Fingers and Broken Hearts

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I don’t know her, but I like her shoes.

In the midst of the buzzing fluorescence and orchestrated bleeps of cash registers, I eye her up and down, curious. She ignores me. The woman in front of me is stacking cans of dog food onto the conveyor belt. They tip precariously in their little piles as they slide towards the scanner, an amusing procession of clinking metal and gelatinous beef chunks, but no one notices.


I sneak another glance at her. I can’t help it. She has the same bottle-green eyes, round and penetrating; the same small smile and narrow chin. Her fingers are long and slender, deftly scanning and sorting the never-ending flood of canned dog food. Bleep. Bleeeep.

I stare. They’re his fingers; the same fingers that grabbed mine in the hallways, pulling me close through throngs of bodies and backpacks. They were the same fingers that cupped my chin, forcing me to look him in the eyes as I shook my head no; no, this can’t be happening, tell me this isn’t happening. The same ones that were in my hair, around my waist, circling my face as he kissed me, heavy and urgent. They effortlessly strummed chords and melodies, deep and haunting and meant for me, only me.

He was playing them back to me from the stark confines of the hospital bed on that night; one of the last. His silhouette was dark and still against the white sheets, his fingers ablaze on the steel strings. They were enmeshed in a mess of wires and tubes, but he hadn’t minded.

It had struck me suddenly, in the gritty blackness, haphazardly hurting in unexpected places. I tried to ignore the IV sticking out of his arm. I wanted to scream or cry, to lose myself in this, this hurt—or maybe it was fear. It thrummed inside me and pumped through my veins like a liquid poison so that I could no longer see; no longer feel. It nestled into my chest, heavy and sad, digging small havens in my pores. My life had boiled down to a constant ache, a pain with no beginning or end. He had set down the guitar, reached out to me, drawn me to his side. I was afraid; afraid of being this close, afraid of losing him. Afraid of losing myself.

This is how I remember him. Sitting together in an empty hospital room, closing my eyes and breathing in deep as we intertwined our fingers—the same fingers, his fingers—and whispered secrets into the dark.

I didn’t go to the funeral. She didn’t, either. As I look at her now, though, she smiles at me. Her smile is typical—polite, yet vacant. She doesn’t recognize me.

There are a million things I want to say to her. I can taste the words, metallic and bold and meaningless on the tip of my tongue, but, as I meet her eyes again, I don’t say any of it. I know that look. It stops me dead in my tracks. In a quick instant, I am back in the darkness, the static quiet, suffocating and trying to understand. So instead, I blink, hand her a twenty and say,

“I like your shoes.”

Something stirs softly behind her eyes, and she smiles again, a real one this time. It seems lost, foreign even, on her sad face, but I’d know it anywhere. The fingers, the chords, that raw ache—a fleeting glimpse of white against black—and it’s gone.





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