11/09/14 - Short Story: Twenty Twenty

     Some relationships are doomed from the outset.  Most will come to an end at some point, whether it’s a crashing tempestuous finale or a pathetic little fizzle.  It’s only that lucky handful that last for any significant time, and a tiny percentage of those are actually permanent arrangements. 

It’s impossible to tell at the beginning.  You can’t see whether you’re doomed, whether you’ll crash or fizzle – you just can’t know.  Not until it happens or it doesn’t.  The beauty is that at the start, there’s always the possibility of happiness.  That sense of hope is the only thing that keeps humans constantly blundering around in pursuit of what we call love.  That hope appears often where you least expect it.  It sneaks up on you when you’re looking the other way.  You could be at the supermarket scouring the reduced section for bargains.  You could be washing your car.  You could be getting a check up at the opticians.
     The act of going to the optician is much more fraught with potential sexual tension that one might expect.  The darkened room, the proximity of your faces, an awful lot of intense gazing – with the right person, it can be downright thrilling.  My usual optician is a lovely little Pakistani gentleman with a mild case of halitosis and clammy hands.  A very pleasant chap, but hardly the ‘right person’ for a romantic situation.  But on this particular day, Dr Bohra was holidaying in the Lake District and my appointment, I was told, was to be with a Dr Henderson.  This information hardly registered with me until my attention was dragged from the ever-important waiting room task of deleting emails on my phone by a woman’s voice.  Even before I looked up, I knew she’d be attractive.  I know that’s a really shit thing to say as well as being incredibly superficial, but it’s true.  You can’t tell from someone’s voice if they have a fun personality or a kind heart, but that voice spoke of beauty.  It held a certain quality that could only come from the speaker being fairly confident in their appearance and it had a slightly husky edge that I found arousing before I even looked up.  I wasn’t disappointed.  Her wide green eyes seemed to sparkle mischievously as their gaze fell onto me.  That voice spoke my name again and for a split second, I was so entranced by the lab-coated vision before me that I wondered desperately if the fact that she knew it was me might be fate.  Until that split second passed and I realised that I was the only person waiting for an appointment.  So maybe not.
     I stood a tad awkwardly and gave a little nod to acknowledge that she had the right person.  Her polite professional smile widened as she stepped forwards to shake my hand warmly.  I tried to make my own smile a little more natural and then stepped past her into the room that she indicated with a brief wave.
     Settling myself into the high optician’s chair, I cast a glance around at the torture-device apparatus and the rows of diminishing letters before finding my eyes drawn to Dr Henderson once again.  The last thing I’d want would be for her to find my staring creepy so I tried to do it discreetly.  I was busy surreptitiously appreciating the smooth line of her shin curving down to her flexed ankles in high-heeled shoes when she tossed her sleek blonde ponytail back and slid dark-framed glasses onto her face, clearly as a preface to beginning the appointment.  Why is it that so many opticians are plighted with poor eyesight themselves?  Is it from years of squinting at other people’s eyes, or was it their initial inspiration to enter the profession?
     “Shall we begin?”  Such a simple question but somehow that voice managed to give those three little words a plethora of hidden meaning.  Her lips quirked upwards as she rolled her chair a little closer to me, twisting her screen so she could read from my previous notes.
     “It’s been a while since your last appointment – is there any reason that you’ve come in today?”
     I proceeded to ramble something vaguely coherent about headaches and struggling to read road signs.  She nodded throughout and occasionally tapped the computer’s keyboard, adding notes to my file.  Eventually I ran out of steam and trailed off a little lamely.  Her smile was reassurance that everything I’d said did actually make some sort of sense.  Personally, I’d stopped listening to myself and had been a bit worried that I was just saying words with no awareness of their relevance.  The glimmer of her eyes as they were lit by the computer monitor had an odd effect on me, and I found myself struggling to look away.
     Needless to say, the rest of the appointment was an absolute minefield.  Despite my best efforts, I was unable not to notice each and every movement that she made.  There was just something about Dr Henderson – sorry, Alice, as she insisted I call her – that demanded attention.  She was beautiful of course, but there was something else.  Her easy charm, the familiar yet unobtrusive way that she managed to slip from professional to friendly throughout the course of the time we spent together nose to nose in that dimly lit room.  It was the hardest I’d ever concentrated on an eye test.  I feared that if I allowed my focus to slip, I’d say something hideously embarrassing from which I would never recover.  There may also have been a slightly pathetic element of wanting to impress her, as though any sane woman would actually care about whether I could correctly recite the bottom row of the letter chart, let alone be in any way aroused by it.  I’m sure she knew too.  There was something that concerned me in her flickering smile as she noted my progress, clicking her long manicured nails against the keys.  After what felt both like a fleeting moment and an absolute dragging age, she turned the overheard fluorescent light back on and an element of the previous magic was lost.  Her face suddenly lacked its ethereal quality now that it was no longer lit by the monitor’s blue glow.  She was still beautiful though, and I became conscious of that fact that very soon, I would be expected to leave.  She was explaining the cause of my headaches to be incredibly mild short-sightedness, possibly not even worthy of the weakest prescription available or something to that effect. 
     Was it considered unusual to proposition your optician?  Did she have to obey some kind of unspoken rule against fraternising with patients?  I was so busy with my own internal debate that I was taken by surprise when I realised that Alice had stopped speaking and appeared to be waiting expectantly for an answer.  I cleared my throat.
     “Sorry?”  I became aware that I hadn’t spoken for what felt like a very long time and that my throat was a little raspy as a result.  She didn’t look annoyed by the fact that I clearly hadn’t been listening and repeated her question.
     “I said I know you’re probably busy or like, have a wife or something…but if you didn’t think it would be too inappropriate, would you maybe like to go for a coffee?  With me?  Or a drink.  Also with me.  Obviously.”
     Something of her smooth exterior seemed to be cracking under the pressure of having to ask again, this time with a captive audience.  Her front teeth caught her lower lip nervously and – unintentionally, I presume – incredibly provocatively.  I refused to be distracted by it and tried to pass my momentary lapse off as musing on the question.
     “That would be…nice,” I finally conceded.  Inwardly, I was ecstatic.
     Things were going really well.  She was funny, intelligent and so bloody attractive. We agreed on the important things, and only differed playfully on a few trivial subjects.  She was doing everything right, almost as though she were working from a manual; the first chaste goodnight kiss, the flirtatious yet appropriate text messages between dates, the coy invitation of a night cap in her flat after a particularly romantic evening of Italian food. 
     Her home was exactly as I’d imagined it – meticulously tidy and well presented.  Her occupation was clear from the moment you stepped through the door.  The coffee table was home to a selection of optometry publications, there were framed diagrams and illustrations of eyes covering most of the walls, and there was a whole shelf containing various anatomical models of eyes.  At the end of this shelf was what I saw on closer inspection to be an actual eye, floating in some kind of preserving fluid.  I can’t deny that that made me feel a little uneasy, but I was quickly distracted by her return to the room carrying a bottle of red wine.  We drank, we laughed, things got a little heated on the sofa.  As she breathily suggested we moved to the bedroom, I tried to ignore the feeling of being watched and instead focus on marvelling at how lucky I was to have landed myself in this position.  She led me to the next room and I began to think that maybe we could have a future together.  Me and this beautiful blonde with her green eyes darkened with lust, with her smooth curves and long legs, with her eager hands and mouth.  As I travelled home early the next day wearing last night’s clothes and this morning’s secret smile, I was confident that this woman was going to be good for me.  It had been a while since I’d been genuinely interested in forming anything more than a brief carnal connection with anyone.  It was invigorating to have recaptured a scrap of the old hope that had been eluding me for several years.  Alice was different, opening my eyes and offering me a glimpse at a bright new future that could be within my reach.
     It kept getting better.  She seemed to be settling into the idea of letting her guard down a little and stopped playing it quite so textbook cool.  It was refreshing to feel as though she was really invested in the possibility of this going somewhere.  She would call me mere moments after closing her front door behind me.  She’d sit and gaze into my eyes for extended periods of time, seeming perfectly content just to stare.  She’d send essays of text messages at three in the morning.  At first it was endearing.  She’d casually slip into conversation what colour eyes she thought our children would have.  She’d leave deep red scratches down my back and flaming bruises on my shoulders, then coyly giggle that it was to let anyone who might see them know that I was taken.  She’d point out furniture that would look nice in ‘our’ house.  I was aware that she was getting a little ahead of herself, but I was unwilling to let her know that.  She had so much else going for her that I told myself I’d be able to overlook these minor issues.
     The turning point came one evening three weeks into the relationship when, in the heat of an intimate moment, she expressed a wish to touch my eye.  Not the lid.  My eyeball.  “A part of your body that no one else has ever touched.”  Her face was so intense as she spoke, her own eyes dark and lustful, her voice rasping with arousal – thinking about it now genuinely sends a shiver down my spine.  Of course she was too good to be true, with her easy tinkling laugh and smooth pale skin.  That beautiful face was a mask hiding a different side to her that had finally peered out.  She’d been slipping from her pedestal for a little while and that moment was the final straw.  In my mind’s eye, she came crashing down with an unhinged glint in her green eyes.  Rapidly, I made my excuses and somehow – miraculously – managed to escape unscathed.  She seemed disorientated by my sudden change of heart and I used her confusion as a means of getting away before she had chance to realise what was happening.  As the bus trundled me back to my own flat, devoid of staring eyes on every surface, my skin was still crawling.  I should have known.  The signs had been there, if I’d only seen them.  But it’s like they say; hindsight is twenty-twenty.