By Hank Kirton
Mary-Ellen Bissonette was beautiful, a tall, striking blond in her late twenties who reminded Harry of Yvette Mimieux in The Time Machine.
Harry found himself staring at her more and more.
He found himself eavesdropping on her more and more. He didn't pay attention to what she said. He just enjoyed the languid tones of her voice. Her voice was a soft, dreamy breeze.
Mary-Ellen Bissonette had ice-blue eyes. They made Harry nervous, those eyes. When he talked to her, he avoided them, keeping his unsteady gaze bouncing around the office.
She had what they used to call bee-stung lips—full, moist lips harboring unspent promises.
But she had no arms.
She'd trained her feet to take the place of her missing hands and Harry was quietly amazed by the dexterity she demonstrated with her toes. He'd watch her, sitting at her desk in the labyrinth of cubicles at The Institute, as she typed, dialed the phone, and filed things, using only her feet.
She was amazing, and such a nice, upbeat woman, gifted not only with beauty, but poise and kindness and cheerful good humor.
Having no arms would have left Harry bitter and angry. He was pretty sure he'd have spent his life sitting drunk at home, collecting disability checks. Harry was like that. A quitter. Always looking for the easy way out.
So it came as a surprise one autumn morning when he realized he was falling for her. He was falling in love with Mary-Ellen Bissonette, the office Venus DeMilo, the armless beauty.
The sudden heavy punch of this realization struck his guts, hard, and his belly dropped like a severed elevator.
He had to get close to her, somehow.
He wondered if she'd lost her arms in an accident or had been born without them.
Probably born, he decided, otherwise she'd use hooks or prosthetics for everyday tasks and wouldn't have developed such nimble, dexterous feet.
He was staring at her again, thinking; here was a woman who'd never hugged anyone and never would. How sad. She turned and caught him looking. She smiled a frost-melting smile and he grinned like a simpleton and turned back to his work, feeling the blood rush red into his face.
It was an impossible situation. Impossible.
He'd either have to start talking to her on a personal level—strike up friendly conversations—or try to keep a cool distance until he felt differently about her.
And what were the chances of that?
Over the next couple of weeks, Harry started keeping a mental checklist of each small connection.
One morning he said, "Hi. Good morning," to her.
She said, "Hi. Good morning," back.
He kept boxes of Cracker Jacks in his desk. One afternoon, he offered her one.
"No thanks. I love Cracker Jacks, but I'm trying to keep my distance from sugar these days," she said. "I'll take the prize if you don't want it, though."
The prize was a tiny book of riddles. He gave it to her and she laughed and thanked him.
When he got home he realized he should have asked her to read him some of the riddles. They could have shared a happy, funny moment. Damn.
He promised himself to be more vigilant when such opportunities presented themselves.
The next day he asked to borrow a pencil. She handed it to him with her left foot. She wore red nail polish and he pictured her applying it, dipping and brushing, one foot to the other, intent, concentrating.
One day he heard music coming from her cubicle and he asked her, "What are you listening to?"
"Bleak Holiday," she told him.
"It's nice," he said. "They're good."
She smiled and nodded. "Yeah. I love this album."
On his way home he stopped at the record store. They didn't have anything by Bleak Holiday.
One day her hair looked different.
"I like your hair," he said.
"Your hair. I really like your new hair."
She shrugged and looked at him funny. "Thanks."
He spent the rest of the day in a panic, staring at her hair. Was it different? Oh no.
By the end of the day he decided he couldn't tell anymore.
***"I'm going out to lunch. Would you care to join me?"
"Feel like going out for coffee, maybe?"
"I think I'm going to take in a movie tonight. Care to come along?"
"Mary-Ellen, would you have dinner with me sometime?"
He said these things and other things during the drive to work one morning.
It was the only time he said these things.
He imagined date scenarios. Sitting in a restaurant. He pictured her sipping wine, holding the glass with her foot. Cutting her meat with her feet. Wiping her mouth. Handing the menu back to the waiter.
Everyone would stare.
He pondered possible moments of intimacy. If they were sitting in a movie theater, getting cozy, would he hold one of her feet? What would an embrace feel like? What did her torso look like under her clothes?
If they got engaged, would he slip a ring over one of her toes?
If they had children, would they be born with missing limbs?
What was her family like? Did her parents have arms? Her brothers? Sisters?
It was an impossible situation. Impossible.
Harry called in sick on Friday. He needed time to think about all this.
When he returned to work on Monday, she wasn't there. Her cubicle had been cleaned out. He asked Janet, "What happened to Mary-Ellen?"
"Didn't you hear? She left. Took a job in Kansas City."
Harry felt sick, for real this time. "Really? When did this happen?" he asked.
"She gave her notice two weeks ago. We had a farewell party on Friday. You should have been here."
Yeah. He should have.
Hank Kirton was born Feb. 4, 1967.
Photo "Toe Socks" courtesy of Charles Thompson, Clinton, NY.
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