I. Garamond The scaffolding finger-slim but enough, anyway, to hold up the face, enough to support the fine arches, like gestures that begin at the wrist and end with a faint suggestion of air, writing a trail of vaporous meaning. This story starts with a stroke: pen, then paint, then press— the hand of a king molding tomorrows by the dozens, forms for which there can be no words, not yet, at least. A dash of attenuation meets, makes, holds fast to the page; the curved bell, tilting to one side and looking ready to spill, the unwieldy uppercase Q a site of occasional, joyous excess. You can’t help but be enamored but then also concerned when you see it, this array of figures, slender as deer in winter, stalking on thimble feet towards the thought of sustenance, all the mad proliferations of spring. II. Bodoni Famine and feast in equal measure, thickening just round the middle like your friend, seated across the table, before she’s told you what you already figured out thirty minutes ago when she first took off her coat. This one sits up straight and does not dally but digs in, albeit with continental style and a napkin laid gently in the lap. It delights in surplus, but its desires are mannered: it levels its gaze and asks if you want to split a dessert. You reflect upon the eighteenth-century-ness of it all, straight-laced meets macaroni— Bodoni, as anyone knows, is just Baskerville plus a bit of winter weight. Together, the two of you opt for tiramisu and coffee, layers of whipped extravagance folding in upon themselves, collapsing beneath this brief moment of grown intimacy, forks dipping one after the other, taking turns at indulgence. III. Helvetica Like the couch that came with your first apartment, scratchy under the elbows and smelling of other peoples’ cigarettes. You try to see it on its own terms, decked out in rust, gold, beige, and brown; you know (for you have read) that it, too, was once new, that it jabbed its fingers at the fleshy underbelly of convention—eccentric as lamé, wantonly inviting, like the shag depths of a sunken living room. Always already grotesque and then, almost immediately, on its way to hell, its life was written in lights, framed in billboards, and hemmed in flickering neon. It played at neutrality but seemed to whisper of something more sinister: this way, up this alley, around that bend, straight ahead, down you go. It should have aged poorly, but didn’t; it should have sobered up, but refused; it should have been the last of its kind, but wasn’t, and will never be. IV. Calibri Defaults corrode desire. This one spins lines of blasphemy, unleashes them upon the world in a mist of evasion and constraint—leashes bound round the eyes, hands, heart. Despite its organic pretenses and continental costuming, you can tell that it was born in a lab: put your ear close to it and hear the shine of linoleum, the insect murmurs of overhead lighting. Calibri dreams in Italian but issues its decrees in binary, the offspring of copyright and metric compatibility. It does not, will not love you back and only hates you more when you acquiesce stoop to do its bidding.
Sheila Liming is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of North Dakota, where she serves as nonfiction editor of the North Dakota Quarterly. Her essays have appeared in venues like McSweeney’s, The Atlantic, Public Books, The Point and The Los Angeles Review of Books, and she has a book of nonfiction forthcoming from Bloomsbury Press in association with The Atlantic magazine.