I went to the theatre last night. As I was walking down the stairs into the foyer, I noticed a young woman sitting alone, off to one side. She looked up from a book she was reading, straight at me, and I was looking straight at her. That’s usually pretty embarrassing for both parties, isn’t it? People never look at each other in a lift, for instance. If you make eye contact, you’re possibly saying something about being sexually attracted to whomever you’re looking at.
She wasn’t embarrassed, though. In fact, she favoured me with a beautiful smile, as if I were a dear friend, or her lover. OK, maybe just friend, but you know what I mean. I’ve probably been a bit inappropriate, suggesting I might have been her lover, seeing that I’m nearly old enough to draw the pension, and she may very well not yet have drawn her first pay-cheque. And I don’t know her and, almost certainly never will. It just goes to show, though, doesn’t it, that I might, indeed, have been thinking something sexual?
No, any sexual thoughts came later. At the time I was just thinking that she had a very beautiful face; small, pear-shaped, like the faces of women in renaissance portraits, before they got the proportions right.
So, you see, I was paying fairly particular attention. I don’t think I was staring. It was more like a lingering glance. Not, though, an enraptured gaze. Notice how the language of romantic love is creeping into the narrative? Though I swear there was nothing sexual going on in my mind at the time. I don’t think there was, at least. Not then, and not even really now.
The thing is, she caught me at it, glancing. There she was, in the crowded foyer, sitting way off to one side in a corner by the stairs, innocently (there’s that innocence idea again) reading her book, and it was as if there was a muted spotlight on her. My eyes were just drawn irresistibly to her. I was already looking at her, then, just appreciating her beauty in a completely non-erotic aesthetic way, and she must have felt the weight of my gaze, as characters in bodice-ripper romances do all the time.
Or, maybe, she was just pretending to read the book, and actually watching the people coming down the stairs, like a spy in a different kind of pulp fiction. She could have been hoping or expecting to see someone, her boyfriend for instance. Perhaps she mistook me for her father.
Anyway, she looked up from her book, straight into my eyes, and gave me that smile, exactly as if I really were the person whom she (hypothetically) might have been anxiously awaiting, or a dear friend, or her boyfriend, whom she was thrilled to see.
I say boyfriend, and not lover, because she appeared young enough (and innocent enough) to have a boyfriend who was not her lover. If she had a boyfriend, they may only have kissed, held hands, hugged, nothing more. Though, of course, appearances can be deceptive She may, even at such an apparently tender age, be incredibly sexually experienced. A lot more than I was at her age. Well, young people are, these days, aren’t they? More sexually experienced, earlier.
There’s an implicit assumption, too, in saying boyfriend, that she wouldn’t have been waiting for her girlfriend or female lover. She might well be a lesbian. Just because I found her sexually attractive (OK, I admit it) doesn’t mean that she’s attracted to men, or that women don’t find her every bit as attractive as I did. When I think about it, I can imagine that a lesbian woman might find her attractive. A slightly disturbing, inappropriately erotic vision comes to mind of her naked in bed with another woman. And all of that just from her face!
That’s not true though. I’ve only written so far about her face. Yet, although I saw more, I don’t really know anything about her, do I?
Isn’t this the essence of romantic love, though? To be drawn to, captivated by a person of the opposite sex about whom one knows very little, except that he or she seems to embody some concept, some vision of physical perfection. Maybe other sorts of perfection too, but mostly physical. And I’ve done it again, haven’t I? I’ve gone on about heterosexual attraction, and the same applies, of course, to homosexual attraction. That is, if one is romantic, and too few of us are truly romantic anymore.
She was sitting on a low bench seat, so she had to extend her legs in front of her, because if she’d bent her knees, especially considering that she was wearing stilettos, the posture would have allowed anybody looking in her direction to see her underwear, under her very short skirt.
She wasn’t wearing a brassiere, I could see, because she’d teamed that little skirt with a soft woven top, which would have clung to a brassiere.
Not that I was staring at her chest in any sort of indecent way. Or staring at all. It was just a glance. Lingering. It was just a passing observation.
Now, there’s a paradox emerging, isn’t there? Such a beautiful, innocent face, such charming naivety, to have looked so directly at me, and to have smiled so demonstratively, yet to be dressed so provocatively!
Just to complete the picture, she was wearing sheer black tights and patent leather stiletto shoes, which makes a bit of a statement in itself, don’t you think? A woman who didn’t care about being, or didn’t want to be sexually attractive wouldn’t wear them, would she?
I read somewhere that stiletto shoes were designed by men, to enhance the outline of a woman’s calves, which have to strain to maintain her balance, to tilt her body, so that her pelvis is thrust forward, and her back necessarily arched, accentuating the narrowness of her waist, while forcing her buttocks to tense, and her hips to sway side to side as she walks, at the same time causing her to push her chest (and breasts) forward, as a counterweight against the destabilising effect of the motion of her bottom. And they make it difficult for her to run away!
There was a ladder in her tights, on the inside of her left thigh. About halfway up.
It’s little imperfections like that, the ladder in her tights, which create the poignancy of beauty; nothing, no-one, however beautiful, is perfect. There is always the thumbprint of the creator, some tiny blemish, to detract from the beauty, as if perfection were not allowed, by some law of the universe, to exist.
Yet that flaw, by its existence, serves also to highlight, by comparison, the magnificence of the near-perfect beauty of the object of one’s study, or, almost by definition, of one’s desire.
The Japanese have a word, apparently, to describe the exact moment when a flower reaches the zenith of its blossoming, it’s “perfection”; a word which conveys both the joy of the existence of such beauty, but also the inevitable sadness that, at that very moment the blossom is already fading and dying.
Human beauty, too, has such a zenith, of which the possessor himself or herself is often unaware, or of which they might be contemptuous; a perfection in which they all too seldom rejoice.
The converse, of course is that a man or woman may be exquisitely conscious of their own beauty, in a narcissistic or superior way, but unaccepting of the fact that beauty fades inevitably.
The thing to do is to recognise the beauty in ourselves and in each other and to celebrate it. Human bodies were made for sex, and for many other purposes, I suppose, but the physical beauty of the body, that which makes us sexually attractive to each other, is there only to compel us to have sex, to ensure the continuation of our species. Good old Charles Darwin! The more beautiful, the more sex, the more babies! In theory. The best age, biologically, to have babies, is pretty much the time when humans are at their most beautiful. So, great beauty engenders thoughts of sex. Even better-than-average beauty. Any beauty at all, really. We humans think about sex a lot.
So I was thinking, as I looked at the girl in the theatre foyer, how very beautiful she was. Not perfect, because nobody’s perfect, but ever so beautiful, and wishing, sort of unconsciously (I realised afterwards) that I wished I was her age again.
How, if I were, I’d walk over to her, and begin a conversation about the book she was reading, (or not reading), (which was called ‘A graphic guide to romanticism’, by the way). Perhaps she’d let me buy her a drink, and we would chat at interval, and maybe go out for a coffee afterwards. Maybe sometime, not necessarily on that first night, we’d have sex.
I wasn’t really aware of that sort of fantasy going on at the time. I just loved her smile, and her beauty, and the fact that there was no embarrassment between us because of the eye contact business. So I smiled too, more or less at the same time as her, and she kept on looking for a moment longer, and then looked away, still smiling.
I just kept on walking over to the bar, feeling happy, and maybe a bit gratified that she hadn’t seemed to think I was some kind of pervert and that, perhaps, she even thought I wasn’t bad-looking, for an old guy. Which was improper, I admit, (thinking that she was thinking about me in any kind of sexual way).
But what if she really was thinking that she fancied me a bit? Did she sit there, right near the entrance, in that posture, dressed like that, wanting to be noticed? Picked up on the sexual radar of strange men? Or women? Or both? That would explain the immodest attire.
If so; if she sought to attract such attention, would she then have responded to the sexual advance of a stranger? Would she have had a sexual encounter with him or her? Something along the lines of my own not quite unconscious fantasy?
Or else, was she subconsciously trying to be sexually attractive, out of some irresistable Freudian impulse or something though, consciously and experientially, she was as innocent and naive as I’d first imagined?
I bought a drink, and funnily enough, the only available seats in the foyer for me and my wife (Yes! I was with my wife!) were directly opposite the young woman in question. She didn’t look at me again, though I couldn’t help looking sideways at her. Maybe she hadn’t realised, when she smiled at me, that I was with my wife, and so was belatedly embarrassed. Or it might have been that she had, in fact, mistaken me for someone else, again cause for embarrassment.
Perhaps, having captured my attention, she’d accomplished her purpose, and any further contact would simply have ruined the romance, or the eroticism, or both, of that earlier solitary instant.
She gave every impression of being engrossed in ‘A graphic guide to romanticism’. It was full of pictures, like a comic book, from what I could see. I wondered if it was a serious treatise on a subject close to my heart, and if she too would have called herself romantic, or if, tragically enough, she’d brought the book along as a sort of theatrical prop, just to make her seem more intriguing.
One cannot know. Nor, perhaps, should one want to know. Better to dream.