When Anne saw the remarkable stranger walking a dog in the park on an otherwise ordinary summer evening, she sensed that fate had arranged for this man to cross her path. Her mind could only hold one thought: This is the most handsome man I have ever seen.
“Hello,” the handsome man said through a smile so white his teeth pulled light from the air around his mouth.
Anne could hardly believe he had spoken to her, had said the word “hello” through lips so full and perfectly shaped for kissing.
“Hello,” she replied through her own lips, which were suddenly dry.
“I’m Paul,” the handsome stranger said, his voice a mix of honey and cello. “I just moved in down the street.”
“I’m Anne,” she said, grasping handsome Paul’s offered right hand, his big, soft hand that buried hers. His left hand, dangling from a thick wrist, well-muscled arm, and square shoulder, held the dog’s leash. That lovely hand, Anne noticed, held no wedding ring.
“This is Bowser,” handsome Paul said, nodding a square jaw darkened with thick evening whiskers toward the dog standing beside his sandaled feet.
Anne tore her eyes from Paul’s handsomeness to look at the dog for the first time. Bowser was mid-sized, about two feet tall, the color of charcoal, so dusky he looked like he would darken the palms of anyone who touched him.
“Hi, Bowser,” Anne said, noticing the affected lilt in her own voice. Anne wasn’t a “dog person.” She didn’t have one as a child and had never felt the need for one as an adult. She had no interest in paying for, housing, feeding, walking, and cleaning up after such creatures. She could take them or leave them. In Anne’s experience, humans made the best companions—humans like Paul, for example.
Handsome Paul was leashed to this dog at this moment, so this dog was worth the effort. Anne knelt beside Bowser, whom she now noticed was a mutt of undeterminable lineage—and not a good mix. Maybe some Lab, perhaps some dachshund, a pinch of boxer, a hint of terrier—overall, more a chunking of attributes than a true blend. He was as thick around as a beer keg with a football head, meatloaf neck, and short, spindly legs.
“I think Bowser likes you,” handsome Paul said. “Don’t you, Bowser?”
Bowser grunted and thrust his head at Anne. Reflexively, she put her hand on his back but had to consciously force herself not to pull away. Bowser’s spine bones jutted into her palm through his wire coat. Dander dust wafted from just the light stroke she gave him.
It’s not his fault, Anne thought. He’s a dog. He can’t help being a little dirty. Think about how handsome Paul is. Just keep petting. Pet the dog. Think of Paul. Pet the dog. Think of Paul … handsome, handsome Paul.
“He likes being scratched behind the ears,” handsome Paul said. Anne glanced up at him. She liked the view from this angle. Yep, she thought, just as handsome as he was fifteen seconds ago.
Anne looked down at the big ears on the back of Bowser’s clunky head. The skin was scabrous. Anne thought of how Paul’s wavy hair was nothing like Bowser’s ratty rug. She guided her fingernails lightly over the ruined, patch-furred skin just behind Bowser’s right ear.
Bowser looked up to meet Anne’s gaze. His right eye was ink-dark and featureless. His left was circled in a blood-red, inside-out lid. That eye bulged, nearly disconnected from the socket. Bowser eased his snout closer to Anne’s face. His breath smelled like something found months too late in the back of the refrigerator, something turned green with fur growing on it. Bowser’s moldy tongue lulled across one side of his jaw. Anne saw only four intact teeth, and the holes in Bowser’s gums oozed pink puss.
“Awww, he wants a kiss,” handsome Paul cooed. “Bowser wants a kiss. Go ahead, Anne. Give Bowser a kiss.”
At the sound of his handsome master’s voice, Bowser licked the puss from his gums and dribbled a yellowish glob of phlegm to the ground. Anne had to pull her foot away to avoid the glob landing on her newly purchased walking shoes, a maneuver that nearly sent her toppling over.
Anne regained her balance and stood so quickly that Bowser and handsome Paul both backpedaled. “I just remembered something,” she sputtered, striding down the sidewalk like a power-walker. “I have to be someplace for something,” she called over her shoulder to Paul, his smile drooping like the sagging leash he held, like the slack skin at Bowser’s four armpits.
Anne didn’t look back at handsome Paul, couldn’t look. She walked straight toward her echoing house—a house with no pets, no kids, no husband.
One thought filled her mind: Nobody is that handsome.
By John Sheirer