The Professor’s Wife
cradled the cupcake in my hand, the thick excess of pink frosting
threatening my fingertips. The room around me was bare; the white of the
walls overwhelmed the room, and the faint lighting barely reached the cor-
ners. The professor and his wife had orchestrated a social, and I and the other
students sat uncomfortably on their new furniture, all caught in the same
throes of awkwardness. They made tenuous and painful conversation; I lis-
tened in silence, my eyes drifting across the occupants of the room but final-
ly settling on the professor’s wife.
She was not pretty; my mind in its clinical distance called her ugly. With
a scientific, dispassionate eye, I watched her: she was skinny, but lacked the
smooth, graceful lines that would have made her attractive. There were wrin-
kles around her eyes; her face seemed washed out, somehow, missing a
vibrancy that I expected in it, and I found myself staring instead at her shoes.
Her tiny feet were arranged prettily—it seemed a discrepancy—into little
green sandals that didn’t match the hue of the green polka-dotted dress she
wore. The dress was exceedingly garish, and yet she wore it with comfortable
confidence. It tied clumsily at her waist; the top was an overlapping V. And
though I found her, logically, rationally, ugly, I had the feeling that she was
somehow not, that there was a secret I did not know.
She spoke in broken English, with a Portuguese accent that was thick and
obtrusive. She stumbled over the words, embracing awkward pauses as she
tried to express what she knew but could not say. As she leaned forward to
explain a point, her husband’s eyes would follow her movements, as if she
were some possession worthy of jealous guarding. I didn’t understand the
expressions of pride and adoration that lingered on his face.
She stood up to collect the plates, and the skirt of her dress settled
around her knees. As she moved, I saw suddenly what I had missed before.
The fluidity of the motion knitted together every ugly trait into something
beyond it. She was compelling, commanding—and I knew, with unwarranted
certainty and unshakeable belief, that she was beautiful.
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