*Inspired both by the eponymous song by Elvis Costello, and an old Thin Lizzy song called It’s Getting Dangerous. This piece has the distinction of being the first thing I have written without smoking in about 30 years!*
He liked the image reflected back him. The months of walking, the improved diet, the daily pre-dawn swims, and the endless repetitions with the dumbbells had shrink-wrapped his skin around a muscular physique much more suited to a younger man.
Vanity was a new personality trait he had discovered after losing her.
He wasn’t sure why, but he found himself paying attention to how he looked more now than ever before. He starting trying clothes on before buying them, making sure that they betrayed the body beneath, as well as the fullness of the wallet that could afford them. Someone at work had described him as fashionable, a characterization that had never before been used towards him. He suited up for work and evenings out in a way that would bring attention. Bits of sparkle in the right places, the cuff links; the bracelet, the colorful watch.
He ate at the right places, both in terms of the quality of the food, and for bumping into the type of woman who would like the man he had become. He invariably ate at the bar, always reading, or rather having a book as a prop, until some woman made eye contact with the handsome man reading. He had perfected the look of seeming aloofness while on the hunt. It frequently worked, and a night that began with him ordering his dinner alone would end up the next day with him sharing breakfast with a woman he had not previously known.
He drove a red car now, a color he had always avoided in his history of sensible automotive purchases, although it wasn’t a full blown sports car, lest he advertise his mid-life crisis too much. Still, it showed off some affluence, and flash, much like his clothing and home furnishings.
He now shaved daily. In reality, it was to hide the gray, much more prominent in his beard than in his hair, but it kept him looking younger. He ironed. He, who had a friend describe his past style as rumpled, ironed!
He cared, for the first time in his life, to present to the world the best possible version of his looks. Before, he had been content to look like himself.
The changes did not go unnoticed by his friends and family. Their reactions were at first complimentary. Having lost the weight he had accumulated over decades of desk jobs did make him look better. He did look younger clean shaven. However, being cut from the same sarcastic cloth as he was, they eventually started to call him out on his dandy ways, branding him a label whore for his newly-found love of designer names.
More importantly, over time, the dalliances with various women chipped away at his image. The female friends he had cultivated over a lifetime, the very ones who had supported him when the break-up first happened, now found themselves talking to a version of their old friend they no longer recognized. There was a glib nature to him now. Too smooth, too rehearsed, too selfish to be the same person who had for decades been an honest, caring man. Even his male friends, perhaps out of jealousy, expressed more concern than support for his Casanova ways. He rebuffed attempts at reaching him, content to dismiss their concerns about the changes in him as them not understanding him, and how happy he felt now.
So, as he stood before the mirrored closet door that evening, admiring the way he looked naked, he felt good. Seven months after the break-up and he was no longer pining for her the way he ad at the beginning. No longer did the loss consume him. He had removed all pictures of her from his phone, deleted all of her emails and texts, blocked her on social media. As if though she had never existed. As if she were not the reason behind the success he enjoyed at work. As if she were not the person with whom he had spent his happiest days.
Like a Soviet regime purging history to deny the past, he had stopped talking about her. After all, what point was there to continue discussing the woman who lovingly, but definitively, had rejected him, after years of being together? Technically, his second wife. His beloved wife. The one who had found him irresistible when he himself had felt unlovable. The one who nursed his wounds, and healed his scars. The one who made falling in love feel like it was for the first time, again. The one who, for years, had endured his melancholy mood swings, the broken promises, the dry spells, the unfulfilled potential before finally, tearfully, telling him that it was over. Even her songs were deleted from his play lists. He had asked mutual friends to not mention her to him, lest a bit of news about her bring him back to places in his heart and mind he promised to never again visit.
She had been perfect, and he had been the perfect fool. He took her for granted. Ignored her gentle wishes until they became first nagging and, eventually, silence. Stopped being the man she fell in love with. Sat by as her morning smile eventually faded away, and just a questioning stare would greet him when they woke up.
He selected his hunting outfit for the evening, his “lucky” charcoal gray suit, a crisp white shirt, the good black shoes, the Rolex. Dressed, he checked himself in the mirror again.
“Good!” he thought as he turned off the bedroom light, after glancing back at the room to make sure it was ready for a guest.
Grabbing his keys off the hall table, he opened the door and feels a strange sensation. Cold. They had moved south to avoid exactly this type of weather, after one winter too many of shoveling. Still, since his family was still up north, he kept some winter clothes in the closet of the spare bedroom. He turned on the light, and opened the door, to find something that went with his outfit.
“Have to get a coat that goes with this suit!” he thought, as he picked out the least offensive coat. He slid it on, closed the door, checked himself in the mirror one more time, turned off the light and went outside. He clicked the remote to open the car doors.
He drove to one of his favorite haunts, a Greek place that ever since the advantages of the Mediterranean diet had spread on the media had become packed with women. The owner, a warm, if a little sad-looking, middle aged gay man knew him well, since he frequently went there for drinks or a bit of that thick unfiltered coffee.
“Good to see you, again, my friend!” the owner greeted him.
“Kalispera, Theodori,” he responded, wishing a good evening in some of the only Greek he recalled from his trip there.
He took his regular seat at the corner of the bar, from where he could survey almost the entire room. He removed his coat, and and as he reached inside to get his phoone, his hand found something on the inside pocket of the coat. He fished out the thick paper and turned it over. It was a sheet of photos from a photo booth that had been part of his company’s party a couple of years ago. There were six altogether, some normal, some distorted, like a fun-house mirror. But they were of them. Together. Her, eyes alight with that fire that he had fallen in love with but not seen in a long time before the end, smiling. A singular rose behind her left ear, visible as her face is turned as she is planting a kiss on his heavier, unshaven cheek. He looks rumpled, with the eyeglasses he used to wear before the Lazik earlier this year.
He set the photos on the bar, face down, and took a sip of his usual, served to him by the bartender without prompting. His immaculately manicured hand trembled just slightly as he brought the drink to his lips and sipped the slightly sweet, scotchy concoction, enjoying the burn of the alcohol and the coolness of the ice in his mouth and throat.
He picked up the pictures again. This time he stared at himself in them, rather than focusing on her beauty, as he did the first time. Feeling the long-ignored emotion well up inside of him, he got up from his seat and headed to the restroom. He entered just as the first tear he’s shed in months ran down his cheek.
Tearing the pictures to pieces, he dropped them into the toilet and flushed them.
He steadied himself against the wall, letting a deep sigh bringing him back to breathing. A knock on the door announced someone waiting to use the restroom. He washed his hands and face to buy himself a moment to collect himself. He dried his hands and face, and looked up.
Except for the now-bloodshot eyes, that for the first time in months are filled with something resembling humanity, he does not like the image reflected back at him.