I was struggling to hold my groceries, deeply regretting not taking a basket. You stared at me weirdly, not helping at all. “Who is that very hot unhelpful man,” I thought. “____ __ ____,” you telepathically replied. That night I met Yuri at the cinema. We were seeing a superhero movie ironically. This would be the fifth in the series that we were seeing ironically. Mental Man—he can control anyone’s mind, but not his own heart. “Gross. They look so happy,” Yuri says. It’s you again, helping a very hot woman tie her shoe, which was apparently the funniest thing that had ever happened to her. I watch you for too long. You are nurturing someone else.
I forget about you until April, when we finally speak. I have bought your bread maker off Trade Me. You tell me what each of the settings are for. I pretend to know what you are saying. “Thanks,” I say, giving you a twenty dollar note for the slightly too heavy bread maker. “Have a good day,” you say as you walk me out. I look around for signs of very hot women. Reaching the car where Yuri is waiting, I try to place the bread maker down to open the door. My horrible sweaty hands betray me and the bread maker falls, its sharp-edged lid opening as it meets my naked toes. I bleed outside your house and think of Mental Man, and how he can heal himself with just his brain. Yuri rushes out of the car, Band-Aids in hand. Nurturing can take a very obvious or tangible form.
“I remember the guy who sold me this,” I say to Yuri, who is driving calmly now that my bloody toes are wrapped up. “He’s that hot guy I saw that one time, and also that other time.”
“He’s probably not even that hot. You’re always saying guys are really hot and they’re never actually hot,” Yuri replies.
“This one is actually hot though.”
“Okay, sure,” she says, tapping an empty can in the drink holder between us. A picture of Mental Man is on it.
We reach our flat, and Yuri carries in the bread maker for me. I hobble inside and smile as I see a cleared out space for the bread maker. Yuri goes to her room as I walk only on my heels, an opposite of tiptoe, trying hard to keep my toes in the air so as to not get blood on the carpet she so often vacuumed. I run a bath and let the sound of warm running water seal in the niceness of the day. I think of you, and if you are actually hot. I think of how it will be Yuri’s birthday soon. On her last birthday her first best friend, the family cat, was hit by a bus. I look at my fragile red toes. It would be a delicate day requiring delicate handling. This could involve holding someone, bringing over chicken soup, or leaving someone alone if that’s what she needs.
Failing to work the bread maker, there was nothing else I could do but call you. By the time Yuri’s birthday rolls around, you are at the table with us and a few once-in-a-while friends, slicing up a successful multigrain loaf. You sense a sadness coming from the birthday girl. I’ve been sensing it for days. Yuri smiles as best she can through the meal, complimenting the bread and making small talk with the other guests. “There are so many grains in this bread. Sunflower. Linseed. What’s this one? Pumpkin. Pumpkin.” I suggest we all watch a movie. Mental Man 3: Brawn vs Brain, where Mental Man takes on his arch nemesis, Brawn-o-Bot. Our family for the night gathers around the screen. Brawn-o-Bot has Mental Man trapped and his lady friend in a Hollywood hostage grip, ready to steal his mental powers. Yuri cries in all the wrong places. You might think you have strength, Brawn-o-Bot, but strength must be nurtured, not stolen. I look at Yuri. You think that strength takes the form of muscles—but you have never worked out the most important one—the heart. Yuri looks back at me. Mental Man looks longingly at his pretty lady friend, and Brawn-o-Bot’s muscles begin to tremble. Brawn-o-Bot, you know nothing about real strength. An impossible smile breaks across Yuri’s face. It lasts just long enough for her to mouth to me, “Okay, he’s actually hot.” It could also take the form of giving someone loving energy in an intangible way.