Not a Pass

by Thaddeus Rutkowski

We were sitting on a bench next to each other, not touching. We were resting after wandering around a museum separately—we’d planned to meet but somehow missed each other when we got there. We saw each other only as we were leaving. 

I stretched my arm up, held it straight, rocked it back.

“Was that a pass?” she asked.

I’d stretched my arm to loosen my shoulder. My arm had taken a hit when I’d fallen. Moving the shoulder lessened the pain.

“No,” I said, “It wasn’t a pass.”

On our bench, a pass could easily have been made. All I had to do was reach from my space into hers. Maybe I had that energy; maybe I was ready to go. But I wasn’t sure where I would go. On the other hand, a pass might have been what she was expecting. 

“I know a pass when I see one,” she said.

I didn’t recall making any forward move. I didn’t recall making a rearward move, either. I had made no move, other than to exercise my shoulder. 

“No,” I said, “that’s not what you saw.” 

From where we were sitting, we could watch an Alexander Calder mobile, made of sheet metal, wire, and paint. It was spinning so slowly you could barely perceive the change. The piece reminded me of a mobile my father had made when I was a child. 

“I saw you looking at me,” she said.

I realized I was looking at her, so I averted my eyes, then brought them back to focus on her face. I couldn’t tell if her expression was inviting or dismissive.

“I was making eye contact,” I said.

I went back to watching the kinetic sculpture. My father sometimes drove my family to cultural events at the state university, twenty miles from where we lived. He would have encouraged me to visit this museum. 

“Don’t try to hide it,” she said.

I had nothing to hide. I slid my arm along the back of our bench. The gesture could have been interpreted as “putting my arm around her,” or as another exercise for injury. 

“I’m just stretching,” I said.

When I was a student, I tried to make a mobile. I bent a wire hanger with pliers, and I glued biomorphic cardboard pieces to the struts, but I couldn’t get the contraption to balance from a string.

“We can go now,” she said.

She got up from the bench and walked away. I could have felt rejected, but I didn’t. I did the polite thing, the chivalrous thing. I followed her toward the museum exit. On the sidewalk, we parted on friendly terms.

A few weeks later, I heard she’d partnered with a guy. I’d seen him at a gathering of friends. He was tall, thin, Caucasian, with light curly hair. He was the exact opposite of me. 

Thaddeus Rutkowski is the author of seven books, most recently Tricks of Light, a poetry collection. His novel Haywire won the members' choice award from the Asian American Writers' Workshop. He teaches at Medgar Evers College and received a fiction writing fellowship from the New York Foundation for the Arts.

Leave a Reply