Beauty From Ashes

Entry by: Tauren

14th October 2016
“And I`ll be right back with that menu,” the waiter said to Jill, as they settled into their seats.
They were in the darkest corner of the restaurant, Paul, as usual, with his back to the rest of the patrons. Jill leaned towards him and asked in a low voice, “Do I have something on my face?”

He frowned in confusion, “What…no, why do you ask?”
Still in a stage whisper, she said, “When we walked in everybody stopped talking at once, it`s like when you go to a party and the room goes silent when you enter, like they`d been gossiping about us.”

“Oh,” he said, “Sorry, I guess I`ve become immune to it. As the saying goes, it`s not you, it`s me.”
“You?” She tilted her head to one side as if studying him, “What are you, the local serial killer?” she was smiling as she said it.

He sighed, “I wish; Mike didn’t tell you?”
“Tell me what?” she seemed genuinely unaware of his situation.
“I`ll kill that Mike, he was supposed to tell you, so you wouldn’t be surprised; sorry about that.”

Again she asked, “Tell me what?” Irritation lacing her voice now.
He hesitated, he`d never had to tell anyone about his condition, it was quite literally as plain as the nose on his face, “I`m, well, the thing is…….I`m hideous.”
Jill gave one of those hesitant half-laughs people make when they`re unsure whether the other person is joking or not.

Two days earlier:
Mike, “But why not, Jill would be perfect for you, and it`s been more than three years, what are you going to do, hide out here for the rest of your life?” he waved a hand to encompass the apartment.

“What`s wrong with her, has she got two noses or something?” Paul knew he was being a hypocrite, but he couldn’t help himself.
“No, no, nothing like that, in fact Terri says she`s quite pretty, it`s just that, well, Jill`s blind.”

Paul gaped at his friend, or gaped as much as his ruined mouth would allow anyway, “Are you serious, doesn’t Terri like this woman?”

“Wha`dy`a mean?” Mike asked, feigning innocence.
“Wha`dy`a mean, what do I mean; why would you do this to her, people will stare and point, after Lucy, why would you put her through that?”
Mike shrugged, “Well it`s not like she`s going to notice, y`know what with her being blind and all?”

“Jesus, with friends like you,” Paul said, though Mike and Terri had been two of the few people who`d stood by him after the assault, “Alright, but promise me you`ll tell her beforehand, let her know what she`s letting herself in for.”

“Sure, sure,” Mike said.

“So,” Jill said, “When you say hideous, just how ugly are you? On a scale of one to ten.”
Paul was about to answer, when the waiter returned.

“Your menu,” he said holding it out, then, quite rudely Paul thought, took one of her questing hands, guiding it to the laminated sheet, “Thank you,” she said.

As he turned to leave, she called out, “Wait.” He paused and asked, “Is there a problem?”
Jill was frantically running her fingers over the raised braille bumps, “This isn’t in English,” she said, “You brought me the wrong one,” then she leaned across to Paul and in an accusatory tone hissed, “I told you a French restaurant was a bad idea, I can`t read French.”

The waiter gave Paul a perplexed look, Paul could only shrug in response. It was only when the waiter attempted to take the menu back that Jill burst into laughter, “Sorry, sorry, couldn’t resist, just a little blind humour,” she patted the confused man`s hand, “Sorry about that.”

He dithered a moment longer, still unsure, “So it is okay?”
“Yes, yes, it`s fine, thanks,” she said, still sniggering. She waited a few seconds then asked, “Is he gone?” Paul nodded, then feeling foolish, said, “Yes.”

Jill shook her head, “They don’t expect us to have a sense of humour, think because we`re different we must spend our lives moping around.” Paul wondered was she including him in her, “We.”

“So,” she said, “You never told me how ugly you are, one to ten, one: making small children cry, ten: grown men vomiting at the sight of you.”

Paul felt a little off balance, finding this conversation unsettling, most people did anything but discuss his looks, to his face at least, “Can I be honest with you?” he asked.
“God no,” Jill said in a shocked tone, “Under no circumstances be honest, lie to me please.”
“What, no, what?” he was struggling to keep up with this conversation, Jill, for her part was grinning.

“I always feel a stupid question deserves a stupid answer,” she said, “And asking if you can be honest with someone is right up there with, can I ask you a question, another pet peeve of mine.”

Unable to help himself, Paul asked, “And what do you say to people who want to know if they can ask you a question?”
“Well if I`m in a good mood, I`ll say, what, a supplementary? That usually throws them. But if they`re dicks, I`ll say, no, I only answer one question a day and you`ve used your quota. So are you going to answer my question or what?”

He sighed, “This is awkward for me,” he admitted, “But right now, I`d say I was a five, six at worst.”
“Right now. What, are you getting uglier as you get older; have you got some kind of hideous growths sprouting out of your face or something?”
“No, no,” he said, “quite the opposite, five years ago I would have been a nine, maybe even a ten; I`ve had a lot of surgeries since…..” he trailed off.
“Since…Since what,” she said, “don’t keep a girl in suspense, what happened five years ago?”

The waiter strolled back their way, and Paul took the opportunity to deflect the conversation, “Excuse me, but we`re ready to order,” he said.
“Yes Sir,” the order pad and pen magically appearing in the man`s hands. They both looked at Jill; it took the waiter a few seconds to remember she couldn’t see him, “What can I get you madam?” he prompted.

“I`ll have..” she ran her fingers across the starters, “The asparagus soup, and….For the main, I`ll have the fillet steak rare, with….” Her fingers danced across another line, both men watching, fascinated. “Grilled vegetables and fries.”
“Very good madam; and for you sir?”

Paul folded his menu, “I`ll have the same, but the steak medium, Just a little pink. Oh and do you have a bottle of Merlot?” he added, as the waiter took the menus, “Yes sir, of course,” the waiter said.

“So,” Jill said, when he`d gone, “You were about to tell me all about your obviously murky past.”
“You`re not letting this go are you?”
“Nope,” she said smiling.
“It`s pretty gruesome,” he said, “And we are about to eat.”
“Oh it`ll take them a good half hour to stick the soup in a microwave, and anyway one of the advantages of being blind from birth is no reference points, I can`t visualise anything.”

He poured them both a glass of water from the carafe, helped her find her glass, took a sip from his own and said, “There isn’t much to tell really, I`m an architect; five years ago I was working for one of the larger firms in the city, and one night I was attacked as I walked to my car.”
“That’s it,” she said, sounding disappointed, “You were mugged, what`d you do, refuse to give them your wallet or something.”

He shook his head, realised not for the first time that she couldn’t see, and said, “No, it wasn’t a mugging. There were three of them, one of them was the husband of a woman one of the firm’s partners was sleeping with, they were there for revenge, a simple case of mistaken identity, I was in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
He stopped, took another sip to clear his suddenly dry throat, he hadn’t told this story to anyone in at least two years.

“What did they do,” Jill asked in a breathy voice.
“one of them,” he felt a catch in his throat, swallowed, then continued, “One of them hit me from behind, some kind of club, nearly caved my skull in.” He didn’t tell her he`d wished the bastard had succeeded. “I was half out of it when they doused me in petrol, I remember the match though, the way it flared in the darkness, and the stink of the fuel, then whoomph, I was burning; the world, my world, became a bright fierce thing, I closed my eyes….” the catch was back, he cleared his throat, and when he continued his voice was hoarse and tight, “all I remember after that was the pain, and the sound of someone screaming……” he stopped, surprised to find he was unable to continue, his breathing quick as his heart.
“Sorry,” he said, “I..I.”

She reached across, her hand finding his, “It`s okay,” she said, “I didn’t know….I shouldn’t have pried.”
Paul felt bad then, this was a mistake, he thought, it was Lucy all over again.

They ate their soup in silence, and after the bowls had been cleared away, Jill said, “Terri says you’re divorced, was it because of, y`know?”

Paul thought, how to answer this? He settled for, “Kinda yes, but not really.” When he saw her frown, he said, “Sorry it`s complicated.” Then felt the need to explain.
“Afterwards, Lucy was there day and night; I was out of it mostly; they kept me in an induced coma for six weeks, there aren’t enough drugs in the world for that kind of pain. She was there throughout all the surgeries, stuck it out for nearly fourteen months, but….” He trailed off.

“Bitch,” Jill said softly, seeing where this tale was going.

“No, no,” Paul said, he wasn’t going to hear Lucy talked down. “You don’t understand; it wasn’t her fault, I pushed her away, drove her out of my life, she deserved better,” his shoulders slumped, and he breathed out loudly.

“It was destroying her, she was determined to stick by me, still loved me, but…..Well once the bandages came off, and she saw what I`d become, she….” He re-gathered himself, “She….I saw the revulsion on her face, which was bad, but over time it turned to pity, which was worse, much worse. And I saw how people looked at us, saw the wondering stares, what`s she doing with him? So I turned to drinking, wallowed in self-pity, and I`m a pretty miserable drunk let me tell you, until finally she`d had enough.

One day I came home from therapy and she was gone, just a note telling me how she couldn’t live like this anymore, deep-down I was glad. She`s remarried, nice guy, Roberts his name, they had a baby last March, a girl, they named her Pauline,” his voice broke then.
She waited silently until he collected himself.

“Sorry,” he said, when he`d recovered, “You probably can`t tell, but I`m truly happy for her, she deserves the best.” He succeeded in fighting back the threatening tears as the waiter brought their main courses.

When he`d gone, Jill asked, “Can I touch your face, I want to see you.”
Hesitantly he agreed, helping guide her hands to his tight reconstructed skin.

It was strange, feeling her fingertips sliding across his skin, tracing the livid scars, her probing fingers finding the edge of the wig, following it across his brow. When she finished she withdrew her hands, he watched her face for some sign, she showed nothing, her features remaining passive.
Volunteering nothing, she picked up her knife and fork, “Well?” he asked.
She put down the utensils, looked at him with sightless eyes and said, “I`ve dated worse.”