His body was like a giant crepe mound that had folded into itself. His breath like an unwashed crotch. But it wasn’t just his general rough-hewn aesthetic that made her apprehensive about introducing him to anyone in her life, let alone walking down the street with him. It was that he had the same uncouthness as a beast. Not even as The Beast in La Belle et La Bête, but an actual beast who had never even been human at some point. As such, he seemed to have no social graces or concern with being outwardly disgusting. Yet she loved him in spite of these flaws pertaining to gracelessness and the unkempt look that came with it. He was a barbarian, but he was her barbarian.
At times, however, it was difficult to dodge the obvious answer to his question of why they never hung out with her friends, or why he had still never met her parents after a year and a half together. She didn’t think she needed to spell it out for him. Couldn’t he see that he was unpresentable? On so many levels. Yet isn’t it said that we are always the ones most oblivious to what is so obvious to everyone else from their objective perspective outside of one’s own body? Even if Lise was aware that this must be what was mentally blocking Crogsley from understanding why she couldn’t take him out in public, she still couldn’t bring herself to outwardly tell him the painful truth. For he was a sensitive sort. That had to be the reason why he was so blatantly in denial about his true nature, acting tantamount to the patently clunky and boorish hippo in a dichotomous ballerina ensemble. Yet he was the gentlest soul she had ever met. An ironic fact considering the shell he was saddled with.
That’s why it hurt her all the more to lie to him when she made up some excuse about going out by herself when, in actuality, she was meeting a number of friends who had still never been introduced to Crogsley. And though she hated herself for caring what others might think of him, she couldn’t bear the idea of them treating him like shit, or worse, speaking ill of him to her behind his back. Such talk would invariably poison the well of her love, and she wanted it to remain pure and untouched by the opinions of others. So she lied. Lied through her pristinely straight white teeth that were in direct contrast to Crogsley’s crooked yellow ones, which were shaped more like glass shards than anything resembling the square form of a tooth. He didn’t ever call her out on it, but she knew he must have intuited what was really going on. That she was hiding him from the world like Quasimodo in the bell tower. The unspoken truth was both what preserved the integrity of their relationship and mangled it. And over time, she knew something was going to have to give, for she had met all of his island of misfit toy friends, as well as his parents and two brothers, which gave some indication of why he looked the way he did. She couldn’t keep coming up with viable non-offensive reasons for very much longer before Crogsley would expose the elephant in the room (the one that wasn’t him).
Sometimes she wondered why they tried to teach children in school that it is what’s on the inside that counts. For it is so very clearly not. A self-evident truth that one learns long before leaving the supposed cocoon of preadolescence, when fellow peers are either ostracized or accepted according to whether or not they eke by the judgment of others based on physical beauty (or at least not possessing some characteristic that’s easily detectable to make fun of). Lise had never been mocked in school. Better still, she was rarely noticed at all–invisible enough to get through the ordeal of youth by having nothing ostensibly extraordinary nor unsightly about her. She imagined it was not so for Crogsley, who never discussed his elementary, junior high or high school years, even when probed by Lise, who occasionally tried to get it out of him after a few drinks. She thusly reckoned that it must have been a harrowing experience he preferred to block out altogether. He had been bruised, but he hid it behind his brutishness. His commitment to belching and farting as though the tenets of accepted decorum didn’t matter being such proof of that. And sure, maybe in America they didn’t, but this was England. The stereotyped capital of hoity-toity manners. And, to be sure, living in London didn’t help when it came to Lise’s oppressive feeling of needing to perform for and cater to the overall stodginess inherent in the culture. Barring the scary ruffian youths that went around in hoodies shouting things like “Oi” on buses and generally doing their best to oust the “elegant” sense anyone had of living in a country with a monarchy.
In point of fact, Lise had first encountered Crogsley on the bus. They shared the same route on the 205 from the British Library to Shoreditch High Street for several months before he finally found the courage within to strike up a conversation with her. She was, naturally, repulsed, but engaged him long enough to realize that he was quite sweet. And that other rare quality in a man (particularly a rotund one): intelligent. After a few more encounters on the bus, she took him up on an offer for coffee, where she could tell everyone around them seemed to be staring, as though inquiring telepathically, “What the fuck is she doing with him?” Over the course of the next few months, she realized that there were very few examples of her dilemma in pop culture. Of course there was the extreme case of Beauty and the Beast (and, er, Shallow Hal). And then the more normalized Charlotte York and Harry Goldenblatt one. But at least Harry had the rich and good in bed factors to endear him forever to Charlotte. Crogsley was middle class at best, and, while generous enough in bed, unable to arouse Lise on the same carnal level that past lovers had. She hated herself for being incapable of reciprocating his fervor in the same way, for she was attracted to him. Cerebrally.
Trying her best to get to the root cause of her issue, she began spending more time at the library, poring over Charles Darwin’s The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex and Ronald Fisher’s The Genetical Theory of Natural Selection. Sentence after sentence seemed to prove that she was damned, genetically preprogrammed to be attracted to a man based heavily on his outward appearance. In another scholarly text on the matter that Lise encountered on her educational safari as to the reasons why she would never be capable of getting off with Crogsley, it was plainly stated, “…one of the most desirable qualities a male can have in the eyes of a female is, quite simply, sexual attractiveness itself.” Yet part of her refused to believe she could be as shallow as the rest of humanity. And after all, she didn’t even want a goddamn baby, so this whole “sexy son hypothesis” (as it was grossly deemed in seeming honor of the Oedipus complex) surely couldn’t apply to her. Even so, she continued to study the texts–most particularly Darwin’s–with near religious ardor, highlighting and notating with gusto.
Unfortunately, she made the mistake of leaving The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex on her nightstand one day instead of shoving it into her purse for the bus ride to work. Crogsley, who was now arriving home before her each day thanks to a switch in shift time, spotted it when he returned. Planning to lie down for a brief cat nap, the book caught his eye, for he hadn’t seen it since his tortured high school days, when his own science teachers would mock his genetic shortcomings openly in front of the other students. Wielding him as an example of how not to make a Punnett square. Eventually he stopped going to biology altogether, barely graduating thanks to the D- he received in the course (which he was subjected to once more during summer school, but at least it meant only two months of verbal abuse as opposed to an entire semester). He reached for the book and opened it, immediately sensing a pattern in what Lise had highlighted, not to mention severe marginalia like, “Thus will never be attracted.”
When Lise returned home in a panic over the idea of having left the book out for Crogsley to see, he pretended as though he hadn’t even entered the bedroom since being home, making it a point to declare he’d been in the kitchen preparing dinner for the past hour. He was making his own rendition of Thai noodles, his predilection for carb-based foods being part of the reason Lise felt she was gaining weight. Then again, it would make them slightly more on par with one another.
As they sat at the table, Crogsley chewing loudly and obnoxiously and Lise doing so with careful quietness, little was said. But Lise could sense that something was off, inquiring, “Did something happen at work?” He shrugged, “Just the usual drudgery.” Yet his tone was bristled, so she left it alone, offering to do the dishes while he went into the living room to zone out on some zombie movie–yet another divide between them in terms of relating to one another.
Later that night, when they had both settled in bed, she let him have sex with her, but as usual, was unmoved by it. She made the expected noises, nonetheless. For she did love him, and wanted to express that in some way. The next thing she knew, however, she seemed to black out entirely, not remembering saying anything like “good night” or embracing Crogsley as she usually did before rolling over to go to sleep. Not realizing that the Thai noodles had been dosed.
She awoke the next morning as usual, feeling a strange throbbing sensation on her face that made her approach the mirror. Staring in shock at the reflection looking back at her, she saw that Crogsley had burned her left cheek in the middle of the night, leaving a large circular mark that made her visage look as though a giant cigar had been stubbed out on it. He walked in with breakfast on a tray, declaring, “There. Now we’re on an even aesthetic playing field, don’t you reckon?”