In the Eyes of the Beholder
by Alan Richman
Irma knew she was ugly. The evidence was there every morning in her bathroom mirror. Her eyebrow—there was only one—hovered over the bridge of her nose as well as both eyes, one of which wandered while the other locked, laser-like, onto the person or object she was looking at. Her upper mouth protruded almost an inch farther forward than her jaw. Her neck was scrawny.
The less said about her body, the better. She was too tall and ungainly, thin and a little bit lopsided, with the right shoulder perfectly level, while the left drooped. There were no womanly curves. She had hips as broad as her shoulders and a waist to match. If the year had been 1943 instead of 2013, she might have worn Eleanor Roosevelt’s castoffs.
Friends and coworkers, the few people she saw frequently, could never quite conceal an expression of pity when they looked at her. Strangers either averted their eyes or stared fixedly, with the ghoulish intensity of someone watching an accident unfold.
She’d been out with a man exactly five times in all her life—all blind dates set up by friends or relatives. No one ever asked to see her again—of course. At 38, she’d lost all hope of romance, although she still had longings.
When she was a girl, Irma had wanted to work at a boutique or upscale department store, where each day she’d be surrounded by beautiful clothes and jewelry, inhaling sweet perfume. It wasn’t so lofty a dream, but it was hers. And it didn’t come true.
Instead she worked in telephone sales, where she was as concealed from the public as if she’d been wearing a burka. Her looks wouldn’t be a distraction on the phone. And she had a pleasant voice.
And then—a miracle! Irma had a suitor. Guy bubbled up from the deep pool of customers Irma called each day. Unlike almost everyone else she dealt with—they cared only about quantity, cost and delivery—he began each conversation with a cheery “Hi Sweetie, what’s the best thing that happened to you today?”
Unprepared the first time this happened, she blurted out, “Your call.” It came out like an explosion of alarm. But pretty soon, once the pattern was established, she was able to purr the words softly—almost seductively.
After that, the conversation flowed freely, building from a trickle in the early days to a gushing stream of shared experiences, thoughts and feelings. She came to know when something was wrong—like the time he had a toothache, but still tried to be as upbeat as could be.
She caught it, and him, simply by showing concern. “This isn’t the guy I call Guy,” she said. “Where did my Guy go?”
He told her about the ailing tooth—and his fear of dentists. He didn’t even have a dentist, and had been avoiding them for more than 10 years.
And that’s how they eventually came face to face. Not knowing what possessed her, Irma offered—insisted, actually, because he tried to refuse her help—to take him to her own dentist, emphasizing that practitioner’s ability to make things relatively painless.
Whether it was Guy’s oral agony or his curiosity about meeting Irma in the flesh, he ultimately accepted. She set up an appointment, asked to be excused from work an hour early and met Guy at his office.
The dentist worked his magic. Afterward, it was dinnertime, so they headed into a small restaurant Irma knew. Guy sipped a cool drink, since his mouth was too numb to risk chewing, but Irma toyed with a salad. And they stayed there almost two hours.
From then on, they were an item. He sent flowers to her office every day. She spoke to him three, four times a day—and only once about his order.
Irma blossomed. She was happy. But life isn’t entirely like the movies. She still remained ugly.
Her coworkers knew about Guy, of course. They overheard snippets of her conversations with him and could fill in the blanks when she left certain things unsaid.
One day, in the ladies’ room, two of the other women were speculating how Irma had found her Guy.
“I don’t get it. She’s nice enough as a person, but how do you get past those looks,” said one.
“He must be blind,” came the reply.
Then a stall door opened, and Irma emerged. “He is blind. He was born blind. But he can see beauty. And I love him.”
Born in The Bronx, Alan Richman has been a New Jersey resident since 1969. After more than 43 years in Marlboro Township, he moved to Monroe Township last July. A professional journalist since the age of 20, he has been published in The Star-Ledger, New Jersey Jewish News, NJ Savvy Living and regional editions of Cosmopolitan and Business Week, as well as business publications too numerous to mention. He currently is a full-time freelancer, following a four-decade career as an editor and staff writer.