She’d never thought of herself as pretty. She was far too awkward for that, too uncomfortable in her own skin, too shy and retiring. Her features, if they drew comment (which in itself was rare) were declared unusual and unsettling. It was generally agreed that her eyes were too hooded and their shade too light. Half blind, they had a tendency to fix overly long upon you, after which they slowly fought to read and absorb your every detail, drinking you in. Defying social conventions, ignoring the boundaries of an individual’s space, their precious circle, they upset rather than pleased. And the rest was little better. Her mouth was thin as opposed to full, her ears lopsided and small, her cheeks drawn and angular, and her hair dry and thin. If her appearance came up in conversation, it was only a matter of etiquette, confirming, social convention, and it was with visible effort that people remarked that she had good skin, a nice smile and unusual features: Oriental, Middle Eastern perhaps?
So pretty was not a word she associated with herself, ever. Her gaze, when she looked into the mirror (which wasn’t very often because she tried hard to avoid it) was critical and recriminatory. She was getting older, she noted, developing wrinkles. She was sunken and shadowed, a patchwork of tones. Things that collected together to dilute any illusion of prettiness, any aspirations of allure and attractiveness, upsetting the composition, disfiguring might otherwise have been a possible attribute.
It wasn’t her mind that had changed. It wasn’t even that the mind of the world in general had altered. It was simply that one particular individual – a stranger, a man who had looked at her in passing – had thrown her this lifeline: “pretty”. Unsure of how to react, uncertain about how to respond, she had relied purely on instinct, giving her hand permission to reach out, to touch, to clasp it, curling around and drawing it back to introduce the novelty to her chest.
Afterwards, later, when the gentleman had evaporated and the occurrence had had the time to settle inside her head, she had paused to relive the moment and wonder if she would ever see him again. That strange, benevolent man had changed her life, instilling in her previously shy and desperate a little confidence and hope. He had seemed nice too, someone who was comfortable with himself and with the body he had been born with, someone she could learn from. He might perhaps be able to help her in the areas where others had previously failed, injecting a little forward momentum into her staid and static life. She played with the thought, examining it from every angle, then wrapped it up beneath her clothes to protect it. Such things were delicate and inclined to disintegrate. Alarmed or disturbed, they departed without a word and could not be persuaded back.
Information stored, she smiled and sat back; relaxed; in response, the room lit up around her and her dog, hiding in the shadows, shuffled closer, exposing her belly to the glow.