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Disruption of Continuity
James Goodnight lived alone. He was not lonely though. He told himself this every morning when he was brushing his teeth. James had plenty of hobbies, such as organizing his ties by shade of beige and counting the ceiling tiles above his cubicle at the office.
There was a knock on the door. James felt surprise stir inside him, and he heaved himself up from the sofa. People did not come to his apartment. He struggled to turn the knob with his left hand. His fingers quivered and protested from the effort. His physical therapist told him he needed to practice strengthening the extremity. A girl in her early twenties, clutching a stack of pamphlets, stood in the hallway.
“Hello, how’re you today?” she asked with artificial cheerfulness.
“I am fine, thank you for asking,” James answered mechanically. “Are you a Jehovah’s Witness? I am not interested, I told them last time.” The girl shook her head vigorously, sending her feathery hair flying. It made the air smell of cinnamon.
“I’m selling home and garden magazines, would you be interested in a subscription? It’s twelve issues for $14.95, pretty reasonable if you ask me. And we include a free pair of garden gloves with purchase.” She said this all in one breath, and now paused to suck in air. James stared at her curiously.
“I have neither a home nor a garden,” he began.
“You can still decorate your apartment. It’s rather bland,” she observed, peeking around the doorway. James deftly moved in front of her.
“I enjoy my apartment. It is very tasteful.”
“A little color never hurt anyone,” she said lightheartedly. James noted the girl’s bright clothing with distaste. He felt irritation rising inside him. It was unfamiliar and unpleasant.
“I also have no use for garden gloves,” he snapped, shoving his disfigured hand into her face. Her eyes widened, and a blush crept up her neck and onto her cheeks.
“I-I’m sorry, I didn’t realize…” she fumbled with her papers. “if you ah, change your mind—“
“Please leave. Go away. Good day, miss,” James said, steely voiced, and he slammed the door on the trembling girl.
Sunday, 3:36 p.m. A quiet, unremarkable afternoon at the Goodnight residence. James was watching a nature program on television, when he heard a faint tapping on the door.
“My ears must be ringing,” James convinced himself. “And besides, I don’t feel like standing up.” The tapping turned into pounding.
“Please open the door. I know you’re there,” a voice said timidly. James immediately recognized the voice of the magazine girl. And despite the fact that he didn’t particularly enjoy her presence, she made him…feel something. An unexplainable pounding in his chest cavity. And that hadn’t happened for a long time. He vaguely wondered if he should see a doctor about it. James opened the door, and sure enough, there she stood, knees shaking slightly.
“You again? I believe I informed you that I have no interest in your magazines.”
“I know…I just feel so terrible about it! So I brought you this as an apology,” she said, holding out a misshapen package. James handled it cautiously; it rustled slightly when moved.
“What is it?” he asked, genuinely curious.
“Well, you’ll have to open it and find out,” the girl said, traces of a smile playing on her lips. James sighed and considered what would be appropriate to do next.
“Would you like to come inside?” he asked, rather reluctantly. The girl shrugged, her whole body taking part in the process.
“I guess so. What’s your name anyway? I’m Rory.”
“Rory…” he tasted the name, the warm way it sounded. “My name is James Goodnight,” he stated. Rory laughed delightedly.
“Seriously? That’s so fantastic!” she exclaimed. James momentarily weighed the costs and benefits of his next action, and then extended his damaged hand to shake Rory’s. Rory stared at the twisted appendage and then up into James’ dark eyes, unspoken questions filling the space between them. She finally took his hand gently, like it was a delicate and revered artifact.
“Pleased to meet you,” Rory said, breaking the tension- laden silence. She held his hand longer than socially acceptable, lingering over the twisted contours of his fingers. The skin was soft and smooth.
“Please let go of my hand,” James said, after a minute. It felt to him like centuries. Rory flushed and jerked away.
“The gift, open it, I really hope you like, it, I think you should like it,” she rambled, partly from habit and partly from embarrassment. She wouldn’t forget the way that hand felt. James carefully tore the patterned wrapping paper, breaking the tape, and folding it into a neat square before he even glanced at the present.
“Oh, it is a…plant?” James questioned.
“Nooooo!” Rory exclaimed. “Well, yes. But it’s special, it’s a Christmas cactus, they’re my favorite. They have the most beautiful flowers. I thought…you could use a little bit of happy in your life.” Rory scuffed her shoes on the thick carpet.
“I would appreciate it if you stop doing that,” he said automatically. “I mean, thank you for the cactus. It is very thoughtful of you.” Rory waited, expecting him to say something else, anything, but James remained silent, staring intently at the plant.
“I should go…” Rory started, glancing at the door and then back at James. He shrugged noncommittally.
“I’ll be seeing you, I guess,” she said at the door.
Rory shut the door with a sense of finality. She would most likely not be seeing him. James stood up, took the cactus, and moved it to a corner of the apartment where he rarely ventured. It will survive here, but I will not have to see it, James reassured himself. The television blared. A new program on giant squids was making its premiere. James repositioned himself on the couch and immersed himself in the world of the deep sea. But all the while, he tenderly stroked his maimed hand, tracing the exact paths Rory had on its surface.