First of all, we shook hands.
Then, we introduced ourselves.
He was a formidable opponent.
I wiped my hand on my jeans, on my right thigh, because I was nervous, not impolite.
The woman standing to my left dropped her can of Coca-Cola behind one of the broken jukeboxes. “Did you see that?” she asked, her eyes looking at me, almost blond. “See what?” I lied. “I might’ve heard something, but I can’t be sure.”
She smiled. I smiled. We were two of a kind. We ignored each other amiably.
I hadn’t prepared much in advance. I established my space by leaning against the wall, close to the two large TV screens where some new people danced and sang. I was dressed to the nines, my outfit already seven hours old. I sipped a beverage, one leg locked and the other weightless knee bent and swaying. Standing just like that, I was able to roll about my life without him, happily under pixilated blue skies, supported by an infinite amount of dirt under my feet.
The big question finally arrived in a big hurry. It was the event of the evening, our reason for gathering. We faced each other.
“What is the center of the body?”
Small beads of perspiration began to form on his creamy forehead.
He had his hands in his pockets, then quickly took them out, then shoved them back in again. When he spoke it was as if across a long distance, “the feet. They are the center of support and balance, a flexible plinth upon which the rest of our body concentrates, rotates, and depends.”
He was good. It was like he read my mind.
I wondered if he was cheating.
When the attention shifted to me, the blood rushed up to my face, and I thought of the radio program I’d heard a few days before, a news bit about old telephone cables that lay along the bottom of the ocean, stretched there before satellite capabilities and wireless technology, even before fiber-optics, so that one land mass could hear the voice of another.
The radio had not answered a few of my questions, like: did the cables drift? Were they anchored to the sea floor by metal hooks of some kind? Did they have technicians dive down there, or robots to affix them to the floor, to keep them from drifting away and snarling on sea life or random rock formations? These were the things I wanted to know.
He was staring at me.
So I said, “The center is the neck,” and curled one hand around my own, the other around his, “the place where all the cords and cables and strings of the body are gathered tightly and efficiently together. If severed, we could count the rings like the trunk of a tree.”
He took my right hand again, admitting defeat by holding on with both of his own.
There was no round of applause, but I didn’t miss it.
His voice traveled as if through water. His hands were warm against mine. That’s what I remember most of all.
Because we are both on opposite sides of an ocean, and we are silent now, pink, and pointless.