(Continued from Recounting)
She held him very gently. Gabe was impressed with how tender this enormous woman could be. He bounced only slightly in her warm, dense palm; her huge, round face hovered over him, swaying erratically as the bus jostled her tremendous body. Some bump or turn would pitch her to the side, but her cute face always returned to center, her grin straight overhead.
She never lost her smile. Her eyes were like little grins themselves, dark and piercing behind her glasses. Her rosy lips were chapped (he was surprised by his instinct to pick at those panels of horny tissue) and her teeth were crooked. He had plenty of time to study her as she hovered over him, breathing some sweet breakfast upon his body. One of her incisors turned slightly, as though hiding shyly behind the other, and her canines stood a little prominently. The upper row of six teeth looked almost like a flat wall of rounded chunks of ivory.
Now he was curious to study everyone’s mouths and see what they were all like. It had never occurred to him before: everyone’s face was like a portrait, one whole piece you took in all at once. But in staring up into the Chinese woman’s face, he realized how many components there were, all the little things that combined and played together to… essentially, cast a spell, really. Gabe smiled unconsciously, then immediately wondered what he himself looked like to other people.
He’s so beautiful, Xiaofan thought. The roar of the bus engine went unheard. The rumble of the huge, thick tires over the road in disrepair went unnoticed. Her entire world was hazy and wrapped in cotton, all except for this little circle of focus that contained a tiny, handsome man.
He didn’t seem scared of her. That was a concern, that he’d look up and freak out about his surroundings. No, instead, he simply woke up slowly and smiled at her. That smile! He was such a gentle man. That must be where the word comes from! Xiaofan laughed inwardly, piecing her beginner’s etymology together: this is a “gentleman.” Was he, though? He always seemed nice, smiling at her when she approached the bus stop. He never intruded upon her private space with small talk, but he was a part of every nice day. She bet that he was indeed a gentleman.
Lost in her thoughts, she unfurled one slender index finger and stroked his jeans with her fingertip. Careful, careful, she never ceased to remind herself. In the past this same palm had cupped a baby bird that had fallen from its nest and a drowsy, injured mouse she rescued from a neighborhood cat. Fragile little things with fine bones and rapid pulses, shivering with panic against her skin before finally relaxing… or resigning. Perhaps they felt defeated and had given up the will to fight, when they slumped in her hand, curling up and creating their own comfort in the final moments of their lives.
Not this guy. He looked for all the world as though he’d had a very long slumber, and he was now taking his time waking up, grinning blearily up at Xiaofan. He didn’t flinch from her touch: he straightened out his legs and spread his arms, displaying himself for her.
She could take him all in at once, this minuscule little person, but even as he lay there in her hand, she couldn’t believe he was real.
Gabe watched her rosy fingertip, shiny with friction and wear, come floating over the edge of her palm at him. The tip of the woman’s tongue pulsed behind her teeth, poking and receding, an entirely unconscious reaction as she studied him. He found this charming, somehow, watching one component of the whole of her face operating independently. He didn’t want to stare, guessing that she’d be embarrassed if he drew attention to what her tongue was doing, but… he also couldn’t tear his eyes away. It kept nudging into view, rocking back and forth, peeking like a shy child who had built up the courage to make a game of spying on someone.
Her tongue was pale pink and wet and smooth. Her teeth were an opaque off-white with three vertical ridges of enamel that stuck out in little nubs along the biting edge. He was entranced with studying this Chinese woman’s mouth, so he was startled when her fingertip finally made contact with his leg.
She was incredibly gentle, as in all things. The warmth of her palm made him a little dozy, and the plain prettiness of her face filled his head with all sorts of sweet notions. So he was quite receptive to her touch when she reached for him. Her fingertip felt like… well, like a large animal, like a dog rubbing bodily against him, but with a much more exquisite gentleness. He was deeply touched with the care with which she regarded him.
What was she doing? Gabe’s gaze flipped from her finger to her amazingly dark brown eyes and back, trying to read her intent. It looked like she was simply curious, so he spread out his limbs and offered himself to her. The pinkness that glowed in her cheeks told him this was the right move.
Her finger ran along his outer thigh, knee, and shin. Her huge eyes twitched so slightly, taking him in by millimeters, he imagined. And in staring up into her scrutiny, he could just make out his own reflection in the left lens of her glasses. His left, her right. There was a darkish star-shaped image against a pale background. He smiled at his reflection though he couldn’t see it.
Xiaofan caressed the tiny man’s thin little legs, then his arms in his winter coat. She dared to run her fingertip over his belly, and she could just make out the seam of his coat, the large black buttons running down his chest. Oh, she was so excited! Everything about him was perfect!
She lurched to the left and looked up, startled. They were already at the college! She hefted her shoulder bag over her arm and… looked down at the tiny man.
What would she do with him? Obviously he was coming with her, but how could she carry him without hurting him? Her puffy coat had two large pockets, but those were full of candy, candy wrappers, keys, used tissues, all sorts of crap. That would never suffice!
Should she keep him in her mouth, until she could get him to safety somewhere? Her fine, thin eyebrows furrowed. He probably could fit inside there, if he curled up, but that was disgusting. She couldn’t shrink a total stranger down and then store him in her mouth, and expect him not to freak out or fear the worst.
She blinked rapidly. What had she stolen him from? He was obviously on his way somewhere, probably the same place he went every morning from that bus stop. It hadn’t occurred to her until this moment, so wrapped up was she in her desire, that he was technically missing. Someone would be waiting for him, maybe an office of people, and when he failed to show up, what then?
She lurched again and the bus pulled up against the curb. No time for any of this! Mildly panicked, Xiaofan hastily nestled her hand into her infinity scarf and opened her palm, hoping he’d take the hint.
Apparently he did: she felt his near-weightless mass, wrapped up in gray wool overcoat, drift out of her hand and dump into the coarse knitting. She had to peek, tugging at the scarf, and just below her chin was the blurry little dark shape in the blurry knitting. What else could she do? Promising to be mindful of her little man, she patted the scarf back into place, pinning a layer of material down with her chin, and trotted off to class.