It had seemed strange at first, of course. But now that the ratio of cephalophores to those with their heads still attached was roughly even, he scarcely noticed it anymore. They were just more bored New Yorkers, standing in line impatiently at the bank, making too much noise in the house across the street.
Then, one day, that all changed.
As the years passed, he remembered it like one would remember a car accident. Her glittering smile was the fragments of a shattered windshield scattered across black pavement, and nothing would ever be the same for him again. He had passed so many sleepless nights wondering how his life would be different if they had not crossed paths that day. He would have been saved from all the pain, but he could no longer imagine his life without her. She had been filling it up for so long, even if what she’d been filling it up with was the emotional equivalent of a full-body cast.
He had replayed their first meeting in his head so many times he had worn grooves into it. That initial beautiful vision of her, strolling confidently down the street with her head cradled in the crook of her delicate arm, swinging it slightly as she walked, her auburn hair waving with each step. Love at first sight was exactly the sort of ridiculous cliché he did not believe in, but the second her eyes met his, he knew.
He stood there frozen on the sidewalk as she approached, desperate to find the perfect thing to say to her, rustling madly through reams of potential opening lines in the filing cabinet of his mind. Failing to land on something impressive but terrified of missing his opportunity, he forged ahead without a plan in mind.
“Excuse me,” he said quietly as she reached him at last. She stopped walking, and that was when she gave him that smile, the smile that his entire life would forever be cleaved into a before and an after by. If only she had kept walking on!
She didn’t say anything so he continued. “I don’t really know how to say this so I suppose I will just go ahead and say it. I know the world is full of…full of people, people with their heads attached and people without them. And I know we don’t even know each other, but I just saw you here and I could tell that you have something extra going on. But I guess you…I guess you know that, don’t you?”
She adjusted her head, moving it higher so she could see him better. She did not speak for a long moment that made him feel as if his heart were standing on a high-dive, holding its breath.
Then, finally: “I have to say, that has got to be the most awkward come-on I have ever experienced.” And his heart was free-falling. But then she gave him that smile again. “What’s your name?”
He took a moment to think of an answer to this most simple of questions. “Oh, I’m—John. Yes. John.”
“Well, John. I have somewhere more important than this to be right now. I’ll see you around.” And before he could even ask for her own name, a way to get in touch with her, anything, she was walking briskly away from him, still swinging her head as she went.
He spent the entire rest of the day back in his small apartment, which suddenly felt empty without her there. He analyzed their meeting from every possible angle—what he could have said differently to make her think he was the most important thing at that moment, if there were secret clues of her liking him buried in what she had said, how the cherry-patterned sundress she wore could possibly be so beautiful on her. He slept that night restlessly, without dreams.
He was still ruminating constantly on this mysterious cephalophore when he was out buying groceries four days later. He was testing the ripeness of a large avocado when his peripheral vision caught a glimmer of the hair, the arm that had been filling up his mind since that day.
He dropped the avocado back into the bin and promptly forgot about it.
He immediately walked a little too quickly to where she was standing, inspecting the display of Pink Lady apples. “Hello,” he said, his voice sounding unnaturally high and strange in his own ears.
She turned, adjusting her head a bit higher as she did so, but she did not give him a smile this time. “Hi,” she said in a detached voice. “Do I know you?”
John was crestfallen that their meeting clearly had not made the impression on her that it had on him.
“Um, not exactly,” he said, stumbling over his words. “We—we just met the other day, but just for a minute. I’m John?”
“Oh, I remember now,” she said, just enough more warmth to give him hope creeping into her voice. “Well, it’s nice to see you again, John,” and she turned back to the apples.
He felt deeply stung. He was trying to show her that he knew how special she was and she didn’t even care. But then, that was exactly the problem. He was of course not the only one who had noticed. Someone as beautiful, as self-assured as her must not get through a single day without a guy trying to take her home—guys she would surely find more appealing than him. His shoulders slumped and without another word, he walked back to his cart.
He tried to forget her after that. She’d made it clear she wasn’t interested, and he had never been one to waste time on lost causes, considering himself too practical for that. But two more weeks went by with him still unable to get her image out of his head. He found himself falling in love with her, and he still didn’t even know her name.
Then, somehow, he encountered her again. This time was again like the first—just spotting her strolling down the block. The difference was this time he was so caught up in imaging her that at first he couldn’t believe that she was really there before him again, that he wasn’t just imaging her so vividly he was seeing things.
He gave himself a little shake, trying to snap himself out of the daydream if that was all it was, but she was still there. He didn’t want the sharpness of another rejection, but she felt like such a part of him by now that he couldn’t just let her pass him by. So he screwed up all his courage and approached her.
“Do you remember me this time?” he asked, stopping in front of her. “John?”
“John. Right,” she said in a tone he couldn’t decipher. “We do seem to keep running into each other, don’t we.” Her hair was swooped up on top of her head today, and she used the hand that wasn’t holding her head to stroke it a bit.
“Yes. And I was wondering if I could take you out to dinner or something, sometime. I know I told you before, but you really are…very very beautiful, and I would be honored.”
She gave her eyes the beginning hint of a roll, but smiled at him too. “Well, it’s nice of you to offer, but you are just—not my type. At all. Sorry.”
While her rejection at the grocery store had been a sting, this time, after so much time dreaming of her, he felt positively crushed. He had no idea what to say, except for one thing:
“Can you at least tell me your name?”
She granted him another half a smile. “Beatrice. Goodbye, John,” and she walked past.
That was the last time he spoke to her, but she was never out of his life. In fact, the more time that went by the more he felt she was consuming it. He saw her around town over and over, and every time she claimed another little territory in his heart. But he knew he would never lay stake to any of hers. There were plenty of other cephalophores in the world, and sometimes friends would tell him this as if it were encouraging and hopeful. But they just didn’t understand that to him, all the others were invisible. Somehow in those few brief meetings she had taken him over, and now he was doomed to be forever orbiting around her, without even a kind word to reward him for his faithfulness. It was a desperately lonely life, being a deserted moon.