Drop Dead Gorgeous
She was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. Not one of those mass-produced, girlish, undernourished bimbos that appear a hundred times a week on covers of glossy magazines and in advertisements. Photo shopped, polished, painted and airbrushed on the computer screen, dolls with flawless skins, pouting lips, long lovely legs and aggressively sexy eyes, they all look alike. They could almost have been assembled from plastic kits of body parts.
This was a mature woman, beautiful in a way that very few, and only the fully real, can be. Her face was lovely and full of lively, individual character, eyes bright, gleaming with intelligence, good humour and spirit. She seemed to wear no make up, or if she had it was so skilfully used that it was undetectable. Her hair, a gleaming chestnut tone, was controlled and well contoured to her head without looking as if it had been tortured into artificial ringlets or forced into some doughnut shape held together by cardboard, combs and pins. Even I, in my male ignorance and carelessness about clothes, could tell that her lightweight two-piece costume was expensive, tailored perfectly to her exquisite shape, simple with no ornamentation apart from a sparkling brooch. She wore a pair of matching, glittering earrings. All this, all this I had rarely seen before and never together in one person.
I had to stop to stand staring as she approached. Here in addition was elegance of movement. She was poise and grace personified. She did not teeter awkwardly; bum pushed out, torso leaning forward desperately to balance on dangerous, ankle-twisting stiletto heels, nor did she slipslop along in sandals with ugly red toenails, or thunder along on platform heels. Tall, erect, head high, balanced, lissome, she walked like a ballet dancer, swiftly and easily. I could not take my eyes away as she came closer. Entranced, I gaped rudely. She walked, no, floated smoothly past without seeing me. For her I did not exist. I turned to admire her from behind. The perfection continued. She departed, lost among the throng of blind, rushing commuters, so preoccupied with the homeward dash that they were oblivious of the goddess in their midst.
Now I became aware of someone standing nearby, another man. I glanced at him and met his eyes. We turned slowly to face one another. On his face I saw the look that he doubtless saw on mine; lost, amazed, wistful, full of longing, sad, sad that the marvellous vision was so quickly, but so smoothly, disappearing. We looked at each other for a few long seconds. Then we began to smile, to grin at each other, and, a few feet apart in the middle of the crowded way we began to laugh, and laugh, laugh out loud. He looked older than I, a little shorter and more portly, in formal, dark suit, white, clean shirt and club tie, tidy hair. He had spectacles with heavy frames and carried an attaché case; a businessman, I guessed, from an office where people were judged by their clothes. He would notice my scruffiness, a polo necked sweater threatening to develop holes at the elbows, already perhaps fraying a little at the cuffs, trousers in need of pressing, my shoes not cleaned for months. My hair was too long and ragged, tickling my ears. It was at least clean. We stood and laughed, chuckled and giggled, moved a little closer, settled down.
“We did but see her passing by…” he said.
“And yet we…” I said, and thought of Helen. “And yet…” I left the sentence incomplete.
“And yet!” He nodded, sighed, glancing down at the hand holding his case. I saw he had a heavy gold ring. We understood each other perfectly.
He raised his eyebrows, holding out his hand. I took it.
“Charles,” he said. “Charles Mitchell.”
“Have you eaten?”
“We should dine out on this. Have you time?”
“Yes, er…yes I have!”
“Do you like Chinese? Do you know the Imperial?”
“Why, yes I do.” A Chinese nurse who was on an exchange visit had taken Helen and me there once. The Imperial, she promised, had the best Chinese food in the city. “It’s just round this corner, isn’t it?”
“The next corner. Come on.” He jerked his head to the side we ought to go. “Dutch treat?”
“Sure, yes, OK.”
We walked there side by side as if we had known each other forever. We were old friends who had just now met for the first time. The restaurant was conspicuous in the narrow side street among dusty second-hand bookstores, tired-looking window displays of third-rate antiques and trinkets.
I ordered sweet and sour pork; Charles had something unpronounceable with black bean sauce. He knew about wine. I was glad to let him scan the list and order a half bottle. We chatted as we ate. The meal was excellent.
He told me he was married, which I already knew. I nodded, and told him I had two pretty daughters still at primary school. As I had thought, he was in business. He said, a little proudly, his company was importing specialised machine tools and instruments from Eastern Europe. He had suspected already that I was a teacher of some sort, and wondered what I was doing in the city centre at this time of day. Schools closed hours ago.
“I’m at the Further Education College just up the road. I’ve been taking an evening class, lecturing.”
We helped ourselves to more rice, took a sip of wine. He said he had a son at university, reading Economics and Business Management. I would have expected that of his son.
He asked what my lecture had been and what I specialised in. It wasn’t economics or business management. He knew nothing of philosophy. He wasn’t a scholar or reader and there was little I could tell about education that would engage his attention. The conversation became stilted as we both tried to find things to say. It helped to have the food to fill in the gaps in our talk. He remarked that the wine was not bad. I could not pretend any enthusiasm for machine tools or the problems of the competition he was meeting from China. We commented on features of the restaurant, shared the various dishes. I didn’t play golf, he wasn’t keen on gardening. We listened superficially, nodded wisely, and stalled. I was not a member of the Rotarians, he had never heard of Daniel Dennet. We did not want to discuss the bleak news of the day. We never got to music but I was sure our tastes would differ too widely for us to make any sense to one another.
We admitted at last that we could not manage the large quantities of everything the waiter had served. The meal came to an end. We took coffee and exchanged addresses. We knew we would never meet again except by accident. I wasn’t likely to need any CAD milling machines; he was not going to ask for a reading list on Wittgenstein. We left the table and paid our separate bills.
Together, outside the restaurant, as we shook hands before parting, we knew each other well again. Momentarily we stared as we had before, the same expressions, the same feelings.
“Do you suppose she knows?” I asked.
“It can’t be accidental. She works at it.”
“Drop dead gorgeous!” I said, sadly and in wonder.
“Drop dead gorgeous!” he sighed.