Friday, February 2, 2018

The Brain

The Brain
By Michael Cannata

The Brain sat in the back of the library quietly reading another lunch hour away. He practically lived in this section. Reading let him connect with people in a distant but tolerable way. The topic today was, “Feelings and how to avoid them." Feelings like isolation, invisibility, life in a social vacuum. All his life, he politely suffered the regular exclusions from the healthy sort of social activities his peers enjoyed.

He was brilliant, but a buffoon. He had no social skills. He was amicable but found it hard to make friends beyond the occasional classmate. He was thin and clumsy and found sports intimidating. He kept to himself and to his books.

And to make things even harder, he had one other problem. He was really, seriously ugly. It was plain and simple as that. When people looked at him they almost never got past his face before smiling politely and trying to find somewhere else to rest their eyes. It wasn't like he was deformed, but nature had given him a face that made people snicker when they felt he couldn't hear or see them.

What The Man lacked in looks, The Brain made up for with intellect. He was smart as all get out. Someone once told him he was so smart that, Mensa, wanted to join him. He was admitted to college early where he was a regular, Doogie Howser, destined to do great things in the years ahead. If brains were sexy he’d be a centerfold. He was a magnificent specimen of a brain and achieved everything expected of a brilliant prodigy.

Sadly, The Man, experienced none of the emotional benchmarks that most people reached by his age. He had no family and no friends. The Brain held a well liked and casually ignored status with his co workers. Almost 40, he was a virgin still afraid to call a prostitute. He was tired of being alone and dealing with the feelings that constantly intruded into his thoughts at the oddest times and for the strangest reasons. He never had anything resembling a girlfriend.

Hopeless and helpless, he had finally grown too weary to deal with his pathetic excuse for a life. He had thought about the solution to his dilemma for years. It was time. He couldn’t think of any other rational excuse for avoiding the inevitable. The Brain left the library ignoring the furtive glance of the attendant who always avoided eye contact with The Man. He seemed to scare her more than most people.

He decided to skip going back to work. He had made his decision. He would be glad to get home to his chair and the waiting gun. He had already written his goodbyes. Whoever found him would find them next to his body.

Then, as he walked towards home, she happened. He found her lost in the middle of the city. Or rather, she had found him. She made a few wrong turns and finally she was lost. He was genuinely startled when she approached him, smiled, and, looking right at him, asked for directions.

As he gave her directions he looked directly at her waiting for her gaze to turn away. Her gaze never wavered. To his surprise, she seemed to smile even more and thanked him, joking about being a stranger in a strange city. She offered her hand in thanks.

Her smile was as beautiful as the eyes that looked right past the face and at him. She looked at him in a way that made The Brain react in a very unusual way; it made him speak without worrying about what she was seeing.

“I’m going that way," he offered. "I’d be happy to walk with you and see that you get there ok.”

The words were out of his mouth before he could take them back. He blushed and started to apologize for putting her in the position of having to come up with a polite, “Oh no, I’ll be fine,” and practically run away. Talking to him for a moment was one thing. Expecting her to agree was something he never anticipated. Even The Brain stopped thinking when she happily accepted. Once he was past the shock, The Man started moving.

As they walked she chatted enthusiastically with him about the meeting ahead, her life as a sales rep and all the traveling. This was her first client in this region. As she continued to talk, seeming to enjoy his company, he found himself responding. He began talking to her in an animated and expressive voice. He told her about his work and they discovered that his technological designs played a big part in her product lines. His office was only two blocks away from where she was going. He continued to look directly at her and was delighted when she did the same. It was as though his face didn’t disturb her at all.

When they reached her destination she shook his hand in a way he would remember for the rest of his life. It was friendly and warm. He'd turned to go when she called to him.

“Please, You’ve been so kind, I'd love to buy you lunch tomorrow to say thanks," she explained. "My meeting will be done early. I really enjoyed talking with you. My flight doesn't leave until late. I’d be grateful for the company.  It’s always nice to know a friendly face in a big city.”

It wasn’t until she started asking him again that he finally realized she was serious. She offered him her business card and asked him if he knew of a good spot for lunch and a beer.

He knew a great spot that all the business crowds hung out; the place where the co-workers that never asked him for lunch went to. He smiled so hard his eyes hurt as he gladly accepted. He hoped his hideous smile wouldn’t be seen as a grimace, but she just smiled back in a way that he rarely ever saw. The way people smile when they mean it.

He forgot all about the gun when he got home and started to choose what to wear. He could hardly wait to see the looks on his coworker's faces when he walked into the place with his new, beautiful friend.

It was during their lunch the next day when he learned why she wasn't repelled by his looks. She had grown up with a brother whose face had been scarred by fire when he was young. She knew the kind of pain people like him suffered. She had learned long ago how to see past such things.

They spent the afternoon together talking and laughing the way regular people do. When he left her at the airport that evening she gave him a peck on the cheek and hugged him closely. She made him promise to meet her for lunch the next month when she came to town. 

For the first time in his life, he believed this friend would be there.

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