Deacon has always had the vague notion that he could look better than he does. He thinks most people probably believe this about themselves, but like most people he has never possessed the motivation to maximize his physical appeal. But now he is with Rose, whose beauty is perfect, and so he decides to try for her.
She denies his homeliness. She would, because she is very kind. She says she’d never change a thing about him, even if she could.
Deacon could live with himself were her beauty only superficial. But she is generous and affectionate, funny and honest. If he were a painter, he tells himself, he would paint a portrait for every way light attached itself across her features.
-What about my hair? he asks.
-I love your hair, she says, I wish you’d let it grow longer.
And so Deacon waits for his hair to grow. This won’t be enough, he thinks. She spoke modestly to spare his feelings.
He goes to the gym, all focus and determination. Sometimes on the treadmill he kicks the speed up, his legs wheeling. He pretends to run across some mythical terrain to save her from danger. Sweat pours from his body and he imagines it mixing with blood shed in a battle of honor. He has never considered himself gallant, but he would fight for Rose. Deacon thinks these things in the gym as though their lives depend on it.
One day, months into their relationship, he looks in the mirror and sees what he must do. Leaner now, stronger, he carries his torso with a more confident posture. Seeing his shoulders, and what is wrong with them, he gets an idea.
-You don’t have to do that, she says. She says it with a smile implying that maybe he is crazy.
-I might need your help, he says. Recognizing her withheld laughter, Deacon watches Rose twist her mouth out of a smile. Her amusement strengthens his resolve.
The two shop at Target together to buy what is necessary. As they search up and down the aisles, Deacon proudly holds Rose’s hand. The world can see them like this: beautiful Rose and dedicated Deacon.
Now in the apartment, Deacon showers as per the instructions on the box. Rose reads the folded directional pamphlet at the kitchen table when he comes out, dry and clean. She holds up a device that looks like a cross between a toy gun and something packaging tape is deployed upon. She smiles.
-Are you ready? she asks. You’re sure you want to do this?
Deacon has never been surer of anything and tells her so.
Rose picks up a chair to take into the bathroom and Deacon stops her so that he may carry it himself. There is fog on the top half of the mirror and the room smells of the conditioner he started using when his hair grew out.
She stands behind him and readies the toy gun.
-Here we go, she says, and bends to kiss his cheek.
They do one small patch first, to see how everything works. Against the grain of the hair on his shoulders she applies the liquid wax. It sticks dark upon his pale skin. Then she meticulously lays out the cloth strip and the two wait in silence for thirty seconds to pass.
-I’m going to pull it now, she says.
He nods again, and now she rips the cloth away from his skin. Deacon wonders if any skin remains. The light refracts differently as his eyes tear up, but he blinks away the moisture.
-OK? She asks.
-It kind of tickled, he says. I thought it was supposed to be painful.
-You’re bleeding, she says.
Deacon looks at his shoulder where the skin is bright pink, dotted with specks of red.
-It’s all right, he says. Let’s do another.
[This story originally appeared in 322 Review]