On The Other Hand
By Gavin Fouche
Lance took another sip of his beer.
He would’ve preferred it to be nursing him right now instead of him nursing it, but as much as he’d like to have drowned his sorrows in the drink and be out of his mind and out of his misery by now, following that final, fatal encounter with Her - the woman he’d loved, the woman he’d lived for, the woman who’d broken his heart - he just couldn’t quite get to that level of intoxication it seemed.
He looked at his watch. It had been 3 hours and 15 minutes since their lunch date; 3 hours and 15 minutes since he told her that he loved her; 3 hours and 15 minutes since she had broken his heart. He felt like an astronaut in reverse, counting down the hours since some kind of failed space mission had left him dead in space, and dead inside.
What he thought this morning would be - as beautiful and as easy as breathing - and would’ve left him feeling as free as he’d always felt in Her company; turned out to be a mission indeed. A mission of cataclysmic proportions. One that he now wished he’d never undertaken.
This is how Mankind would have felt if the Moonlandings had been a failure, he reckoned. The Apollo spacecraft stuck in a perpetual orbit around the moon; Neil Armstrung, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins forever banished from Terra Firma, forever lost to the silent loneliness of space.
Millions across the planet would mourn as millions more electronic eyes would beam pictures and sounds of empty skies and human cries of anger and anguish into households around the world.
But the moon mission had been a success of course. The only one mourning on this fine sunny Saturday afternoon was him it seemed. Lost to love, adrift in a space and loneliness of his own.
“Can I get you another one, honey?”
The barmaid’s question woke him from his thoughts.
“Err, yes please, miss.”
Perhaps this one would do the trick.
He looked at the barmaid as she took the beer glass and walked away.
She was dressed in a short black skirt, top and stockings. Obviously what passed for a uniform in this humble establishment.
He couldn’t help noticing her blonde hair and her long black-stockinged legs.
She was sexy, even beautiful, in a blonde, black magicky kind of way - but she wasn’t Her.
And this very thought had been his curse when contemplating companionship from another other than Her for the past four years.
They had met that morning at their favourite coffee shop, an old haunt for both, in the centre of town. It wasn't one of those new-fangled American franchises where they make a big show of writing your name on a paper coffee cup; it was just a quiet, cosy, good old fashioned coffee shop which predated the fad for trendy coffee.
At first they had met just for coffee, but over the years it had graduated to lunch as their meet-ups gradually increased in length. Lance lived for those days. He felt completely alive in her company, but felt as if he were sleepwalking through the rest of his life when she wasn't sitting across the table from him or by his side as they left the coffee shop together, arm in arm.
He had loved her from the moment they first met. During each monthly Saturday morning meeting, time would cease to exist. Everything else happening around their table was irrelevant. She was the only person of importance to him on the planet in that moment.
For four years he had loved her from afar. She was the sun and he was Pluto - both the furthest planet from the sun, and the floppy-eared Disney cartoon dog, when it came to matters of love. For four years she had been in and out of relationships. For four years he had been both decisive and indecisive about declaring his feelings to her. Would what they could have, burst the bubble of what they did have? Could she accept him for how he was? He was from Mars, she was Venus.
He lay awake the night before they met, tossing and turning, turning and tossing, wondering how to tell her that he loved her. It had to come from his heart not his head. No smooth moves, no clever words - just the feelings he had held in his heart for so long.
But from the moment they hugged hello that morning he had lost his head, his heart and his tongue completely: His mind had turned to mash, his heart had become too preoccupied with the science of beating fast for feelings, and his tongue had somehow thickened, resulting in him sounding somewhat like a caveman.
They fell into the old familiar rhythms of their relationship almost immediately. They sat at their usual table, the one in the corner. From the minute they began talking he realized that he didn’t actually want this moment to end. He looked into her eyes and laughed at something she said. He would be quite content to have sat at that table with her, laughing, nodding and asking questions for all eternity if he could. Telling her he loved her be damned. He knew he could lose her in what he was about to say. If he could just somehow hold on to this moment forever it would be enough for him.
Finally from somewhere deep within himself he plucked up the courage to broach the subject.
“Um, there's something I have to tell you.” He suddenly blurted out.
The smile faded from her lips as she seemed to sense the sudden seriousness.
“What is it?” She asked.
“You see, for a long time now I've -”
“Good afternoon folks, may I take your order?” It was their waiter, showing up at the most inopportune time as waiters the world over always seem to do.
“Oh, yes please! I'm absolutely starving!” She said as she glanced at the menu. “Hmm, let’s see… I’ll h-aave the…”
So close! Perhaps this was a sign. Perhaps he shouldn't tell her after all. But no - he loved her more than his love for her - he had to. She deserved to know, even if it created a black hole between them. He resolved to tell her after their meal.
“And for you sir?”
The waiter looked at him rather quizzically. “I’ll just err… I’ll just have what the lady is having.”
The waiter immediately began to scribble on his notepad.
Of course he had absolutely no idea what the lady was having. HIS lady. Or hopefully after he had told her she would consent to be his lady. He had never had one before. That was something meant for men other than himself.
“I'm so sorry to have interrupted you Lance. I skipped breakfast this morning and am absolutely ravenous! What was it you wanted to tell me?”
“Oh it's really nothing. It can wait til later.” He said, trying his best to sound nonchalant.
They made light conversation until their waiter returned with two plates of battered hake and salad. Lance was reminded of another battered item, not on the menu - his nerves - as he struggled along with his knife and fork. The last time that he had felt so awkward with his hands in her presence was during the early days of their relationship while he was still worried about how it would look to her when he ate.
After they had finished their meal he decided that it was time to tell her. It was make or break, do or die, now or never. Was it to be, or not to be? That was very much still the question. Eat your heart out Hamlet, he thought.
From the corner of his eye Lance spotted their waiter heading towards them once again. It was a good thing he did; he didn't think his nerves could suffer one more episode of conversationus interruptus.
“Did you both enjoy your meal?” The waiter asked as he took their plates.
“Yes thank you. That was delicious.” She smiled graciously.
Lance wanted to laugh at her politeness. That was one of the little things that he loved most about her. He was just a boy from the backstreets. She was the Empress of Elegance. He was just Billy Joel to her Uptown Girl.
“Can I perhaps interest you in coffee and some cake?” The waiter asked. “We have a freshly baked carrot cake that came in just this morning”
“Oh, yes please.”
Lance smiled to himself. There was that sweet politeness once again.
“And for you sir?” The waiter turned to him”
“Err, I’ll just have some coffee, thanks.”
“Are you sure I can't interest you in a piece of cake?” He asked as if he were Eve offering Adam the apple. “It's very good.” He smiled broadly.
Yes he was very bloody sure. All he wanted was for the waiter to go away and leave them alone. Let Marie Antoinnette eat the cake, he wanted to say.
“Yes, just coffee thanks.” He replied brusquely.
“Is everything alright?” She asked once the waiter had left. “You seem a little on edge today.”
“Well, the truth is, I have something to tell you.”
“What is it?” She smiled, “Well come on, spit it out.”
He felt as if he were about to drop an atomic bomb on their relationship. They say the only creature capable of surviving an atomic Armageddon would be the cockroach.
He hoped their relationship was like a cockroach. He took one last look at her, savoring her beauty before he dropped the bomb.
He spat it out.
When he was finished he felt absolutely drained from all the anxiety and anticipation. A weight had been lifted from his shoulders and his heart. She sat in silence. Probably as stunned as he was relieved.
Finally she put her hand over his. It was his unaffected hand. He felt her soft flesh press against his. She leaned in closer to him. He saw a pained look in her eyes. His heart broke. She began to cry. “Can’t we just be friends?” She asked.
Just friends. He had heard it so often before that it was almost a cliche. He looked at himself now in the barroom mirror. He was no Prince Charming, that he knew. The outward did not quite do justice to the inward. If only she could be content with the inward.
But obviously she couldn't. And if truth be told, if he were Her, he wouldn't be either.
It must've been a bit like the Princess and the frog in the fairy tale to her - except he didn't even get as far as obtaining a kiss. Who knows, maybe she would have succeeded in changing even the likes of him into a prince.
He looked down at his hands. He realized for the first time that she had never actually touched his affected hand before, it had always been the so-called normal one. Only his mother had ever touched him on that hand.
Moebius syndrome - the experts had labeled it. And to him it was just that - a label. He refused to let it define him. It was part of him - just like some people have brown eyes and others have blonde hair - but it wasn’t all of him It seemed that's what defined him to his would-be lovers though. And that's how it shall always be - Forever And Ever; Amen.
Women all held the ideals of feminism in high regard but when push came to shove it seemed that they were still looking for a Protector. Someone who could keep them safe and secure.
He knew he was far more than capable of this. He would die for the woman he loved. But to Her, or to any woman really, he didn’t quite look the part. If only his disability could’ve been the kind of label that was glued on to his beer bottle, he thought. Lemming Way Lager, it said in bold black text on a golden background.
All one needed to do was get rid of all the labels and one plain brown beer bottle would be indiscernible from the next. If only things could be as simple for him. If only he could peel his label off long enough for someone else to see him for who he was instead of what he was.
But it would never be that easy. He knew that now, and indeed always had known it. He was to spend the rest of his days like Wandering Aengus in that old poem. He was allowed to taste love but once, then spend the rest of his days wandering around wondering about it.
He took a long look into his beer as if he were trying to read his future in the foam. Enough of this. She didn't love him. She couldn't love him. He would continue to love her for as long as he lived. This he knew for sure. Nothing would change that. Not even if she didn't return his love. Love was for fools anyway, he decided as he got up to leave and abandon half of his beer.
To put his arms around a woman, to hold her close, to smell her hair - all things that were just not meant for him. From now on he would live not for love but for life itself. Love had been denied to him, but life was still ripe for the plucking. Love was meant for other people, not for him. He thought he had seen it written in the stars for him as well, but perhaps what he really needed was a better telescope.
As his feet anchored him once more to Mother Earth after alighting from the barstool, he felt uneasy on them and realised for the first time that the drink must’ve had an effect after all.
He stumbled over to the cash register which was being manned - or rather womanned - or perhaps personned - by another waitress.
He paid the bill - but to be frank he should’ve rather gone to the john first - and included a generous gratuity for her blonde haired, black stockinged colleague.
He prepared to descend the staircase which led from the pub into the parking lot. Once he reached the bottom - figuratively he HAD already reached the bottom - (he had always rather liked Her bottom) it would be the start of a new beginning. .
One small staircase for him, one giant leap for the lovelorn kind.
He must've been more affected than he realized for, as he reached the last few steps on the staircase, he inexplicably tripped, fell and rolled and rolled and rolled on to the road - straight into the path of an oncoming car. Try as he might he just couldn’t get up. He closed his eyes as the car came nearer. So this was it.The end. No happily ever after, after all.
He lay with his head resting on something soft. He opened his eyes. Immediately his vision was assaulted by the brightest light he had ever seen. He blinked hard and tried to focus once more.
He was lying with his head on a woman’s chest. She was the most beautiful woman he'd ever seen. She had the most amazing auburn hair and he wanted to drown in the blue oceans of her eyes.
So this was it, he thought. Not a bad way to spend eternity. John Lennon was wrong. Who in their right mind would want to imagine there's no heaven when heaven looked like this?
The auburn-haired angel turned her head to look at him.
“Hey, are you okay?” She asked.
“I think so.” He said, realizing that instead of being at the Pearly Gates he was lying sprawled out in the parking lot of Pirates Bar & Grill. “What happened?”
His apparent savior was still every inch an angel though.
“Well I’m not quite sure,” she said. “at first I thought that I had knocked you over.”
“Oh. Well that's okay.” He said sheepishly, remembering what had happened. “No harm done, I think.”
He staggered to his feet. The parking lot spun round like a cheap thrill ride at the funfair, leaving him woozy and off balance.
He saw her looking at his affected hand.
“What happened there?” She asked.
“Oh, I was born like that.” He said. “Don’t worry - it wasn’t you!”
They both chuckled. “I know what that is.” She said. “May I?” She gestured towards his hand.
He felt her fingers gently touch his affected hand.
“You have syndactyly.” She said.
“Well yes, I always try my best to sin tactfully.”
“I’m sorry, I should’ve mentioned, I’m a physiotherapist. I’ve read of what you have but have never seen it before.”
“That’s okay. I’m quite used to being to doctors - and physiotherapists - what Brad Pitt is to the ladies.”
She laughed again.
The dizziness overwhelmed him and he stumbled. He felt her steadying hand on his arm.
“Can I take you to the hospital to get checked out?”
Another quick dip in the deep blue ocean of her eyes.
“Yes, I think that might be a good idea. Thank you.”
She guided him to the passenger side of her car.
“You know, I was in the pub earlier trying to get drunk, but I have to say that meeting you in the way that I did really seems to have done the trick.”
She let out a little laugh.
“I'm Lance by the way.” He added. “Hi Lance, I'm Helen. Pleased to meet you. Just sorry about the circumstances though.”
Helen turned the key in the ignition. Both the engine and the sound system started up simultaneously and they were treated to a sudden blast of what Lance recognized to be Canadian singer Alanis Morrissette’s hit single You Oughta Know. He remembered that due to the content of its lyrics she had once been labeled as The Angry Young Woman Of Rock by the music press.
“Aha! So the angry young woman of the parking lot who knocks people over listens to The Angry Young Woman Of Rock. Now that can't be a coincidence.” He chided..
“Well, you ought to know.”
“You know, you've got quite a good sense of humour for someone who’s just been knocked over,” she looked at him and smiled. “I like that.”
Lance sensed that they were on a road to somewhere far beyond the hospital. Was it love? Friendship? Both? Neither? Who knows. For now he was just happy to sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride.