Gabrielle Mitchell-Marell

I love you.

Sitting across the table from you in the employee cafeteria, I watch the food tumble around in your mouth, appearing in its altering form and then rolling back somewhere, like refuse glimpsed as a bulldozer rolls through a landfill. When it emerges, the particles are illuminated by a column of sunlight angling in through a window somewhere behind us. If you were better to look at, your voice more soothing, or your thoughts more dynamicÖ but all things weighed, there is little to redeem you.

I push my chair over a little, to make some distance. Adapting, you lean in a little, your chest closing in on mine. Soon, another two come and ask if they could sit down and I smile and slide my chair back across the floor to make room, closer to you. When I move back, you keep that same tilt as you continue to eat and talk.

It boils down to this. Even though everyone would agree it is unfortunate and maybe unfair, it is out of the question to mention anything, as it also is to say "excuse me" and get up and go and sit down somewhere else within your view. As a concession to myself, I let disgust bellow on inside. There are moments I think, then, right then, I could have just spoken up and it would be out now. Iíd have handed over my secret and it wouldnít take much, just a word or two, a gesture and suggestion, and a veil of stunned embarrassment would be passing over your eyes right now, and things would never be the same between us. Iíve lost my appetite, thinking of the saliva-soaked bits of your sandwich that have ended up on my plate, have showered, perhaps imperceptibly, onto my face. In fact, I feel my gag-reflex starting up, and with that acknowledgement, I canít help but let the images in a little farther, the juxtaposition of it all—you, your mouth, my food, my mouth. Thatís when the heave begins. Just below audible. It is conceivable that I could end up vomiting here, on the table, on the food, and maybe even on you. I try to take some discreet deep breaths and, because youíre a sensitive type of person, you want to know if Iím OK. Squinting, you ask, ďAm I going on too long, Helen? Do you need to be somewhere?Ē I assure you no, and that I am fine, just a little tired today.

Turns out, you are one of those people with that double-edged gift—clueless in social engagement, but observant when it comes to reading othersí opinions of you, especially the negative ones. A skill probably sharpened in grade school, when your peers must have huddled and whispered on the playground as you swayed on swing-chains and watched your shoes scrape the gravel. I make a mental note to work a little harder. I am relieved when you begin to prattle on again, sharing more and more because now I am looking you straight in the eyes, nodding with a gentle smile, giving you the attention an acquaintance probably rarely would, listening in a way that makes you feel more heard here than you have all week, perhaps more heard than even your friends and family make you feel.

I do this so I donít focus on your mouth, because you are lifting fork to open-mouth and fork to open-mouth again. I look deep into your eyes. And, taking that cue, you open up to me like a mollusk in hot water, like a late-summer melon dropped on a marble floor, and despite it all or because of it I see you in plain sight. I learn what it means to love you.

Gabrielle Mitchell-Marell lives in New York City and is working on a collection of stories. She received an MFA in fiction from Sarah Lawrence and a BS in English literature from Skidmore College.

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