I walked into the Annex Christmas gift show hoping to find one of my friends and purchase a pair of her hand-knit mittens. I walked out with a ring on my finger and a tight constriction around my heart.
She was warm - warm brown eyes, warm brown skin. She looked at me, and her smile glowed with a tenderness that overwhelmed me.
I smiled back but turned quickly to the next table. I walked around the booths, looking but not seeing. I did not find my friend. I did not find mittens. Warm eyes wormed their way through my body, tunnelling through my veins.
I went back to her table. Sweating hands fondled her necklaces, rings, bracelets. I braced myself for her to speak.
"Try this one," she said, and held out a wooden ring. I slipped it over my middle finger.
Too overwhelmed to register its near perfect fit, I asked her what kind of wood it was made from, and she answered me in tongues. I can't tell you exactly what she said in her quiet voice.
I can tell you it had to do with two different kinds of trees crafted into one. If that was meant as an innuendo, it was much too subtle for me. She told me the names of the trees, but the words were fleeting and foreign.
I, who have always despised small talk and sought out prophets, could not find an adequate response. "Oh," I said, cursing my blank brain. "Wow."
I was unmoored and could not trust enough to respond from my heart. I began to wonder if her personality was a persona as finely crafted as the jewellery in front of her.
She was either a spiritual master or a master saleswoman, or perhaps both. The shell necklaces and wooden rings did indeed gain added allure from her mystical manner of speech and inviting smile.
They say the art of the successful sale is to pitch the product as the fulfilment of the consumer's greatest desires or the solution to the consumer's greatest insecurities. Sometimes, maybe always, these two things are inseparable.
Had this beautiful woman taken one look at me and somehow known, intuited or assumed that I am a quivering, dry-mouthed mess when a woman shows even minimal interest in me?
Perhaps she sensed that I take refuge from my real-world incompetence in things intellectual and spiritual. After years (10, if anyone's counting) of falling for straight or otherwise unavailable women, I've lost faith in my ability to distinguish the real McCoy from the costume jewellery.
Her eyes shone out at me and her smile seemed to understand. The ring sat silent on my middle finger, unwilling to give its opinion one way or the other. I stared at it because I could not meet her devastating eyes. Was this incredible woman's interest in me a manipulative sales trick or genuine attraction? I couldn't tell.
So I asked how much the ring cost. Fifteen dollars, she told me, but I'll give it to you for $12.
There was something in her voice: a reluctance, perhaps, to move the conversation from the spiritual realm to the material. As she reached for the money I held out to her, I noticed she was wearing an identical ring on her index finger.
The transaction completed, I lingered by her booth, unwilling to leave, not knowing what to say. My eyes swept the table and I spoke the only words on my mind: "Everything is so beautiful." I looked up at her melting eyes and smile. I smiled back with an open heart, and she said, "I'll see you later."
I couldn't breathe, so as I walked away I only managed to mouth the word "Bye."
As I left the building, I thought of everything I should have said, starting with a more open-ended exit line. Like yes. Or definitely. Or even "Are you going to be here next weekend?" I cursed myself for not being more suave. I should have asked her at some point during the conversation, "Do you know me from somewhere?" I could at least have mentioned the fact that we now wear the same ring. I've moved mine to my index finger, too. It's a perfect fit.
But don't worry about me. I'm used to going dateless. And I've already gained some distance from my embarrassing awkwardness by over-intellectualizing the situation.
I'm starting to examine the complex ways in which the balance of power between service providers and customers may shift in potentially romantic interactions, as the seeker/consumer becomes the sought/provider and back again.
But let's face it. My theories are cold comfort compared to the warm-brown wooden ring that holds snugly to my finger, and pinches my heart.