Love Perfected in the 21st Century
Photograph by Yusuf Kidwai
They all sat on miserable sofas…in the miserable sitting room…of Kelly’s decaying, attic apartment. By miserable, Heather only meant modern, but modern sofas were synonymous with miserable in Heather’s opinion. The acute angles and anorexic cushions, which comprised and stretched themselves across Kelly’s contemporary furniture, never persuaded Heather’s traditional tastes. Heather preferred comfort and sincerity over pompousness and austerity. Kelly, on the other hand, worshipped vogue. She attached herself to any apparel and/or accessories which Fashion Television declared desirable. ‘And sadly,’ thought Heather, ‘she also made Cosmopolitan men an extension of herself.’ The attic apartment was miserable and decaying as well, because a) the entire apartment was contemporary, and b) the company in itself was questionable. Heather could forgive the majority of her best friend’s shallow choices, but this choice was steadily revealing itself to be entirely inexcusable.
On one end of the sofa, lounged Kyle with cumbersome limbs draped over the sofa’s gaunt arms. Kelly was perched on the opposite end, and seemed exceptionally uncomfortable in her own apartment. Although Heather was tempted to accuse the sofa, she wagered it had more to do with the arrogant, sprawling figure beside Kelly, rather than the quality of the furniture. This figure was the questionable company.
Heather had had the privilege of meeting Kyle on New Year’s Eve only three short weeks ago. Immediately, Heather had disliked him. She had no reason to (indeed, every other woman at Connor’s party praised Kyle’s effortless charm, and trim good-looks), but it was precisely the “effortless charm” which concerned Heather. Kyle knew exactly what to say, when to say it, and to whom to say it. He flashed a rugged smile at anyone that pleased him—but Heather saw the way he treated those who displeased him. During the evening, Heather joined Kelly and Kyle’s table to have another drink, and to finally spend time with her best friend.
“So who is this fine fellow sitting next you?” Heather asked Kelly, with a playful wink.
“Oh, sorry Heather, I forgot to introduce you to…”
“Hi Heather, my name’s Kyle. How are you? Kelly’s told me so much about you I feel I know you intimately already.” The man interjected, and he reached across Kelly to shake hands with Heather.
“Has she? Well, she has mentioned a few things about you as well.”
“All terrible I’m sure!” Kyle laughed at his own joke.
“Not exceedingly, no.” Replied Heather, and she forced a strained smile. Having only spent a few moments in his company, Heather had already disapproved of Kyle’s domineering demeanor. In fact, the entire scene was peculiar. Heather had marked Kelly’s silence, and was struck by it. They had been best friends since the third grade. Heather had been the quiet pupil left without a partner, and had resolved to work alone. Kelly, however, had been the boisterous extrovert, and essentially coerced Heather into accepting her assistance. It turned out to be benign bullying after all, as Heather and Kelly became fast friends since that moment onwards. But, the Kelly Heather had known well and loved, would not have tolerated being blatantly interrupted. Heather tried again to engage Kelly in conversation.
“How is living in Toronto? I can’t believe you moved so far away; and your first time moving out too!”
“I hope it is the only time I have to move out of my parent’s house!” exclaimed Kelly and giggled, “And to answer your question, I love living here! This city is just where I always pictured myself living. It’s awesome! I’ve also enjoyed working with the teens at Ontario’s Safety Network. They’re…”
“Oh Lord, you’re not going to go on about those kids again, are you? I, personally, don’t see how you do it. If you ask me, those kids don’t deserve half the services your organization provides.” Kyle placed his arm around Kelly’s shoulders, and squeezed firmly. Evidently, this was a signal for Kelly to shut up, because she abruptly ceased talking, and Kyle once again, held the reigns.
“So what do you do Heather? Kelly’s mentioned it before, but I would like to hear it from the original source.” He laughed again, and displayed his surgically perfected teeth…
The day after the party, Heather called Kelly.
“Hi Kelly, it’s Heather. What’s up? How ya feeling this morning?”
“Oh fine. How are you?”
“Ugh! I said I would never drink tequila again, and what did I do? It’s always when I visit Toronto. But now I feel shitty.”
“So…Kyle seems nice. Where did you meet him?”
“I’d rather not say.”
“Oh come on! Honestly Kel, we’ve been friends forever and you would never let me…”
“Okay!” Kelly laughed again. “We met on an online dating site, okay? Satisfied?”
Heather wasn’t satisfied. She was worried.
“Neat-o. How old is he?”
“Oou, an older man, eh? Nice. A lot older, in fact; what is that? A seven—eight year difference?”
“Well, that’s not a big deal. Nikki Anderson’s getting married to a thirty-five year old and she’s our age.”
“Yeah that’s true.”
There was a brief pause in which Heather wondered if she had said the wrong thing.
“Do you love him?” Heather asked.
‘Oh man,’ thought Heather, ‘now I’ve got her talking.’ Kelly had been “in love” with all the guys she had ever dated for more than an hour.
“How do you know you love him? How long has it been, like, two weeks?”
“So how can you be sure that you love him?”
“Man, you’re just going to laugh at me if I tell you…I just know, okay?”
“Not good enough. I need details. Spew.”
“The psychic told me last week.”
Kelly burst out laughing. She couldn’t help it. Was Kelly serious? She would consult and, what’s more, believe a psychic on something as abstract and serious as love? Oh boy, moving to Toronto certainly hadn’t made Kelly any more emotionally mature.
“I told you would just laugh at me. I’m done talking about him.”
“I’m sorry Kel, but really, a psychic?”
“Yes, she wouldn’t have told me otherwise. And I can feel it. I know he loves me.” The last sentence was uttered unconvincingly.
“For someone who loves you, he certainly acted pretty controlling last night at the party.”
Kelly went completely silent. If Kelly did not appreciate where the conversation was going, you received the silent treatment: nothing different at twenty-one than at eleven years old.
“Okay. I’m sorry.” Said Heather, and she decided to be more sympathetic. “Maybe I just haven’t given him enough of a chance. He must be fantastic if he’s won over my best friend. I’ll give him another shot.”
“You should. When are you coming up to Toronto again?”
“I’m attending U of T’s rehabilitation sciences seminar in a few weeks, maybe I can drop by then? The information seminar should be over by about six.”
“Alright! I’m excited. Let me know when you’re coming and I’ll make sure Kyle’s around too.”
Thus, they all sat on miserable sofas… in a miserable living room…in a decaying attic apartment. They had gone out for dinner, and Kyle had had a few drinks. As they sat all facing one another, Heather studied Kyle. Admittedly, he looked amazing. His chestnut brown hair was freshly cut and meticulously styled. He wore crisp, deep blue jeans, and a long-sleeved, argyle sweater with a white t-shirt underneath. His finger nails were all clipped at precisely the same length, and he smelt fabulous, well, save the slight hint of alcohol which lingered as well.
“Get me another drink, Kel.” Kyle tossed the empty bottle at Kelly.
“Heather noted that there was no “please” or “thank you;” it was distinctly a command.
Kelly rose, and went to the kitchen automatically. She retrieved a beer for Kyle and herself. She would have offered one to Heather, except Heather was driving back to Guelph that evening. Kelly resumed her seat beside Kyle (only closer this time), and Kyle placed a hand on Kelly’s thigh.
“Oh gross! What the hell, Kelly! When was the last time you shaved?”
Kelly blushed and looked abashed. She reached for an extra throw cushion to cover her partially concealed legs. Of all the years that Heather had known Kelly, she had always been firmly confident in abilities and her appearance. This automaton sitting across from her was not Kelly.
“I’m sorry, babes. I shaved a couple days ago, but it hurts to shave everyday.”
Kyle was entirely unconvinced.
“You know what being my girl entails—and perfection is required. Fuck.” Any lingering charm from dinner had vanished. He then turned to face Heather. “Does Brian allow this shit from you? I bet your legs are perfect. Come here and let me feel ’em.”
Heather was furious. She yearned to lash out at him, but bit her lip for Kelly’s sake. She certainly was not, however, going to let this guy touch her.
“I don’t think so. My legs haven’t been shaved since the Fall. Brian and I respect each other as individuals and for other qualities apart from just looks.”
“Oh man, what’s Brian’s number? I’m going to have to talk some sense into him. If you were my girl, I’d have you better trained.” He turned back to Kelly. “I love you, baby, but what the fuck?”
This conversation had exceeded Heather’s tolerance. She shot up from her chair and went to collect her bags to go home.
“Are you leaving already?” Asked Kelly, and the way she said it sounded pleading.
“Yeah, I need to leave anyway, it’s getting late and I have school tomorrow.” Heather withheld the real reason she was leaving so abruptly, though she was sure it was not lost on Kelly.
“You can’t leave yet. Sit down.” Kyle had risen from the sofa and was practically prying the bags from Heather’s hands.
“Excuse me. I choose when I leave and when I stay, and I’m leaving right now. Kelly, you can come with me if you like, but I’m not staying. See ya, Kyle.” Heather had wrenched the bags back from the man’s grasp, and had slipped on her boots. She waved goodbye to Kelly, and began to descend the stairs leading to the ground floor exit. Kelly leaped from the sofa, and chased after Heather, ignoring Kyle’s violent, incoherent words as she passed.
They were outside, and it was snowing. The cool snow danced down upon the women’s shoulders. They stood just looking at each other. Both of them didn’t know what to say, but both knew what the other was thinking. The winter air was cleansing after the putrid air of the attic apartment. Kelly’s feet were soaked as she stood in the ankle-deep snow, feet clad only in little woolen slippers.
“Wow, he blew his second chance.” Said Heather, breaking the silence.
“He’s not usually like this, I don’t know why he’s being like this in front of you. He’s never like this.” Stammered Kelly, but her repetition betrayed her.
“Sure. I saw a hint of that at the party a couple weeks ago.”
“No, you don’t know what he’s like when it’s just he and I. He’s whispered those three words, Heather. He’s murmured that he loves me! I know he must. He just has high standards, just as I have high standards. I should have shaved anyway. Besides, the psychic told me that Kyle and I are destined to be soul mates, so I can’t just give up on him now.”
Heather stood in disbelief. These words were coming from a twenty-one year old young woman, not a twelve year old young girl. Where was the logic, where was the firm reasoning and solid evidence behind her best friend’s argument? She asked Kelly this question.
“Logic?” Kelly retorted. “There is no logic in respects to love. You just do what feels right.”
“And being with an emotionally abusive and controlling guy feels right to you, does it Kelly?”
It had stopped snowing. From above, the sound of Kyle stomping indicated that he was becoming impatient, and this sound penetrated the night’s cool air. Now, Kelly glanced up at her best friend.
“He said that he loves me.” And she turned around, and headed back inside the house.
Weeks later, Heather sat in a miserable black swivel chair, in a miserable beauty salon, surrounded by automatons, who’s artificially tanned, decaying faces, dripped with chunky make up. Heather detested these places, but her bangs had become too long for even her to ignore. Thus, she served her bi-monthly sentence in the black swivel chair. As she sat waiting for the stylist to return from surveying another inmate, Heather leafed through one of the many Fashion magazines piled on counter in front of her. She flipped rather aimlessly through the glossy sheets, scarcely paying attention to photo-shopped ads splashed on the papers. Suddenly, however, one did arrest her attention. The ad featured a close-up of a woman’s groin. The area was so air-brushed, that there was no hint of flaw or imperfection on the female’s body. Indeed, no razor burn, no moles, no pores, no surfacing stubble was visible on the goddess-like groin of the female in the picture. Accompanying the image was a sentence in white font which ran thus:
Have you looked this close? Because he will.
Love the skin you’re in.
“He said that he loves me.”