The Beholder- by Crunch

Oh, I dunno, it's just an odd idea for a story that I couldn't get out of my writers blocked little head. If any one shows any interest, I'll probably keep going. Eh, or maybe I'll keep going anyway, who can say?

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The man in front of me beats his wife. I watch them above the rim of my glass, between sips of my ice tea; I watch her cling to him with all of her might, her fair, skelatal fingertips clutching at his flannel shirt- the flannel shirt of a city man trying to be tougher then he is. I watch her lean her head against him, turn her slight and nervous face to his wide and shifty one, though her eyes never meet his. No- her eyes, the color of sun-bleached honey, with darkened folds of skin beneath them, dart from the roadway beneath their feet to the shopping bags clutched in her free hand to his patent leather shoes, but she never looks her husband square in the eye.

There are other clues, of course. The way her shoulders stiffen with every abrupt movement he makes. The way the man, an unlikely suspect to the untrained eye, with his slight beer gut and unimpressive build, clutches at her possesively, instead of just protectively, as they stroll down the cobblestone street running adjacent to my lunch table. There are countless clues, if you're willing to look for them, but mostly it's in the eyes, where it always is. She loves him and needs him and hates him and fears him. No wonder she can't look at him.

The couple parked at the table to the left of me in this quaint parisian café, gazing lovingly at eachother over their platters of breadsticks and glasses of wine, is about to be encounter a marriage proposal. It's written all over the face of the young man, probably in his early twenties, with a gangly but loveable build and a shy smile. He clutches at his pocket every now and then, making sure the ring is still in place, no doubt. He laughs willingly, but nervously, and figits with his napkin, twisting it into a pretzal in his lap until it's as knotted as his stomach must be. And she has no idea, but she know's what her answer will be, just as I do. She'll say no. She'll say it's too early in the relationship- and it is, after all. She still figits with her silky blond hair, she laughs flirtatiously at his jokes, and she's dressed in an outfit that makes her look attractive, but untouchable. It's in her eyes as well; she doesn't quite know the man sitting across from her well enough, not yet atleast.

Suddenly I feel like I'm falling back into old habits, back into the webs of paranoia and mistrust, even though I know perfectly well those habits never left me at all. They are a part of me, as natural and instinctive as breathing. Frowning, I turn my face towards the dappled sunlight streaming through the cabana above my table. Watching people, knowing people at the first glimpse, has been programmed into my brain, and sometimes I know so much about people that it suffocates me. I can tell the difference between a runner, a hiker, a sailor and a horseback rider with in the space of a few footsteps. I can pick out of a crowd which women would have sex with me if I asked them (quite a few, though not to brag) and, if I cared to look, which men would say yes to me if I asked them (more then you'd think, though I most certaintly never cared to look). I can identify a car theif on the prowl and a buisness man on vacation and a clergy man in civilian clothing.

I can tell who wants to kill me, and who has the weapons and the skills to do it, by the look in their eyes. Of course, I don't spot these people too often now a days, but I'm still looking. I'll always be looking.

"Vous avez fini, Monsieur?" I tear my eyes from the sunlit patterns playing on the roof of the umbrella and turn my gaze to the waitress. She's a recent mother. She hasn't slept well in the past few nights- there are bags under her eyes, and she smells of baby powder and spittle. Also, her shoulders are stooped and her breasts sag. She's just getting use to feeding her baby.

"Oui, c'est tout, merci." Smiling a strained and haggard smile, she loads my plates onto a cart and shuffles away. Before she dissapears into the café, I catch a glimpse of my reflection in the metalic sheen of the tray; It passes quickly, but my eyes are far quicker. I've had time to stare into the face staring back at me- not nearly the face of an old man, but not the face of the man I was, in the time BEFORE.

I study this stranger in the mirror, from the wild brown hair spilling in every direction- typicaly unmanageable, to the darkened rings beneath my large sable eyes, the eyes of my mother. I remember she used to say I had the eyes of a wise old soul; eyes built for SEEING people. I'd reply that everyone's eyes were made for seeing people, and she'd just smile her secretive smile, as if to say 'someday, you'll understand'. It hasn't happened yet.

With a start I notice the three o'clock shadow coloring my otherwise smooth, square jaw line. When had I started growing facial hair? When had my face become the strong and haggard face of my father?

Natasha, my AA Sponsor, jokes with me and calls me 'old man', laughing at the frown forever on my face. It's true, to anyone else I'd look like a young man on his way to the top, just coming up in the world. I'm young, svelt and streamlined, handsome enough, capable and charming if called for. But if they saw what I saw, if they saw me like I could see them, they'd never assume I was young again.

Would you like to see what I see?

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Eh, so what do you think? This is really just a prologue- if it sounds interesting or boring or flame-worthy, by al means tell me! And don't worry, it won't be written in this style the whole time. I would love constructive critisism, so please review!