The Price of Perfection

Qualified Entry: Fiction Category

By: Hannah Middlebrooks

Every day she boarded the train at 7:13 am.

She was precise and exact, which is what I loved most about her. She was simply never late.

Occasionally I would see her come ten minutes early, but days like that were rare. However, despite their rarity, those days were my favorite. They were the days which I craved. These days always seemed a bit brighter than usual because it was evident that, for her, they were tinged with a bit of hope.

It was always the same hope; it was the crisp sort of hope that comes with winter winds. It was as refreshing as the winds too.

That was something else I loved about her; wherever she went, whenever she went, she always brought winter with her.

In fact, she looked a bit like winter too. Perhaps her disposition had affected her skin, or perhaps it was the other way around; regardless, she was barely tinted; her skin was like a fresh blanket of snow.

Said skin, at least the portion of it with which I had become acquainted, was perfectly unmarred, save one discrepancy. No freckle or mole dared appear on the porcelain, but there was one long graceful scar that ran from the back of her left ear down to the middle of her neck. It was only visible when her deep, wavy chestnut hair was swept into a bun, and even then it was barely visible. It ghosted about her; it was somehow whiter than her ivory skin.

But I won’t dwell on vanity.

More important, to me, was the look in her eyes and the way that she went about her day. The air that she carried with her was envied by the queen and matched that of any high caliber scholar. She was radiant, undeniably so, but in the city radiance is sold on every street corner.

She had something more.

Her strong, regal neck held up not only the head of a goddess; it was also a head that was positively brimming with intelligence. It was not normal intelligence either; I could tell. Her head was evidently full of the queer kind of knowledge that continually eludes everyone but the possessor.

It was intoxicating.

She was intoxicating.

If I loved her any less I would live vicariously through her every day of my life; my only hesitation comes from the fear that I might take something from her. She was so strong and confident that she positively glowed; I was dying to feed off her energy, but I would never dream of dimming her.

Most days, once she found her seat on the train, she pulled out a book. Sometimes it was poetry, and sometimes it was prose, but regardless of the sort there was always a look of profound thoughtfulness that accompanied the book and rested upon her face.

I began to look forward to that look; it had become one of my closest friends.

However, some days she did not bring a book. Those days usually intersected with the early days that were full of hope; she simply passed the hour of the ride looking out the window.

She spent those days on the moon. And, though she probably did not know it, I spent those days on the moon with her.

Every day, while she read, I would trace her profile with my eyes. I would trace her slightly swollen lips and trace her elegant neck. I focused on every aspect of her beauty, loving her slowly as she was meant to be loved.

However, sometimes I found my eyes fixated upon the scar. It was subconscious, but it terrified me nevertheless. It worried me, frightened my down to my core, simply because I had found the most perfect woman that I could fathom and subconsciously I could focus on nothing but her only imperfection.

This is why I knew that I could never let her speak to me. It was too risky.

If her voice was too loud, too soft, or accented improperly my image of her would be shattered. If her words were not big enough, smooth enough, or not spoken with proper fluidity my image of her would be shattered. If she was prejudiced, hasty, or overly silly my image of her would be shattered.
Worlds would have to be destroyed before I would let anything ruin my image of her.

But I didn’t have to worry about that right now; today was just like any other day. I took my seat and found her clutching a tattered copy of The Bell Jar; I quickly became reacquainted with my closest friend.

Trees and time passed by the windows of the train, but I was oblivious to both. Though I promised myself that I would not steal from her by feeding off of her energy, I made no rule for myself against basking in it.

One does not steal from the sun by basking in its rays.

Eventually the train approached our stop, and her mystic hazel eyes lifted to see the destination. Those eyes were always full of a strange sort of dolefulness when she tore them from a book; the remnants of her thoughtful musing could never fully be chased away.

As she rose from her seat and picked up her brown leather bag those beautifully melancholy eyes fell upon mine. Our eyes locked; time froze, and my heart plummeted.

It was evident that she was oblivious to what had just happened, which I found positively infuriating. She gave a small, unaffected smile and continued on her way out.

Despite the fact that I had just been given a calm and beautiful smile, I was horrified. Even long after she was gone I could not shake my dread.

She had crossed the line.

She had breached the space between us. She had torn down every barrier. She had paved the way for future contact; potentially even to the extent of conversational interaction. I was terrified of her and what she had done.

However, and perhaps this is what terrified me most, that action did not ruin my image of her.

She remained perfect and pristine in my mind even after I had soiled her with my presence. She was real now, and that scared me senseless.

As I got off the train I felt dazed. Her presence was normally a sedative, but today she had put me on edge. That tiny smile was meant for me. It was caused by me. I affected her day, yet she remained flawless.

I walked a block aimlessly, and then I walked another. I had a decision to make, though I had really already made it; I had to speak to her before she spoke to me.

I was paralyzed with fear at this proposition, but I felt it was inevitable. If she thought that a smile was permissible then it was inevitable that soon she would think that words were acceptable as well. I had to take action; I had to make a preemptive strike.

I would start a conversation with her today.

It would not be long; it would not be personal; it would simply gauge her perfection.

To me, she was all that was right with the world; she was my anchor; the personification of my own soul. If I could find any discrepancy, these titles would be revoked. She did not know it, but this moment was vital. We both had been working toward this very moment for the past two years.

Though the decision was made, I spent the rest of my day in agony. I desperately wanted her to live up to her own standards.

I wanted her to live up to herself.

As I re-boarded the train my heart pounded against my ribs, but as soon as my eyes touched her china skin I was immediately washed with calm. I was finally in the eye of the unrelenting storm.

The aisle had suddenly become millions of miles long, but I quickly traversed it to reach her. As I approached, I suddenly realized that I had never seen anyone sit next to her before. I did not know how she would respond.

However, I quickly repressed that thought; the die had been cast and I would let nothing stop me. With the grim resolution of soldier marching to the war, I gracefully sat next to the swan.

When she felt the seat move she looked up from her book and directly into my soul; somehow, the fact that I had invaded her space didn’t seem to surprise her in the least.

“Hello,” I breathed heavily, but clearly all the same.

Even her scent affected me more than I thought it would. It was herbal and she was warm. Again, she offered the little smile that she had offered to me before. She closed her book and placed it on her lap.

“Hello, stranger,” she toned back to me. Her voice was melancholy and melodious; it perfectly matched those big hazel eyes, and in it I found my salvation.

“What is your name?” she asked me languidly, with a glitter of amusement in her eyes.

The question threw me for a loop. It was not because I would have to surrender my own name to her; that would be an easy price to pay.

It was because I had never before realized that she had a name. She had an identity. The sudden fear that her name would not be perfect shattered my concentration on the conversation.

“Have you forgotten?” she asked after a moment, as a charming smirk graced her lips. I snapped back to reality, unsettled and anxious.

“I have,” I admitted with such flagrant honesty that she raised her eyebrows slightly in amusement. “Tell me yours,” I commanded in a defeated voice.

She sensed that defeated nature. It was clear that she didn’t understand it, but she didn’t question it.

“I’m Virginia,” she said quietly, her eyes bright with melancholy hope. She seemed to have an eternal hidden well of hope that she saved particularly for situations such as these.

Suddenly, something within me broke; it snapped completely in half. From this point on, no amount of hope could redeem her.

My expression turned as cold as the harsh winter day.

“I’m sorry,” I said indifferently, without a hint of sorrow. The concrete behind my words slammed into her, and the beautiful face fell. “I must go,” I murmured to her. It was like a secret rejection; there was no reason for her to be shamed in front of the entire train.

I gathered my bag and hat and began to stand while she simply tried to understand what was happening. She sat rigidly, confused and alarmed.

“The train is nowhere near the first stop,” she said naively, as if any sort of train schedule could ever make me stay with her. Her misunderstanding of her own inadequacies made me furious; I turned to face her fully and stared straight into her eyes.

“I loved you.”

Those were my last words to her; after I said them I turned on my heel and walked out of her life for good. That was the last time I ever saw her. Those big, doleful eyes which I had come to adore never reached mine again; I never again saw the scar or heard the name that made her untouchable.

I changed jobs; I changed trains, and I began anew my search for perfection.

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One thought on “The Price of Perfection

  1. I love the man’s narrative. It’s slightly humorous how he begins so infatuated with the idea of this woman, but then so quickly becomes disenchanted by the fact that she is real once he steps out of his own mind and talks to her. The perfect portrayal of perfection.

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