So I’ve thinking a lot about leprosy, as I’m sure most people do, and I’ve decided I want to write a short story about it. I didn’t want to write about the body-parts-falling-off-unrealistic kind of leprosy. That’s so overdone in short fiction. I wanted to write a more realistic and subtle portrayal of leprosy. (Can you call leprosy subtle?) Anyway this is my first attempt. You can look forward to more leprosy stories in the future.
“I just don’t think this is working out,” he said.
Michelle looked around the crowded restaurant. She was the only one there alone. She looked down at the ironed white tablecloth, the spotless silverware placed just so, fork, knife, spoon. She should’ve known something was wrong when he didn’t show up on time. Jerome was always on time.
“Did you hear me?” His voice shoot into her through the phone.
She looked down and cupped her hand around her mouth to muffle her voice. “I thought everything was working out great…”She could feel a black hole forming in her stomach. “I can’t believe you’re telling me this over the phone.”
“Don’t tell me you’re surprised, Michelle. I’ve been trying to tell you for weeks. I mean, come on…you must’ve known.”
“Known what? I thought things were great. I mean I thought we were all good. You can’t do this to me, Jerome.” She felt the tears coming. They were creeping up from her chest making her neck and face hot. She had to try her best to hold them back. She didn’t want to be one of those hysterical women crying in public. “I mean we were having fun, weren’t we?”
“There’s more to life then just fun.”
“What kind of thing is that to say? What’s that supposed to mean, Jerome?”
“It means I would like to settle down. I don’t know maybe have some kids,” he paused. “I want to stop wasting time.”
“Good. I want kids too and a house in the country and all that…”
“I don’t want to have kids with you…”
Her heart stopped. She took the phone from her ear and pressed the red button to end the call. She pressed it again and held it down to turn her phone off. She took a tissue from her purse and dried her eyes. She called the waiter over and ordered a chicken Caesar salad. While she waited for the food to come, she looked at her upside down reflection in the spoon. She traced the edge of her knife with her finger. She listened the to people laughing at the next table.
That’s when she first noticed the white spot on the back of her hand just under her thumb. It was smaller than a dime and shaped like Texas. She ran her index finger across the white sandy feeling skin, such a contrast from the smooth coco that surrounded it.
Her food arrived. She ate it slowly picking out the croûton and placing them in a neat stack at the side of her plate.
A week passed and he never even tried to call her back. Michelle had taken to eating alone in restaurants. It made her feel less lonely, like she was part of something. She’d listen in on other people’s conversations. Sometimes she’d imagine Jerome sitting across from her laughing showing off his perfectly white straight teeth, making jokes about the people at the tables around them.
She liked to follow couples on the street and try to hear their intimate conversations. She liked to imagine that those conversations were hers. The white spot on her hand felt like a million pin pricks. It grew slowly and changed shape. She started wearing gloves, white cotton ones like women in old movies to hide it.
In the evenings she’d walk to the phone booth down the street from her apartment to call him. She liked to hear the clink of the coins as she put them into the slot. She’d wait through the ring for his voice. “Hello?” he’d say. He always answered. “Hello?” she still loved the sound of his voice. She could hear the television in the background, sometimes the news, sometimes a sitcom, sometimes commercials. “Hello?” He always said three “helloes” before hanging up. Only then would she speak into the darkness of the city streets, “I thought everything was working out greatt.”
Michelle’s apartment started shrinking around her as the spot on her hand grew–the white walls pushing out, the white skin pushing out. Her fingers curled in. The knuckles ached and swelled. She kept her gloved hand in her pocket.
Sometimes she’d stand outside of his 7th floor apartment. She could only see the ceiling through the window from the street. Sometimes he’d walk by the window and even from a distance she could tell he hadn’t changed at all.
He stood at the window for a few moments looking out. She wondered if he could see her standing there at the bus stop. She wanted to wave and call his name, but she couldn’t. She stood as still as she could until he closed the blinds. She waited for a moment before shoving her mingled hand into her pocket and walking back to her apartment. Her nails digging into her palm.