Who(se) Are You
On my fourth date with my professor, which he won’t call “date”, we fight about The Who. “It’s ‘Who are you’,” I say. “Everyone knows that.”
“The correct lyrics,” he says, “are ‘Whose are you’.”
I can’t tell if he’s joking. I search his face in the twilight of his apartment, which looks like his office, edge-curled posters in German and French, books stacked everywhere. The first time I came here, I took one glimpse at his kitchen and asked if he ate books for dinner. “Yes,” he said. I couldn’t tell if he was joking then either.
“The title,” I say, “is ‘Who Are You’.”
He shakes his head. “’Whose Are You’.”
Most people would have turned on a light by now. But I like the dusk, the mix of conceal and reveal. I always want at once to hide and be seen.
Which is why it takes a moment before I get out my phone and its glowing screen. “See? ‘Who are you’. It’s right here.”
Still, no sign of mirth on his face. Either he believes what he says or he doesn’t. Both possibilities scare me.
“The name of the band is The Who,” I tell him. “Not The Whose.”
“Irrelevant. Their name isn’t Teenage Wasteland either.”
Rumor has it he was married once. Rumor says nothing about other grad students. I like to think I’m the first. The only woman his eyes cut like wrecked glass.
I hit “play”. “You don’t hear it?”
“Not their best song,” he says.
“Not their worst.”
If I take off my shirt, I will both win and lose the argument. His pink mouth will split his beard open and for a second, he’ll look dumb. Then he’ll compose himself and shove down my pants and my brain will turn to sweet mush.
“There,” he says. “Listen.”
I listen. “Who are you.”
He shakes his head, just barely, as if too weary from my stupidity to expend much effort. “Whose are you.” A corner of his mouth twitches: A hint of a smile — or not. But the involuntary move delights me.
“You know what?” I say. “I hear it. You’re right.”
His lips swing apart. “Am I?”
“Every hour of the day,” I say, poking his sternum to the beat of each word. “Until the end of time.”
“Hardly,” he scoffs, grabbing my attack hand. His grip hurts but I tell myself it doesn’t. Then his hold loosens and our hands exert equal force, my hand small and relatively young, his large and aging, the years pushing out from within, knobbing his knuckles, veining his flesh. Our vulnerabilities, which are also our strengths, press against each other, until he bows his head against my cleaving hand, and says it again, a whisper: “Hardly.”
The pink line of scalp. The swerves of brown hair. What is the opposite of “hardly”? “Softly”? “Easily”?
I want to kiss his head, pet his hair, play mommy. But he would love that too much and hate me for it. Instead, I ask, “Were you joking before? About the lyrics?”
He lifts his skull, towers over me again. “Were you?”
A wall of noise crashes down from my phone. Then the band croons the chorus, a peppy taunt Roger Daltrey sears through with his scorn. His rage makes this song, but it’s Pete Townsend, his big brain and crushing guitar, I love. I want to be him, but I can’t. So I’ll be the next best thing: an instrument a man can master and smash.
But first he’ll have to catch me. “Who cares?” I say. “Let’s dance.”
I expect another argument, but he breaks into a smile, his face transformed, a midnight sun. Who is he? Whose am I?
He takes my hand and spins me. I twirl and twirl.
Jennifer Wortman is the author of This. This. This. Is. Love. Love. Love., a story collection forthcoming from Split Lip Press in 2019. Her fiction, essays, and poetry appear in Glimmer Train, Normal School, The Collagist, Hobart, DIAGRAM, Brevity, Monkeybicycle, PANK, SmokeLong Quarterly, Juked, and elsewhere. She is an associate fiction editor at Colorado Review and an instructor at Lighthouse Writers Workshop. Find more at jenniferwortman.com.
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