I met him first at the office, in the queue for a latte, or as I passed the treadmills at the gym. I saw two things:
- a middle-aged man with thinning grey hair and a beyond healthy beer gut.
- a small boy, arms like chopsticks, dressed in dirty grey underwear, exposed and crying.
The two bodies fused, small limbs enshrined in adult fat so the man would not exist without the boy.
I spoke: impersonal words about the germ-filled air-conditioning, the barista being slow, or how the treadmills add a mile per hour to the registered speed. He flinched, and I froze.
“That's the way of things,” he responded and clasped his arm across his stomach gripping his elbow, shielding his body. In the coffee queue, in the office, by the treadmill, I was too close, and I stepped away.
For a moment, his chest was bare. Concentric circles of standing stones punctured his torso as proud above his chest as they were deep within his flesh. There were bloody tracks from boulders, dragged across his skin.
My hands were hot, my skin itchy, and I longed to feel the cool stone on my skin. But any touch would aggravate his wounds. I didn’t place my hand on his arm in the office, or on his shoulder in the coffee queue, or over his hand as it gripped the treadmill. I watched as he twisted his fingers together so tightly they turned to stone.
Someone touched this man too much when he was a boy dressed in dirty grey underwear and crying, so I said hello.
First published in Ghost Parachute in January of 2019.
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