“How would you describe…her?” she pointed with her uptilted nose across the leaf-strewn grass at a young woman in an oversized green sweater.
“Well, no. I’m saving that word.”
“You’re saving it? Well. Chivalry is not dead.”
“It’s a good word, and I might want to use it later.”
“Oh? And for what might you want to use it?”
I turned to look at her, and saw the crinkles around her laughing eyes, and knew that this was serious. “Suppose that sometime I wanted to call you sensuous,” I began. “Would you really want to be thinking of her, in her manufactured Land’s End innocence at the very moment when I’m trying to call you sensuous?”
“Well, that’s inevitable now, isn’t it?”
“I hope, if you remember her, you’ll remember her in contrast and not in comparison.”
“What’s wrong with her?”
“Nothing at all. She has a kind of perfection to us from this distance, and in her anonymity, but that perfection could never be sensuousness.”
“And why not?”
“Because sensuality does not exist without potential. For a man to find a woman sensuous he must imagine the possibility of intimacy with her.”
“And you can’t imagine being intimate with Miss Land’s End?”
“I wouldn’t say ‘can’t.’ But I certainly don’t.”
“Because you’re preoccupied with me.”
“No. Not necessarily. I mean, perhaps not. I don’t think so.”
“Your confidence inspires me.”
“Yes, well, this is my minefield gait. Rather stilted, I admit. What I mean is that there is nothing about this green-sleeved autumn sprite that bewitches me. Yes, you’re here, and you’re always a distraction,” I gave her a glance of mock-irritation, “but I’m not convinced that were you absent or even unknown to me that she” –I nodded across the lawn– “would somehow become captivating.”
“So I’m captivating. How so?”
“Your confidence inspires me.” I paused for several seconds waiting for the punchline to be acknowledged, but she looked at me, disconcerted.
I laughed out loud, embarrassed. “No, sorry, it was a joke…Ok, it’s like…when I first saw you, I became quiet.”
“Tell me about it. I thought you’d never come over and talk to me.”
“Very funny. I mean before that. When I first saw you, I felt completely and utterly content to watch you.”
“What was I doing?”
“You fell in love with me while I was folding napkins?”
I looked at her for a second, to let her know I wasn’t teasing her, and then said, “Yes. Quite so.”
“Why on earth?”
“Indeed, I’ve often pondered that question. It was in the silence of your hands. They were swift yet unhurried; confident but subtle and deft. Also it was in your concentration. You seemed utterly unaware of the rest of the world, as if you were alone in the room with nothing to do all day but fold napkins.”
She was silent for a moment, looking out across the park at the orange and gold maple trees that lined the bike path. “So that was sensuous?”
“I wouldn’t say so, no. But you captivated me at that moment in such a way that eventually, inevitably, I saw you as sensuous.”
She was quiet again for a moment. “So eventually you saw me as beautiful.”
I looked over at her sharply. “Now we’re talking about beauty?”
“You said ‘eventually‘,” she accused.
“Sensuality and beauty are two different things.”
She looked at me skeptically, but I was delighted to see a hint of humor in her eyes again.
“Mountains are beautiful, but not sensuous. Ditto for diamonds, waterfalls and macaws. Crum, if you want talk about beauty, sweater girl there is certainly beautiful. My point is that when I first saw you, you were beautiful, but not merely beautiful. And that, for me, is the very zygote of sensuality.”
“Interesting choice of words: ‘zygote of sensuality’.”
“Well I couldn’t very well say ‘the seed of sensuality,’ could I?”
“How about zeitgeist?”
I winced slightly and shook my head. “The soul of sensuality. See, that just doesn’t work either.”
“Sole of sensuality,” she repeated. “It sounds like you stepped in something.”
“I think it’s obvious that I did.”
She punched me in the arm. Then she put her head on my shoulder.
“The gestalt of sensuality,” she said conclusively. I wished I’d thought of it first.
“I do believed you’ve singlehandedly saved that word.”
“Good,” she replied. “You can use it later.”