We stand outside the wine shop and you reach down to grab my hand, but instead of weaving my fingers with yours, I keep them in my pockets.
I don’t hold hands with other men in public. Certainly not when children are nearby. Nor, generally, in front of old people, though that depends on the neighborhood and time of day. I also don’t hold hands when it’s so hot that I’d have to share palm sweat, nor when it’s too cold and I’d rather keep my gloved hands in my coat pockets.
My problem with hand-holding is people are likely to notice that I bite my nails and cuticles, at times bad enough to make them raw and bloody. I’d have to explain that I’m afraid of my own hands — of the diseases they might communicate, the way they’re too small for some men, too big for others. And I don’t tell many people this, but there was a period when I was a teenager when I had a small wart on my left palm line, the one that indicates long life. I spent two years with my hands in my pockets, or else clenched into a fist.
We’ve been dating for two months now. My neighbors have seen you enough times that they hold the building door open for you. You’re funny. You have a sweet tooth, you kiss me pretty good, and I’m thinking this is the moment when I’ve got to decide whether you’re going to become something in my life, or else someone I think about when I jerk off at night.
You’ve forgotten my hand and instead we’re on the corner of 14th, trying to get a cab to Petworth for a party two men are throwing to celebrate the new house they’ve purchased. You scan the street for an empty taxi.
“It’s early. What if we walk?” I suggest.
You agree. We start up 14th Street and I slide my hand into yours and we continue that way for a dozen blocks.
But if I’m being totally honest, it still feels shameful. As if someone will see us and instantly know everything about my lengthened fricatives and lowered trap vowels. They’ll know where I go on weekends, that I quote María Félix movies, that occasionally I don’t feel like a man, and that occasionally I like that. All of this from hand-holding. And sure, we should learn how to be proud, take a stand, all of that— But sometimes I don’t want to be political. Sometimes, all I want is to leave a party early and sit beside you on an empty southbound red line train, and lay my head against your shoulder, tracing the lines on your palms with my fingers, and hear you ask, “Home?” and mean mine, and know you’re coming with me. My apartment is tucked away in a small corner of this city and I need your help to get there. Because if I’m not paying attention when I walk up Lanier, or if it’s late and I’m particularly tired and thinking of all the things I want to say to you, sometimes I can miss it completely.
Jonathan Ayala is a writer from El Paso, Texas, and a graduate of the Bilingual MFA Program in Creative Writing at the University of Texas at El Paso. His work has appeared in several journals including Foglifter, The Acentos Review, RiversEdge, and Gertrude. Prior to beginning his graduate studies, he worked in Washington, DC for several education nonprofits.