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I never should've mentioned it - how, years ago, an old girlfriend of mine
taught me to analyze handwriting. It was at the end of my American History
class. There was an essay test on my desk without a name on it.

"Hey," I said, holding up the test with its spidery cursive slanting
precariously to the right, "do I need to use my powers of graphology to
figure out who this belongs to?"

Why I went on in great length about all I learned from Mary, I don't know.
Certainly no one was begging me for more information - those dopey-eyed,
slack jawed, slouching kids, such are my students at Holyoke Community
College.

Now it's four o'clock on a Friday afternoon and I'm shoving my
books in a flimsy book bag that's coming apart at the seams. It's just
started to spit snow. All I want to do is get out of this poorly lit,
cement-walled classroom when this punk kid who sits in the back row if he
bothers to show up at all stops by my desk and just stands there, watching
me struggle with these Goddamn books that just won't fit.

He holds out his hand. "Sean LaPierre."

"Yes, Sean," I say, pretending like I know his name when, in
fact, I've made a conscious effort not to remember any of my students'
names.

I take a look out the window to see if the snow is getting
worse. It is. When I look back at Sean, he's smiling. He has unusually small teeth,
little giblets of white corn stuck in his bright red gums.

 "About what you said the other day?"

We're alone in the classroom; in fact, the entire building is
probably deserted by now, everyone scrambling to beat the weather home,
eager to light a fire and put some soup on and think about shoveling out.

Sean pulls an off white square piece of napkin out of his
pocket. He unfolds it carefully. "Look at this, will you, Mr. Addison? Will
you look at this for me?"

"What is it?"

If I don't leave soon, it'll take me a long time to brush the snow off my
car. My wife, Eileen, gave me a red-handled snow brush/ice scraper for
Christmas. It's somewhere on the floor of my car, buried underneath old
newspapers and used Styrofoam cups.

"You said you knew how to read handwriting?"

The napkin has writing all over it, a dark blue, heavy script.

I wish I could be honest with this kid and say, 'Look here,
Sean, I didn't even know your name until a minute ago, this is just a job
for me, thirty-five years old and this is where I end up, I still can't
believe it, but that's another subject all together. Listen Sean, I don't
want to do anything for you, I just want to walk out of this classroom and
brush snow off my car and pray to God the eleven-year-old piece of crap with
the bad transmission starts up and then I want to slide it out of the
unplowed parking lot the best I can and make my way home where there won't
be a pot of soup on the stove for me and we have no wood for a fire.'

Instead I take the napkin. There's a name written all over it.
The script is so big and loopy that it's hard to decipher. Above the name
and below it, someone has drawn rows of flowers with oversized petals and
long, thick stems.

"Why do you want me to look at this?"

When I throw the napkin on the desk, Sean winces a little as if
I've just stepped on his toes.

 "It's important, Mr. Addison. I wouldn't ask you otherwise."

"You've got to give me a little more than that, Sean."

"See, it's this girl. Her name is Iya. We used to - and then -
well - we're not together now. But that's her. That's her handwriting."

Sean and I stare at each other. His nostrils flare out a little
as he breathes through his nose. It doesn't take me long to understand. I
bet Sean and Iya dated for awhile until one night when she stopped answering
her cell and he heard, later, that she was seeing someone else. He probably
begged her to meet him one last time and the only place she'd agree to was
someplace queer like Friendly's and she didn't even order anything as they
sat in their plastic booth, a baby stuck in a high chair screaming behind
them. Iya doodled on this napkin while he went on and on until he finally
gave up and she jumped out of her seat, quick to make her getaway.
Industrious Sean swiped the napkin on their way out. Yes, I can see it all,
as if I was there, sitting at a nearby table, eating a bowl of vanilla ice
cream with colored sprinkles on top, a reliable witness.

Mary taught me about handwriting one night when we were bored
and didn't have enough money to go out and do anything. I lived over a
Laundromat at the time. My apartment always smelled fresh, like Tide
detergent. Mary taught me to notice the positioning, the slant, and the
weight of the strokes. "Look at the collection of movement in the lines,"
she said, and I had no idea what she was talking about but I didn't want her
to stop speaking. She wrote her name and then made me write mine. She had
this lovely way of smiling when she thought no one was looking.

On Sean's napkin, the 'y' has an embellished downward flourish
and the "a" swells to twice the size of the other letters. I pretend like I
really know what I'm doing. I put on a good show, bringing the napkin close
to my face, lifting my glasses up as if that'll help me see it better.

 "I probably won't tell you anything you don't already know."

He nods.

"She's self-centered and oblivious to the feelings of others," I
finally say, "She is obsessed with appearances. She's acutely
self-conscious."

Sean takes the napkin from me and puts it back in his pocket.
"Thanks, man," he says. He slings his backpack over his shoulder.

"So, what now?"

He lifts his chin. "I don't know."

He leaves the classroom, the door shutting softly behind him,
and I'm alone, facing a row of empty seats. At first I still feel sorry for
him, this poor schmuck of a kid holding onto some girl's doodles like they
are the Holy Grail. But then I think of Sean leaving the classroom with his
forest green backpack humping his shoulder, and suddenly - really where does
this come from? - I'm envious of him. He doesn't have the one he wants and
he may never have her but at least he has this - his gut-wrenching love.

I don't know what happened to Mary. I made a lot of mistakes
with her. I read her diary once and then tore out the pages that I didn't
like. I saw her kiss someone at a party and punched the guy in the gut. We
were in love though. There was never any doubt about that.

Outside, it's a real storm. My car is parked in the most remote
lot on campus because I have no seniority. When I get there, my car is
covered in snow.

Back home, the house is so cold that I keep my coat on. I stand
in the gloom of the kitchen and listen to the heavy snow falling off the
eaves outside. Eileen will come home soon. She'll come into the mud room and
drop her purse on the floor next to the pile of shoes we never put away, and
then take one look at me and sigh. She sighs a lot, lowering her chin, her
lips puckered into a whistle. She'll remind me that I was supposed to start
supper - that's our rule, whoever is home first starts cooking - and then
she'll pour herself a bowl of cereal. All the while I'll still be thinking
about Sean and Iya at Friendly's, the elaborate story I made up for them on
the car ride home, how Sean tried to convince Iya to come back to him while
Iya kept her head down, doodling on a napkin like she didn't have a care in
the world, she was back in school listening to another boring lecture by a
hapless teacher.

By the time Eileen comes home, I'm sitting in the living room.
She stands behind me and puts her hands on my shoulders.

"It's bad out there. How was your day?"

"It was odd."

"What happened?"

"This student of mine wanted me to look at something. He'd
picked up some doodles of his old girlfriend's and he wanted me to analyze
her handwriting."

I tell her the whole story about Sean and Iya, the part I know, the parts I've
imagined for them.

"He's just a kid," she says.

"What devotion."

"He's a kid," she repeats.

"There was something about him - about Iya - "

"You don't know them. Don't read anything into it."

Her voice catches at the end. I know I should get up from this couch and try
to reach out to her but before I can do anything, she's gone. I hear her
footsteps on the stairs and then the floorboards creak over my head. We
bought this house two years ago. A new beginning is how Eileen put it, but
it's no different from every other place we've ever lived.

Two weeks later, there's a thaw, temperatures rising to fifty degrees in the
middle of January. Everyone is happy, giddy really. Some clowns actually
wear shorts to class. I expect to see tulip heads pushing out of the hard,
bare ground.

I'm in between classes so I go outside to grab a cup of coffee.
That's when I see them - Sean and this girl, tangled up in each other. Her
hair is a tawny blond color and is cut short, layers framing her
heart-shaped face, bangs flopping into her eyes. She's wearing a short skirt
that flounces up and down as she walks. They're trying to match their
strides but one of them is off and they laugh as they bump into each other
again and again and again. I put my hand up in the air but they don't notice
me.

This must be Iya! Sean has reconciled with his love! The girl of his dreams
has come back to him. Iya is back! There's hope for us all!

I still have my hand up as I call out to them. "Hey there!"

Sean is the first to look over. She looks next. She has thick,
dark eyebrows that don't match the color of her hair. A miniscule diamond
stud glitters in her nose.

And then, as a secret signal between us - Sean is much taller
than this petite girl he has his arm around, he is able to do this without
her seeing - he shakes his head at me. A small gesture but definite in its
meaning. No. This is not who you think it is.

I put my hand down. The girl looks up at Sean and he squeezes
her closer to him. They pass by me quickly. I pull my cell phone out of my
pocket and pretend to check for messages. When I look up again, they are
gone.

I sit down on the front steps of the classroom building. A large
group of students pass me on their way to class. I think about Sean and Iya,
wherever she might be. No, no, I wish I could tell them both, don't let it
go, not yet, keep what you have, keep it going for just a little while
longer.



Catherine Uroff's short stories have appeared (or are forthcoming) in  The Georgetown Review, The Main Street Rag,
The Bellevue Literary Review, The Worcester Review, Green Hills Literary Lantern, Carve Magazine, Primavera,
The Blood Orange Review, and Pindeldyboz.
 
 




Years ago, my best friend in graduate school actually did this. Recently heartbroken, he took a napkin that his ex-girlfriend had doodled on and asked his professor to analyze it. It was a great story. I loved the intense devotion he had for the girl who had let him go. My story came about because I always wondered about that professor. What could he have possibly thought of my friend's strange request?
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