Mr. Personality

by Terence Hawkins

Okay, I know it looks bad, but I swear it's not my fault.

But first there is something I need to explain. The wife keeps telling me that I really shouldn't say hello to women on the street because it makes them uncomfortable. Not that I say, "Hello, will you take off your blouse?" Or, "Hey there, do you mind if I cut off your head and arms and legs and bury you in my crawlspace?" Not at all. Instead I say, "Lovely evening, nice to see you here on this same block we've lived on for fifteen years." Or even, "Hi, that is a nice enormous dog you have that I know could kill me in an instant if I acted like I was bothering you." Respectful, in other words.

But this is what happened.

We decided to go up to Boston for the Fourth of July because any loser with bus fare for the Cape would be out of town and we'd have the place to ourselves. So it's about ten o'clock at night and we're in front of the Four Seasons, opposite the Common. And I just happen to look to my left and I see somebody I know. Or have at least seen. A tallish vaguely European woman with long gray hair.

"Excuse me," I say. "Payne Whitney, right?"

"What?" she says.

My wife's hand tightens on my arm. "Shut up," she whispers.

"Payne Whitney. The Yale gym. Used to see you there all the time." Suddenly I realize that she stopped coming there about a year ago. Suddenly.

"Oh yes," she says, in a voice slightly accented with German. "Payne Whitney. Yes." Her eyes are darting from side to side.

The wife's heel is grinding my flipflopped toe. "You're scaring her," she hisses. "You're scaring the Nazi."

"Terry Hawkins," I say, extending my hand. "And this is my wife Sharon." The wife mumbles a hello that my gym friend barely reciprocates. The wife drags me ahead on the sidewalk. Fast.

"What is the matter with you?" she says. "She didn't want to talk--oh God. Look. She's crossing the street. She's crossing the street to avoid you. See what I mean? See—Jesus Christ, she's running!"

I turn to my left. My German gym friend is in a full sprint toward the Common. Because it's a holiday weekend she only has to dodge a couple of cars before she gets to the sidewalk on the other side. She doesn't even bother to run an extra half block to a gate. Instead she throws herself over the fence. Something catches on one of the spikes so she hangs there a second before tearing herself loose and landing flat on her back.

She lies there for bit, stunned. Then she rolls onto her side. I can see her fumbling with her handbag. I can't see what she finds in it but she pulls herself to her knees and shoves it into her mouth. There is a long moment of hesitation and a muffled pop and her hand flies out of her mouth and her head snaps backwards and she is thrown back with her arms outstretched to land with her legs still bent under her in some kind of crazy yoga position.

We stand in silence for a moment. "Now do you see what I mean?" the wife says.

I nod. She is so right. Lesson learned.

BIO: TERENCE HAWKINS is the author of The Rage of Achilles, a recounting of the Iliad, which Tom Perrotta has described as "a genuinely fresh take on a classic text." His short stories have appeared in Keyhole, Eclectica, Pindeldyboz, The Binnacle, Ape Culture, and Poor Mojo's Almanac(k). He has been interviewed on WABC in New York and WSHU and WPKN in Connecticut. In addition, he now serves as the Director of the Yale Writers' Conference, whose inaugural session will be held June 12 through 22d. Otherwise he is a trial lawyer in New Haven and the husband of the enigmatic and long-suffering Mrs. H. His website is www.terencehawkins.net.