Below is the first of my writing to ever be published (before I even had a pen name). The concept I tried to express with this short story was inspired by Wabi-Sabi, a Japanese ideal that finds beauty in that which is imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete. Nothing stays the same, so why not appreciate things and people in their constant state of change? Nothing is “perfect,” so why not treasure the imperfections? It is the imperfections and the change that makes someone or something perfect in its unique beauty.
That morning, Evelynn Dwyer woke feeling older and heavier than usual. She laid in bed, alone, eyes closed, wishing she could fall back into her dreamless sleep. After a few minutes, when it became apparent that such a luxury would not be possible, she heaved her body into a sitting position, legs flung over the side of the bed. She sat as such for another minute or so, steeling herself for the next step of standing.
In this way, Evelynn continued through her usual morning ritual, all the while trying desperately not to remember the night before. Without vigor, she showered, leaving the lights off so as to allow a more gradual transition between sleep and wakefulness. Against her first inclination, she dressed in more than just a bathrobe, but not by much – adding only sweatpants and an old tank top. Begrudgingly, Evelynn stared into her bathroom mirror, despising what she saw, finally deciding against bothering to apply any make-up or style her hair. Desolate, she ate her breakfast slowly, not tasting a bite.
Evelynn then made a decision that she’d been making more and more lately – rather than going into her home office on the other side of the house to work for the day, she took the six steps required to bring her into the living room where she would spend the next several hours watching daytime TV.
Seven hours, three soap operas, and two made-for-TV movies later, Jonathan Dwyer walked through the front door and into the living room to see his wife lying on the couch and staring dimly at the screen in front of her. The moment he entered her line of vision, Evelynn’s face turned from apathy to dismay, and she turned her body to the back of the couch, pulling a nearby blanket over her.
Jonathan stepped to the couch and gently slipped the blanket away before coaxing Evelynn to her feet. She obliged, but kept her face down so that Jonathan only caught a glimpse of the red surrounding her eyes and her still-wet cheeks. She rested her forehead on his chest so that all he could see was her auburn hair (with a solitary streak of gray), knotted from a full day spent on the couch. Jonathan tried to grasp Evelynn’s right hand with his left, and to place his right hand on her left hip, but she pulled away, reluctant to let him feel the wrinkles set deep into her skin or the softness in her fattened waist. So he swayed, and she followed his lead in swaying, only her forehead and his chest touching.
Jonathan leaned forward, and sang softly (and slightly off-key).
One day, when I’m awfully low,
And the world is cold,
I will feel a glow just thinking of you,
And the way you look tonight…
Evelynn was fifteen when she went on her first date with Jonathan. She spent two hours getting ready. Butterflies fluttered in her stomach as she showered with scented soap. Excitedly, she brushed, curled, and pinned her hair with expert precision. Nearly dancing in anticipation, she applied just the right amount of make-up, and chose a dress that accented her figure while still leaving much to the imagination. All the while, Evelynn hoped that Jonathan would notice the nice things she used to make herself beautiful.
He didn’t. Instead he noticed how her face lit up when she smiled. He noticed how her cheek felt when he tucked a strand of hair behind her ear.
At dinner, Jonathan reached for Evelynn’s hand when Frank Sinatra’s voice came on the restaurant radio, singing “The Way You Look Tonight.” For the next eight years, Evelynn imagined that whenever Jonathan thought of her, he would think of her this way. The hand he held was silky to the touch and manicured, and the face he gazed at was glowing, softly illuminated by candlelight.
Not like now. Now Evelynn’s hands were arthritic, wrinkled, and dry, and her face was defined by the lines that covered every inch. The woman Evelynn thought she was, if present at all, was buried deep beneath those wrinkles. She was certainly no longer the woman Jonathan fell in love with. Yet, for some reason, he kept singing, he kept swaying.
You’re lovely, with your smile so warm,
And your cheeks so soft,
There is nothing for me but to love you
Just the way you look tonight…
The spring that Evelynn turned twenty-three, she became Evelynn Dwyer. It was a small ceremony, and a casual reception. For Jonathan and his new bride, there may as well have been only two people there. There bridal image of herself replaced the fifteen-year-old one that Evelynn imagined held residence in Jonathan’s mind.
The rules of time did not apply that night – they began their first dance as husband and wife to their song, “The Way You Look Tonight,” and it almost seemed like they never stopped dancing.
Tears slid down Evelynn’s face; she wished they could go back to that night, when they were young and carefree, and they danced easily, not like this slow swaying. Their bodies weren’t even touching now. Beautiful nights were behind them, there would be no more.
Jonathan’s voice did not show his age though – it was just as full, and as tone-deaf, as ever.
With each word, your tenderness grows,
Tearing my fear apart.
And that laugh that wrinkles your nose,
It touches my foolish heart…
The night before, Evelynn had a birthday. She freshly dyed her hair that had been gradually fading to gray. Letting it air-dry, she applied make-up and put on her new, special, slightly-less-than-age-appropriate party dress. Then she went back to the bathroom where she used a hair-dryer on the last dampness of her hair.
When it was dry, she shook it out and stared at her reflection.
She had missed a spot.
Jonathan’s voice called Evelynn back to the moment, away from the humiliation of her birthday dinner, grounding her in his song.
Lovely, never, ever change.
Keep that breathless charm.
Won’t you please arrange it?
’Cause I love you, just…
Joathan’s voice shook with emotion,
…the way you look tonight.
Evelynn looked up at Jonathan, finally allowing him to see her face – wrinkles, blotchy skin, red eyes, and all. He smiled at her with the same look in his eyes that was there on their first date, and at their wedding…
and the night before, when her age was on display – both by way of the missed gray spot in her hair, and of the cake filled to its edges in burning birthday candles.
But Jonathan wasn’t seeing Evelynn based on any of those nights. He was seeing her just the way she looked this night. This beautiful, however ordinary, night.
Evelynn raised her right hand, and grasped his left. She placed her left hand on his right shoulder, and let him rest his right hand on her left hip. And Jonathan and Evelynn danced.