national anthology of the best undergraduate writing 2014

Love Like That

Kate MacMullin  • 
Brown University

It is perhaps the most perplexing hairstyle I have ever seen. The braid containing his waist-length hair has been plaited with an incontestably artful hand. It is immaculate. Spectacular. There are no whisper filaments struggling to break free, not one of the three sections indelicately thicker than the rest: perfect. Perhaps the tie-dye slip of a thing that he is holding hands with is the one who has done it, using her hands again and again, hand-in-hand, hand-over-hand, adoringly braiding his hair in the freezing stillness of the post-alarm morning. I wonder if they live together. Is her ironic eighties attire slung over his incredibly long jacket in a conjugal corner, or is she just sleeping over regularly? Handholding is a-ok but hey we’re still young after all, no need for the confines of cohabitation just yet. But then again, looking at that braid once more, I think perhaps he’s the one who’s done it after all. Maybe he did the braid himself while she watched. He learned how to do it from a sister or looked it up on a website when he noticed that his hair was growing long long long like that. Maybe it was the deftness of his hands that attracted that counterculture kaleidoscope femme in the first place. Either way, I’ve never been in love like that, that’s for sure. Never in love like the couple at the Korean restaurant either; the woman was statuesque, wearing a tailored poppy-red wool coat, teetering on heels and her own gravitas, and the man came up to her shoulders, eye-of-the-storm bald spot, pug-squished nose, distinctly gremlinesque. I thought they were colleagues at first because of the aesthetic asymmetry and the fact that it was takeout—must be a mid-meeting necessity because everyone was getting oh-so-snippy and maybe if we all just had some Korean it would fix it. But no, they got the dumplings and scallion pancakes and she just couldn’t wait so she unpacked one and slipped it between her sumptuous lips and then turned it to him and he took a bite too, and then they were saying let’s just eat this in the car I cannot wait I absolutely cannot wait I’m famished. And they were old. Late thirty-somethings. Not like the braided man and tie-dye woman who were maybe twenty-three. This might be it for them and what must she be thinking? Maybe he has a colossal paycheck that can buy those expensive red wool coats she likes. That’s awfully cynical though. Maybe some women just aren’t so shallow. Maybe there are those fairy-tale altruists who can look deep into the eyes of a gremlin-human chimera and see something “on the inside,” something wonderful and worthy, something that makes him the one she wants to share an eternity of savory scallion pancakes with. Or maybe she’s doing it so everyone can have this thought that I’m having. Doing it so that everyone can double-take and say oh isn’t she gorgeous, what’s going on there? A permanent comparison in her favor. Maybe she wants an unshakeable upper hand, wants him to remember that no matter what kind of atrocity she commits she is a very attractive woman and he is so very lucky to have her and he ought not to forget it or she will absolutely get together with their handsome dentist because he is always asking her out and giving her extra floss. But what do I know after all? I know I’ve never been in love like that.