She has the intoxicating candor of a woman deeply in love with someone who notices her as scarcely as she notices you. You see her in profile, because she never quite looks at you. And so you see the face she shows him for what it is, an imitation, her idea of perfect as he might see it, paper thin and glued to a popsicle stick. Behind this market-tested smile, she smirks, she frowns, her lip trembles, and now and then her index finger embarks on a quest for buried treasure deep within her right nostril.
And you fall for her, of course, this woman who puts up no mask for you because she does not realize one is needed for you. It’s a sort of intimacy you have, stolen, not given. Unreciprocated, since reciprocation was never asked for. It would be stalking if you were not friends.
‘Just friends,’ you tell other people, but she would never say the two of you are ‘just friends,’ for the thought is too self-evident to her to require saying. You would not tell a bottle of ketchup that it is ‘just a bottle of ketchup’ until it opened a ketchuppy mouth and told you that it thinks of an aspiring screenwriter, and could you look over this treatment of Stranger in a Strange Land it’s been working on? You would not tell it this even then, but simply replace it with a bottle of ketchup with fewer artistic aspirations.
When she does remember to talk to you, not turning, only speaking out of the side of her mouth, she describes him to you in terms of the deepest longing. You don’t really see what all the fuss is about. After all, you see him from the same side angle she does, watch him scowl and brood, stutter his sibilants, and every so often use a too-long fingernail to excavate poppy seeds from the crevices between his incisors. Honestly, what could anybody see in him?
You could tell her how you feel, but would you really want to? If she turned to face you, it would be to show you a mask. Perhaps the one she wears for him, or another one, meant to frighten you away. Either way, you’re content to remain where you are, appreciating a window into a reality that wasn’t meant for you.
There is a sound to your side, a subtle unconfident thing that seems to both invite and discourage attention. Like someone clearing their throat with nothing to say. You imagine someone standing there, waiting for you to turn around…but no, surely you would have noticed if that were the case. And the man who is loved by the woman you love is always staring in that direction. If there was someone there, he surely would have said something to her by now.
All the same, such notions make you self-conscious. You check your shoulder, feeling for the profile portrait that rests there. You make sure it hasn’t fallen off-balance, making you look like a fool or a drunkard from that angle. With it settled in place, you return your attention to the view through the eyeholes in your mask. They are narrow, and it might be easier to see if you let it drop, but you keep it raised. You never know when she might turn to face you, and you wouldn’t want her to see anything but your best. Until that day, if it ever comes, you are happy just to watch her perfect imperfection in silhouette, content with the view from 90 degrees.