My Diminutive Romance

This summer, while slowing to a stoplight, I espied in my periphery a girl at the corner gasstation filling up her car. She was composed in such a way that it meant nothing to leave ten car-lengths between me and the light, so long as I was right where I could watch her. Rarely, I believe, is anyone captivated in such a way. How lucky I felt to glimpse this out of the corner of my eye, the way one might catch the flash of a meteorite and look up just in time to see its pale skyscar bleed away into the blackness.

In other words, I caught her movements before I caught her looks. And in fact there was something stirring in the way she inexpertly sought to work the machine and pump the gas, as though it were her first time. This clumsiness, which in most people would frustrate me, in her I found very endearing. I wondered (being men) whether we are attracted to a certain youthful incompetence in things the way maybe a vulture or a hyena is attracted by the gestures of the dying. And then I wondered with a shock if maybe that was just me. But I think girls sometimes play the helpless hand, and sometimes vacuously — with this girl though I saw nothing calculated in her failures.

When she finally got a hold of the thing, and the fuel was freely pumping, she leaned back against the car with one leg bent and her footsole to the door. I admired her looks for the first time. Although I have never been expert at describing features, feeling that an allusion to “long brown hair,” and then to “seagreen irises,” then mentioning, in simile, the peculiar shape of the nose or cheeks, somehow leaves all these parts ill-construed and without context, as if in the imagination I fear one might make the mistake of envisioning “roseleaf lips” square in the middle of the forehead, like one of Picasso’s horrors. Nevertheless, I can say this about the girl: she wore a skyblue sundress and it hung upon her like a veil, like a sheet some master sculptor casually threw over his newly finished masterpiece, in the back garden, with white flakes of marble all about its feet, and in his absence the breeze worked it over, dropping the sheet in places to expose the brightest and most suggestive pieces — so much did her dress seem at once to both conceal and betray a supreme artistry. And who can begrudge Florida sun when it touches everything with a soft iridescence, as if everything contained fragments of crystal — her skin and hair.

I looked in the rearview mirror expecting to see angry faces for not pulling up to the light. Instead I saw an old man and woman, and the woman, smiling, was also admiring my new love. She pulled at her husband’s sleeve to see, pointing: and there was such adoration in her eyes, as though she were seeing for the first time a rare Asiatic orchid, a bird of rainbow plumage, the mythological amaranth — something prized solely for exterior splendor, something she could frame, or pot, or put on a hat.

That made me feel strange, for it reminded me of a thought I once had but failed to find words for, only an image: a giant florist with a handful of girls in colorful skirts, snipping off their feet and arranging them thoughtfully in a window-pane vase.

I have always wanted to ask a beautiful woman what it feels like to be beautiful: what if feels like to be transformed into an emblem of only one of life’s acts: what it feels like to be lusted after. I have been admired, heard myself reduced to a collection of parts, and so on. It means nothing to me for I know myself filled with substance (venom mostly) and an active agent. But there is this excerpt from Zikr and Zirafgand, by the strange 13th century Persian poet Azarbod Ibn Al-Najmabadi while in unexplained Greek exile, regarding the nature of femininity (Fitzgerald translation):

“. . . even shadows of young girls in bloom
Will burn more brightly than forged flames
Then spread a darkness that consumes
Your life, your sanity and name.

Yet they exist like garden flowers
To be seen, smelled, or plucked, or crushed:
In afternoons beneath the bower
In evenings behind a closed door’s hush.

Like butterflies you seek their entrance
And once inside find naught to measure:
As void and hollow as mischance
You find nothing — but your own pleasure . . .”

On second thought it might have been Proust who wrote this, who knew a little something about femininity . . . I wonder.

Anyhow, the light went green and I drove away.


~ by Peter on January 11, 2008.

One Response to “My Diminutive Romance”

  1. What a wonderful short piece!! Some thing that Humbert Humbert could have written in his younger years. The Proust (did not he live most of his life as a dandy and finish out his life in a room lined with cork?) or Persian poem sparked a tingle in my loin and made me want to pursue my lusts. I could not help but clap when I finished. I wanted to stand and clap but my pants were half down.

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