So this was him. Reply To All Guy. I’d formed a picture of him by the time I was half way through that dense, almost inhuman first email, and whatever I was expecting, it wasn’t this.
I’d assumed no social skills. No-one who could use the formation “me/us” could have anything like a fully enveloped sense of self let alone a mature ability for relationship building. Judging by the way he slung double quotes around the shoulders of almost every other phrase, he seemed incapable of even using the basic language of conversation without defending it with reflexive, second-guessing, presupposing security measures.
It followed that if he was incapable of interacting successfully with other humans, that he must not have spent much time with other humans. He was, she had almost immediately grasped, a hermit. Such was his physical isolation from others, she soon came to suppose, that he led a largely nocturnal, largely indoor life, his face only ever seeing artificial light, blue from his laptop screen, green from the petrol station forecourt, pearl white from the interior of his fridge. His body, denied sunlight, sensory input choked off, external features apparently of little utility with no-one to look upon them, had begun to turn in on itself. He used his hands, his eyes, his mouth and sometimes his feet. Everything else was extraneous surface area and, over the years, his slow instinctual response had been to reduce this exposure by curling, ever so gently, into a loose but nonetheless determined ball.
She knew just what Reply To All Guy looked like. Or so she thought as she pushed open the door to the church hall and gathered herself to join the writing group.
So this was her.
She knew that the guy she’d knocked to the floor as she leant through the door was Reply To All Guy straight away. Later she would come to reflect that it had to be. Here they were gathered to share stories, to talk about how plots and characters could plausibly come together, and so stories and plots and characters were sure to collide. Without the promise of these collisions, none of them would be there.
For now, she just knew. Something about the way he’d gone down perhaps. The door had bumped to the left and she’d felt the obstruction lurch away as she forced her way through it. Black clad, he appeared to kneel, taking a gravitationally unnecessary time to get there, then sagged further to the side and lay down fully. All the while his hands were brought up to cover his face rather than held down to break his fall, gentle and lacking impact as that fall might have been.
– I have to apologise!
he said as he took his hands away and reached up, as if he was offering to help her to the floor. She knew it was him even though the more she looked at him, the less he fit her scornful picture. This man had straight legs, straight arms, and now a straight body which, rather than shrink away from her now stood above her. He must have been six seven.
She realised now that she had come so preloaded with contempt for this stranger that when she had knocked him to the floor she had stood above him waiting for him to pick himself up. She had neither offered a word of regret or a hand to help him. Now he stood above her and she could see his face. He was Reply To All Guy, everyone in this group surely already thought he was a fool, and he before they had even exchanged words, he had moved ahead of her in their esteem.