Reading Sundays: THE NON-AFFAIR (Part 4) a short story by Cynthia Sally Haggard

He leaned across that huge desk as if to reach for my hand, but his arm lay on his side of the desk, his fingers hovering in the air, disconnected. He spoke to me about his family, how he’d grown up poor on a farm near Champaign-Urbana, how he had to beg his parents, both Polish immigrants, to let him go to school in the big city of Chicago.

“I even got a scholarship to study at the University of Chicago, and still they hesitated.”

My heart pulsed in the bottom of my throat as I nodded. “How were you able to go?”

“My mother,” he replied simply. “Somehow she persuaded my father to let me go. She’s a remarkable woman, I’d like you to meet her.”

A surge of some unnameable emotion lifted me up. For the first time in my life I felt I had won—something. And yet the weight of anticipation hung heavily upon me. How was I supposed to behave? Suppose his mother disapproved? Suppose I did something embarrassing? And, worst of all, suppose he stopped liking me?

I perched on that prim plastic seat, outwardly demure, my eyes lowered, while my hand lay lightly on my side of his desk, waiting. I studied the fake brown veneer of the desk as nothing happened.

The weight of his silence pressed in, so eventually I raised my head to check his expression.

He devoured me, almost as if he were seeing me for the first time.

“I’ve never met a woman like you before.”

I held my breath as I cast my eyes down, willing my heart to stop dancing its jagged rhythm. For the first twenty years of my life, I’d melted into the wallpaper, looking out as parties, and dances swirled in front of me, like a dangerous whirlpool. No one had discerned me before. No one had striven hard enough to surmount my natural shyness, see past my gangly figure, ignore my home-made clothes. [To be continued.]