This one came out longer than expected (1600 words), so I’m trying the ‘Read More’ link for the first time…
Once upon a time there was a mother whose baby was the most beautiful boy in the world. Wanting to show off a bit, the mother arranged a christening and invited relatives near and far. All except her wicked step-sister.
The morning before the baptism the wicked step-sister appeared in a puff of cigarette smoke. “Is this the child?” she sniffed. “Can’t see what all the fuss is about.”
The mother smiled. “You’ll understand. One day. It’s like all the poetry you read, only better.”
“Men can only bring heartache,” said the wicked step-sister. She was going through a rough divorce.
The mother blew on the baby’s toes until he giggled. “Not this little man.”
The step-sister regarded the infant. “He is rather beautiful. With a face like that he’ll grow into a heart breaker. It won’t do. Won’t do at all.” And quick as thought she drew her magic filter tipped Marlboro Light and cast a spell on the baby.
“Can it be lifted?” gasped the mother in horror.
“Of course,” smirked the wicked step-sister. And she whispered the solution, at which the mother wept.
From that day forward the boy had a face like an arse.
His mother covered his body in kisses to give him the armour of love he would need to survive his growing. And the growing was tough. With a face like an arse.
At the baptism the mother christened her unsightly child Sebastian, to give him the forbearance of the saint of a thousand cuts.
Irene had taken the job in the fudge shop to help pay her way through college. It wasn’t the sort of job she dreamed of. In fact, she hated it. The work itself was okay. But dealing with people was difficult. Her co-workers were outgoing creative types - actors, musicians, performance poets - who were very good at entertaining the customers. Irene, on the other hand, was an introverted Philosophy major.
She managed to get by without making eye contact. If she was feeling particularly daring she would look to shoulder height, sometimes. But most of the time, she looked at their chests or their hands. It worked. But it meant the tip jar rarely clanked after she served.
“So who are you seeing?” Raquel asked.
Irene knew that Raquel didn’t really want to know about her love life. She was waiting to be asked about hers. It was part of the flirty game Raquel played with the manager, Peter. The two of them liked to engage in slightly hostile conversations. Irene couldn’t understand it. Her parents had liked to fight, not always verbally, and it made her growing up years a misery and closed up her heart behind a fortress wall.
But Irene dutifully said, “Nobody. How about you?” Then served customers while Raquel talked about x, y and z and how popular she was and how she just couldn’t choose and how it was so difficult because men were so damn horny and she loved them all. Well, maybe not all. Not that man over there by the window.
“What’s wrong with him?” Irene asked. The man was a regular who came in every Friday, picked a slab of fudge and had a bottomless filter coffee. Looking at him through the blocks of fudge Irene had noticed the dragon clasp on his belt and an interesting assortment of books on sculpture and warfare.
“Well, it’s obvious, isn’t it? He’s a real double bagger. Maybe even a triple bagger.”
“What does that mean?”
“You know. How many bags you’d have to put on to have sex with him.”
Each time Raquel spoke the man’s shoulders shivered a bit. He was listening but pretending not to.
Irene burned for his misery. This wasn’t the playground. He shouldn’t have to put up with it. But some people are only happy when having a pop at another. Raquel was one of those people.
Peter came back from wiping the tables and stood next to them. He looked faintly uncomfortable at the conversation but didn’t say anything.
Raquel pressed the coffee jug into Irene’s hand. “Go on. Give him a top up. Then report back on how many bags it would take.”
Irene went to the man. He bowed his head closer to his book. She couldn’t recall him asking for a refill. Ever.
She cleared her throat. “More coffee, sir?”
He jumped. “No thank you.”
“Yes.” He stood up. “I was just leaving.”
He was mostly covered up. Gloves, hat, scarf. A beard which concealed most of his face. But what she could see—
Irene had read somewhere that serious burn victims lost self esteem if you failed to look them in the face during conversation. To cope with the horror of doing this the article suggested focusing on one point of normality. When Irene looked at the man, she saw that he had perfect teeth. Small and white like a child’s.
But his face was like an arse. An arse with the texture of orange peel.
He rushed to the door.
Raquel burst out laughing. “So what do you think, Irene? Two bags, or a body bag?”
He had left his book behind. A hardback on Michelangelo.
Irene went outside after him.
He was standing on the sidewalk, trying to open an umbrella. He shied away from her.
She went after him. “Sir. You’ve forgotten your book.”
The poof of the umbrella raising matched whoosh of the sudden rain. Irene stepped under the umbrella’s shelter. Standing so close she found that the man had a delicious odour.
“Thank you.” He squinted at her badge. “Irene.” Then he felt his shoulder and sighed. “I forgot my backpack as well.”
“I’ll get it for you.”
“But you’ll get wet.” The rain was still coming down hard.
“It doesn’t matter.”
Irene ran back to the coffee shop and picked up the backpack.
“You might as well go, if you want,” called Peter. “Your shift’s nearly over.”
The rain had almost stopped when Irene went back outside. The air was filled with a heady ozone aroma. It was unlike Peter to let her go early. She was ecstatic. Those little things that make a day good.
“I’m Sebastian,” said the man as he put on the backpack. “Thank you for your help.” He lowered his umbrella.
“How did you know about the rain?” Irene asked. The forecast for the day had been good.
Sebastian pointed to the cherry tree opposite the fudge shop. “I watch the trees. The birds all fly away just before the rain. I don’t know it’s coming. But they do.” He looked at her. “You’re soaked. Do you want to come over to my place to dry off?”
It was crazy but she did it anyway.
His place was compact but tidy. Not much but a few bookshelves and a computer. He gave her a soft towel to dry her hair.
“What do you do?” she asked.
He shrugged. “Long hours. But I don’t have a partner, so it doesn’t matter.”
Irene’s phone buzzed. It was Raquel, messaging, ‘I can’t believe you are doing this. Are you?’
“Do you have to go back?”
“No.” Irene handed him the towel. “Thanks.”
Her phone buzzed again as she went to the door. Raquel again. Sebastian was close enough to see the words. Maybe it was the gasp as he jerked his head away. Maybe it was the twist of sorrow in his mouth. But whatever it was, it made her step up and kiss him.
She found that his tongue could do curious things to her. His fingers gave her squirming pleasures she hadn’t felt before.
“You don’t have to do this,” he said, clinging to her shirt.
“I want to,” she said.
She unbuttoned his shirt and found the kind of torso so common on the internet but rare in everyday life. And when she unfastened the dragon belt she found a beauty that dropped her to her knees.
“You don’t have to do this,” he said again, fingers curled around her ears.
This time she did not answer.
When he came he tasted of butterscotch fudge. He whimpered and bucked, the orange peel skin on his face melting and sliding away down his shoulder then slapping onto the floor, limp and brown as a used condom.
Irene looked at Sebastian in shock. He was the most beautiful man in the world. From the position of benefactress she had suddenly become suppliant. He would never stay with her. Not with a face like that.
“Thank you,” he said, surrounding her with his arms. Then he told her about the curse. “Because nobody willingly took me before I turned eighteen, I will never be completely free. I can only take my true form in one of two places: inside in private, or outside in public. Which should it be?”
Irene’s heart sang with joy at the choice he asked her to make.
As the years went by family, friends and co-workers often questioned Irene’s choice of boyfriend then husband then father. How could she be so happy with a man with a face like an arse? And those beautiful kids. They certainly couldn’t be his. Sebastian worked long hours, didn’t he? And the postman – he was a cracker. That Irene. Well, you know what they say. It’s always the quiet ones.
That’s what they thought. All except for Sebastian’s mother. She knew how the poetry worked.