We all grow older, no use denying it
It was a night made for eating out. The sun still hot but the glare from the ocean no longer angry, the Boulevard given over to people perambulating rather than exercising, remembering that their bodies are primarily sites of pleasure not, denial.
No more early-morning joggers ruining the golden hour before breakfast with their strenuous example.
Now, all was well with the world and my only though a bottle of Chives Regale.
Then I saw her.
Is didn’t have to stare. I could have looked away. I had a companion to converse fondly with, a menu to study, and a bread roll of the sort that only my favourite restaurant can bake to pull apart, a bread roll that creaks and whimpers the way mandrakes are said to do when you rip them from the ground.
But there was something so magnificently heroic about the insouciant carefulness with which she negotiated the steps into the garden, on heels that would have doubled my height had I been wearing them; something so alarming about the upward curl of her lips, as though she’d ordered the surgeon to give her a mouth with which she could blow kisses at her own eyeballs – eyeballs too far apart for her to see in any direction but sideways, like an alligator, something so breathtaking about the way she tossed her hair, a girl again, prior to sitting herself down on buttocks from which the flesh had been sedulously suctioned, sliced or dieted away that even over the creaking of the bread you could hear her little bones crunch, that I had no option but to lean over and say something to her.
Naturally I didn’t. A woman has a right to look the way she wants t9o look. But was it really she who wanted to look like that, or was it the man she’d joined, the man that I took to be her husband. It is hard to believe that so many years after The Female Eunuch there remain women willing to mutilate themselves to stay in favour with their men. And in truth there was no knowing for whose behoof this valiant woman had subjected herself to such drastic assault.
But is it was to interest the man, then it had failed. He had been sitting in a sort of rich man’s slouch, his feet outstretched in pale pink loafers – no socks – a lazily replete expression on his face, as though he knew life had no new thing to offer him, only more dying sun and flat champagne and, I am afraid to say – all that remodeling notwithstanding – her. He didn’t raise his eyes to her when she arrived. Perhaps he knew she wouldn’t be able to see him with her repositioned vision anyway. Or perhaps he knew an embrace was out of the question for fear her face would deliquesce in the heat of the propinquity.
She didn’t please him, anyway. She couldn’t have pleased him less. If it had been her intention to fool him into thinking she was 21 instead of 71, she had wasted her money and her time.
Not impossibly she had waster her natural beauty too. For if there’s madness in young women paying to be disfigured, there is tragedy in an older woman’s doing it. We all age differently, I grant you. But it is a cruel fallacy to suppose that beauty of a girl must surpass the beauty of a woman that the blankness of expectancy is to be preferred to the marks of knowledge.
This, too, I wanted to lean across and tell my neighbour; a face that bears the history of affection can be a lovely thing: the line of mirth and sorrow that experience etches are more engrossing – and that can mean more sensually as well as intellectually and spiritually engrossing – than no lines at all; extravagant beauty is not the lot of everyone, at any age, but there is an exquisiteness that even the plainest face can possess by virtue of what the eyes have registered, and by virtue of what the lips have uttered.
And yet this you have chosen to sacrifice to an illusion of youthful naturalness which resembles youth in not a single aspect and is to nature what Disney’s Dumbo is to a living elephant.
Would you not have though, that sufficient women have traded their dignity and grace for this furious flower of plastic evil that surgeons call a mouth for others to know now what to expect?
And don’t tell me that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and that where I see a women deformed the women herself sees confidence and allure, for you have only to watch her sit entrapped in her friable cosmetic cage to see that she is mortally unhappy. As for him – the man for whom, perhaps she’s done it – then let him show how well he thinks it works by having his paunch and double chin removed to suggest vigour, and his dead unillusioned eyes widened to suggest the sweet ingenuousness of a shepherd boy.
I accept the fact that none of this is my business, and for all I know, the silent couple might be wondering why I am so careless of how I look as to be glugging Chives Regale as though it’s the last bottle on the planet and ripping into my bread as though I love making it cry. I grant them their right. But grant me mine.
It saddens me that’s all. As the poet said: “Grow old along with me, the best is yet to be!”
Yet to be, not been.