Philosophia Venereum: Speculum Pulchritudine

Speculum Pulchritudine

Smiles are the foundation of beauty.”

— Edgar Rice Burroughs

 

“You know,” she said suddenly, “your grandmother says I have your smile. And she’s not the first, Sarah’s told me the same thing.”

“I hope you thank them both on my behalf?”

“On both our be—behalfs? Or is it behalves? Anyway, I was complimented too, you know.”

“Complimented? That’s like saying you’re as cute as a bug, which is something my grandmother would say.”

She gave a jingling laugh. “She has. What’s your point?”

“Well, it may sound sweet, but when’s the last time you saw a cute bug?”

“Are you saying it wasn’t a compliment?”

“I’m sure she meant it like one, but she might as well have told you that you have a smile like a warthog.”

Photo Credit: Jack Fussell via Compfight cc  (altered)

Photo Credit: Jack Fussell via Compfight cc (altered)

“You don’t think our smiles look anything alike?”“Were that my smile were half as marvelous as thine!”

“I thought it was a sweet thing to say.”

“Oh, it was! And don’t think I’m not honored that my grandmother thinks my smile looks anything like yours. It’s probaly the highest compliment I’ve ever received. And I do think I will agree, insofar as our smiles are structurally, physically, similar.”

“Then what makes them so different?”

We came upon a bench and she suggested we sit. The bench gave us a perfect vantage point to admire the gilded trees; even the streets which seemed to be paved with gold. The world had become a reflection of the sun’s light, shining like the treasure trove it is.

There was a brief pause as we sat, and the world seemed hushed for a moment, bracing itself, like she was, for my answer. I turned to her, and she turned to me, and the corners of her lips twitched up, and her eyes sparkled.

“And that, that exactly,” I said, framing her face with my hands, “is the difference. That’s the difference between our smiles. Do you want to know something? You can’t see yourself, except in mirrors, so you’ve probably never noticed it; and I doubt if most eyes would notice it, anyway, and so probably you’ve never heard it. You never smile.”

She tilted her head questioningly, but said nothing, waiting for me to go on.

“And that’s the difference! That’s the secret. You never smile. Me, I smile all the time. I can’t help myself. But you—never. You’ve looked at me several times today, but you didn’t smile once. Not once. No. Every time you glowed.

“Your face sort of contracts, and each of the features gathers close to the center with the others to enjoy one another’s company. And then your eyes . . . how can I describe it? They brighten, they shine, they twinkle; they narrow, they wrinkle; they quiver, and—vibrate. And most amazingly, this incredible expression of joy—so far above anything as base as a smile—doesn’t even involve any movement of your lips! Not always. Your lips don’t always glow with the rest of your face. They’ll just tighten and bend up, but they won’t glow. When they do—when they part and widen in what is known to the vulgar tongue as a smile—they open on an absolute wonderland of euphoria and delight, through a portal that reveals to the humble human eye all the beauties to be found within a glorious paradise where love alone can tread. Like a curtain opening on a fantastic play with a story you wish were real but can’t believe it could be.”

She threw her head back and laughed, a high-ringing sound like a wind chime. I just watched in admiration. You should have seen how she glowed.

If I ever commit the sin of saying that she could stoop to something as crude as a “smile,” it is only for the sake of brevity, because the English language doesn’t have a better suited word. Even glowed doesn’t qute capture it. I can’t use an entire paragraph to describe it every time she glows, mainly because the majority of this barbaric “modern civilization” is tragically revolted by the smallest degree of beautiful language. If you are one of these philistines, then please, bear with me a little longer.

When she stopped laughing and glowed at me I said, “You find it funny?”
“I just wish I was half as beautiful as your words,” she replied.

“But you’re not,” I agreed, “because you’re ten times as beautiful.”

She just shook her head, glowing.

“And I am blessed to be a witness to it, and I am honored that my grandmother thinks I bear a resemblance to you. You know, the more I think about it, the more I understand why she would think so.”

“And why is that?”

“Simple logic. You stand in the sun, your face gets rosy, right? It’s a natural reaction; a reflection of the sun’s energy. Take the moon. The moon has no light of its own; we would never even see it by itself, but thanks to the sun, its beautiful. Well, so—”

“So you’re the moon,” she interrupted, “reflecting the sun’s light.”

I frowned. “I was going to say that. But I’m glad you agree. Yes, any similarity my smile has to yours is just the reflection of my joy in being with you.”
She rolled her eyes. “But I don’t agree.”

“You don’t enjoy being with me?” I sobbed.

“Of course not. Why should I?” She trilled. “I’m kidding. I meant that I don’t agree with what you were saying about just being a reflection of the sun’s light. There are more important things than being pretty.”

I held up an index finger. “That’s very true! And I’m glad you brought it up. Don’t you see? Of course you’re more than just a pretty face. You never smile. I never said you had a pretty smile. Take what our society typifies as a ‘beautiful’ woman. That archetype emphasizes all the wrong things. So-called beautiful women may have slim bodies and well-shaped noses and thin eyebrows and red lips, but you have even more, because you have true beauty, inner beauty. You’re a charming, kind, sweet woman, and that’s three of the many, many things that make you beautiful on the inside. That inner beauty always shows on the outside. It’s something you don’t always see in a societally ‘beautiful’ woman. You’re both societally beautiful and truly beautiful; that’s why you glow. That glow is your inner beauty shining, and that is something that can be seen.”

Her eyes gleamed suddenly with triumph. “Exactly!”

“Exactly what?”

“Exactly that,” she repeated. “That makes you the most beautiful man I have ever met. That’s what you don’t see. Because you can’t see yourself. So let me tell you. All the sweet, beautiful things you’ve been saying are reflections of your own beauty.”

“Beauty?”

“Yes, beauty! Don’t be sexist, men can be beautiful.” She trilled again, and continued, “Anyway, my beauty, all this beauty you’ve been talking about, is just a reflection of your beauty. And the beauty I see in you is a reflection of my beauty.”

“So,” I said slowly, “are you saying humans are inherently egocentric?”

“Not at all! Exactly the opposite. It’s giving something to someone else. You’re giving them a part of yourself. That’s why your grandmother says we have the same smile. Not just because our smiles look the same, because she saw something else—the something we gave each other. She saw the same something reflected in both of us.” Glowing brighter than ever, she leaned toward me. “And do you see what that something is?”

I felt the birth of a grin on my lips. “I’m beginning to. You’re something special, I’ll tell you that.”

“And you’re very sweet”—she kissed me—”even if you’re only as cute as a bug, poor little boy!”

“Hey, you’re the one my grandmother thinks looks like a bug, not me.”

“True—but if your beauty is a reflection of mine—”

“Right, right.”

She trilled. I thrilled. She scintillated. I cachinnated.

The End

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Categories: Imagining a Better World, Philosophia Venereum, Short Stories | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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