(A chapter in YOU HAVE UPSET THE BALANCE OF THE UNIVERSE BY BEING BORN: Advice on How to Live by Dr Robert MacLean, PhD: http://robertmaclean.blogspot.com/p/you-have-upset-balance-of-universe-by.html. A new one every so often.)
A man is in love with a woman.
She is beautiful beyond his reach and he doesn't tell her anything about it.
Then he does. He stutters, and when he stutters his dentures pop against his palate. The more nervous he is the more laborious his stutter. He is conscious of a strawberry mark that stains his face, and cannot meet her eyes.
She listens, but she has been told the same thing many times--in many ways perhaps daily--and is not particularly moved.
He nods understandingly and manages to convey that he won't give up. He'll talk to her again.
A doctor tells him his eye has to come out. He doesn't know what that will do to his chances but there's nothing to be done. He has the operation. He wears a patch for a while and then acquires a glass eye which he studies in the mirror. It glints artificially and he can't control its direction. People look at him funny. He improvises compensations, develops a squint, a leer, a way of looking at them with his head sideways like a pigeon.
The woman, distant and in monocular vision, goes about her life of semiconscious grace. He thinks of nothing but her. It is not that he wants to achieve her, it is that he needs to give himself to his love for her.
She notices nothing. He does not present himself.
There are complications in his condition and his leg is amputated. He learns to walk on a sophisticated prosthesis until he hardly limps. Chemotherapy makes his hair fall out and he has to wear a toupée but the treatment keeps him going.
He stands naked before the mirror on the flesh-colored prosthesis, a long way from his dream. He practices walking noiselessly. He doesn't give up.
She doesn't marry. She hangs around with men who are bad for her and, by turn, loves them. He knows her pain. He sees it hiding.
The doctor tells him his colon has to come out, but he will survive. He can lick this but he has to have the operation. There will be a colostomy bag for voiding mounted on his side, a considerable cramp to the style.
He has the operation, and is some time getting his strength back. His sense of possibility has been shattered. He reassembles it. Rebuilds himself. Learns.
She is on the beach playing three-to-a-side volleyball with the wrong men. She is splendid, modest, deceived. A little vulgar perhaps, but in the way suppressed nobility is vulgar. Unthinking rather than insensitive. Unambitious rather than complacent. Horse-like.
He walks toward her in a bathing suit, sand grinding in the joints of the false foot. His skin is pale but red-splotched, his silhouette compromised by the undisguised bag and the leg strap. He pats the toupée.
The ball bounces past him--he cannot pivot to catch it, though he tries--and she gallops after it with unrestrained heaviness, almost passes him and then stops, recognizing him.
He is still finding his balance from his attempt to catch the ball. He smiles shyly, turns his head sideways, squints. The more acute his urgency the more agonizing his stutter, so he says nothing.
She passes from recognition through confusion--she looks around--to comprehension. He has been striding toward no one but her. There is an ecstatic certainty about him. Can she see him as anything but a stripped-down and naked hero?