some crude mating ritual. I also knew I couldn’t spend the whole day carrying around a bag of fish meat. I threw it in the trash and covered it with papers from my notebook. I told him it was the best thing I’d ever eaten.

He gave me another bag the next day with a smile that was so dangerously ceremonial that I was concerned we had just made a silent pact.

I remember how his pudgy hands felt wrapped around mine and I remember the way he smelled. It was all the smells that come from a boy who hasn’t quite figured himself out in relation to anyone else. Too much axe body spray, the webs of his fingers stained with car oil, the prints of his fingers rough from grabbing fishing poles. He wore carhartts and skate shoes like slippers. His hair was gelled to little points at the top which I would sometimes scratch my hand over.

The day before summer vacation we sat in home economics and he cleared out his fingernails with a mechanical pencil. I pulled a face and he pulled one back. If weeks could be transcribed into years we’d already hit our seventh and things were turning sour.

I told him how much I loved the sky, and how you could predict the weather with cirrus clouds. I knew he’d think about me whenever he looked up, and if things were going south, I wanted some promise that he would reminisce about us the same way I knew I would.

Occasionally he’d message me to say he was.

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a lesson in the danger of niceties