January 21

National Hugging Day

 

You should always ask first, if youre uncertain how the other person will respond.

It didn’t matter that Susan never considered herself a hugging person.

People usually didn’t ask. They just stretched their arms wide and leaned towards her, an expectant smile on their faces. She’d see that expression freeze and fade a bit, a mirror of the reflexive wince that crossed her own face as they moved closer…

But the gesture, once begun, was apparently too awkward to stop:  next their chin is resting on her shoulder, their body pressing against hers, their arms squeezing with a tightness that varies like a handshake (sometimes overcooked noodles, sometimes roving like octopus tentacles, sometimes a vice grip like the coils of a python).

And the duration of the hug varied as well, from perfunctory to a lingering clench she’d try to cut short with a few signal taps on the other person’s back.

National Hugging Day was the worst.  Susan worked in a large office.  People walked from cubicle to cubicle, spreading unreciprocated cheer.  They’d creep into her personal workspace, arms outstretched (“they’re like hugging zombies,” she thought).  If she refused to stand, they’d hug her in her chair.

No thanks to Pastor Kevin Zaborney, who created the unofficial holiday because Americans were often “too embarrassed to show their feelings in public.”  Didn’t he understand that some people just wanted their personal space?

Well, Susan had plenty of space now.

She wandered through the looted department store, stepping carefully over shards of broken glass and discarded packaging.  She hadn’t seen any looters in a while.  They’d taken everything they could carry, then had gone away.  Gone away to die, probably.

The Women’s Department had been reduced to scattered piles of unwanted clothes.  Everything had been pulled off hangers, swept off shelves, stripped off mannequins.

Most of the mannequins were bald, as well.  One of them held her black wig in an outstretched hand.  Others stood in casual, “modeling” poses: arms on hips, head tilted to the side.  Their expressions were unwelcoming.  Look, but do not touch.

One stray mannequin had toppled onto a pile of sweaters.  Susan lifted the nude figure and stood it upright.  She found a waist-length button-up sweater, and draped it over the mannequin’s torso, fastening it to cover her smooth, shining breasts.

The mannequin’s elbows were fixed, but the arms could be posed at the shoulder.  Susan pulled the plastic arms wide, stepped back to admire her creation, thinking:

How does the last person on Earth ask for a hug?