Copyright J.A. Pak

Pretty is the Picture

You buy a pair of pretty shoes and wait for that perfect day to wear it with that dress you’ve been saving to wear on that perfect day with a pair of perfect shoes and the shoes bite into you, the cheap vinyl, the rough leather, savage bites that take chunks out of you, blood & plasma oozing, and you keep forgetting, and you will keep forgetting, because there is always that pair of pretty shoes, pretty the visage of vicious.

Astonishing, the quick reaction, primal, instinctual, physical; the split second when the knowing comes: yes, they think I’m beautiful/ugly, the look at/away, worship, disgust, a subconscious tensing of the body. Ugly has only one reaction but beauty a multitude of strange encounters. The voice of the guy working behind the deli counter bounces higher (and there’s more meat in the sandwich). Waitresses let me linger at the table. In Seville a group of young men block my path so that their handsome, valiant leader can come to my rescue: a deep bow, a cavalier wave of an arm that extends to an absent hat, the path now cleared for me. Beauty has its own theater. The guy selling foie gras in a tent (late evening, Noël falling on the streets of Ile St Louis). He’s bel ami: fine, noble features, lean build, long, dead-straight blond hair tied into an elegant ponytail, his blue eyes pressing deep into mine, waiting for an answer to a question I will never acknowledge. Maupassant, snow, the old cobbled street, my high heels getting stuck in the cracks, encounters repeated in Prague, Seoul, at bus stops, under grabbed umbrellas.

Ugly is object, totem, relic, fetish, oracle, scapegoat. A permission to hate me. Beauty is a connection to the divine, the afterglow of a previous life lived in moral perfection. Beauty is a pass for bad behavior. Beauty isn’t exceptional at all, just an averaging of all the faces the eye will see. That pair of shoes we all want because we all want it. Consensus Demand: terror, exclusion. Local, ethnic, cultural, banal. Blood, plasma oozing:

The successful journalist who, while in the middle of a lecture, remembers a man once wrote to her and said she was pretty, her voice breaking. The legendary athlete who starts to cry, not because she lost the game but because someone in the crowd shouted ‘You’re pretty!’

Beauty erases anonymity. A work colleague you hardly know makes a cryptic remark and you realize that all their unanswered love-longings have been transferred onto you. They become cruel, demanding, self-pitying, pathetic. Masturbation against the cold statue of beauty. On a cold, blustery London day, a young man, French, alone, lonely, lost, comes up to you and asks where the nearest convenience store is and when you say you don’t know, he repeats your words in a quavering voice —

— trying to prolong the connection and his eyes say that what he really wants is for you to take his hand and lead him back to your cozy place for a hot cup of chocolate and a soul-renewing fuck.

Beauty is frozen in that one moment of eye contact. Beauty/ugly is Medusa, that split second, when beauty/ugly paralyzes and there’s shame in feeling. This weighing of you. This fight against me.

More from Chaos Back to Me, which can be purchased on Amazon



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J.A. Pak

J.A. Pak

Literary, culinary, whimsical, fantastical. Pushcart Prize and Best Small Fictions nominee; work in The Magazine of Science Fiction & Fantasy, Litro, Joyland…