If you looked at Ralph for 30 minutes and then walked away, you would be unable to describe him. He was a man with no distinguishing qualities: not too heavy, not too thin; not too much hair (if there is such a thing), but not bald either; a man of indifferent facial features that made him virtually invisible. And although he was very bright, his eyes were dull. Indeed, his brain’s powerful wattage came as a surprise and then only after you’d gotten to know him for some time.
Nor did Ralph have too many friends; wait — any friends, really. He was too withdrawn for that. But Ralph was very good at his work, had the kind of attention to detail that it required. If I gave you the name of what he did, you probably wouldn’t know what kind of vocation it was. Suffice to say that Ralph had a very specialized knowledge of something to do with physics. But, if one is really good at such arcane, abstract, and technical work — and that’s all he is really knowledgeable about — it is pretty hard to maintain a conversation. That was Ralph, for sure.
But what Ralph did have, to the shock of anyone who met his family, was a knock-out wife named Fox. And, funny enough, she looked a bit like Megan Fox: equally sultry, but more curvaceous, with hair so black you wondered if it came from a bottle of dye. In a sense, Fox was a woman to die for. And Ralph was pretty close to dying inside because of who Fox had become.
It was not always so. Fox was only now a wife who gloried in turning heads, who lived for it. She looked at men to see if they were looking, and so they did. They now turned toward her, where once they had turned away.
When they married, Fox was really very plain. Much like Ralph, in fact. Maybe I’m being too kind to her. Her nose looked like it was at a four-way traffic stop and couldn’t decide which way to go. Her jaw was too small, so her bottom teeth were all bunched up, like a classroom of eager students all raising their hands at the same time. She had no “bum” to speak of and her chest was the proverbial carpenter’s dream — flat as a board. This young woman’s ear lobes had been marred at a bargain “piercing shop” that used something like a train conductor’s punch to do the job, and her ears themselves were similar to Disney’s Dumbo. Fox’s feet made walking gracefully a challenge. Topping it all off, Fox had fair, but sensitive skin and eyes that made bright light excruciating to the point of requiring an almost vampire-like avoidance of the outdoors on sunny days. In sum, she was something of a mess on the outside, while her insides couldn’t help noticing and sent out distress signals.
That’s how Ralph met her. She was having trouble reaching for a top shelf grocery item and asked for his help. When he provided the assistance she started chatting him up, telling him the details of her miserable life. “Oh my God, thank you. I don’t know what I would have done if you hadn’t been here for me to reach the Cheerios. I always have such trouble with these things. No one ever seems to give me the time, so sometimes I just go without.”
It didn’t stop there. Fox just went on and on. If lonely Ralph had been a more confident, less good-hearted man, he might have gotten bored. But it had been a long time since a woman was eager to talk to him. Soon enough he and Fox were sitting in a cafe within the supermarket. He was still listening and she was still talking about all that was wrong with her life. The pattern had been set.
Ralph couldn’t help but notice two things. First, that she seemed to enjoy talking to him. Second, that he felt appreciated for what little he had done for her. Ralph was usually struck dumb around women, but since Fox was doing all the talking, he found an uncommon ease in being with her. There was a third thing too: Ralph pitied Fox. Her litany of life disappointments was a long one and Ralph’s heart broke a little for her. There were the ugly duckling disses she described, her parents’ lack of time for her, and the onus of having no outstanding qualities in a world that demanded them.
Ralph found that he could look beyond Fox’s outsides to the “poor girl” insides he saw on the newsreel of sorrow that she re-ran day after day. They became a couple. At first, Fox was clearly delighted that she had a boyfriend, and one who would listen to her, to boot! And Ralph wanted a girlfriend just as much, so it seemed to him a small price to pay that Fox regurgitated life’s unfairness to her regularly. Besides, she seemed grateful that he’d drop anything he was doing for her, and he felt wanted and purposeful in being able to better this woman’s life.
Marriage inevitably followed courting. Children inevitably followed marriage. Challenges inevitably followed children. “Oh, Ralphie, look at what Megan (their two-year-old) did. I’m just too totalled-out to clean up the mess. Can you take care of it, Ralphie?” What was Ralph to do? He was just home from work, pretty “totalled-out” himself, but Fox needed to rest and Megan couldn’t be left alone to create further disorder, as small children tend to do. As time passed, Fox came to treat Ralph’s help as an entitlement, treat Ralph’s patient listening as an entitlement, treat Ralph’s bread-winning and housekeeping and childcare as an entitlement: her appreciation for it all diminished correspondingly.
Ralph consoled himself. She’s had such a hard life, he thought. She’ll soon snap out of it. Maybe if I can just do a bit more, then things will be good again. “Good,” meaning back to the way they were when Fox was grateful and the kids weren’t demanding time and attention. Attention that Fox wanted for herself, although Ralph couldn’t admit this. Then, one day, Fox asked for something she’d never asked for before.
“Ralphie, you know, my doctor says that he knows a foot specialist who can fix my feet so it’s not so hard to walk. Wouldn’t that be great? We can afford that, right Ralphie? How about it?”
Well, you know Ralph by now. How could he refuse such a reasonable request? He was making a good living and he knew it. It was the least he could do for the woman he loved and the mother of his children.
Although Fox had to go through a difficult period of recuperation, the surgery did indeed make walking the natural, unconscious thing it is for most relatively young people. Her surgeon recommended training in ballet, once Fox was sufficiently improved. And, indeed, Ralph’s wife became the embodiment of grace, a creature whose movement across space was streaming and seamless — something to behold. For a brief period Fox was even grateful to Ralph, but within a few months it was business as usual, with the expectations of Ralph that he had come to accept, along with the indifference and lack of approbation that was also the norm. Until, of course, the next thing that Fox wanted.
“Ralphie, you know, my doctor says that he knows a plastic surgeon who can fix my nose. Wouldn’t that be great? We can afford that, right Ralphie? How about it?”
Ralph didn’t jump at this suggestion quite as quickly as he had to the idea of taking Fox’s feet to the repair shop. And, in fact, he’d grown to sort of like the way Fox’s nose couldn’t seem to make up its mind about the best route to take from its bridge to her nostrils. Still, she was the woman he loved and the mother of his children. Before too long, Fox had a nose to die for. Straight, not too big, not too small, delicate even; “just right” as Goldilocks would have said. It was so beautiful that Fox spent hours just looking at herself in the mirror, admiring the surgeon’s craft and how much it had changed her appearance; made her even what you might call attractive, if your standards for beauty weren’t too high.
Sex, however, didn’t improve. Sex had never been great between Ralph and Fox. But Ralph accepted what Fox offered and, since he’d never had sex with anyone else, for a long time it seemed pretty good. Now, however, frequency was down and Fox had begun to make it more “conditional.” Let me explain.
Fox was less and less available. She complained of headaches, exhaustion — all the usual things that women say when they are preoccupied with something else, their brain is somewhere else, and they only wish that their husband were elsewhere, too. Fox had an ever-changing, ever smaller list of body parts that were available for touching, and sex acts that were permissible. For his part, Ralph began to think of Fox’s torso as a city undergoing lots of highway and road repair, between her surgeries and her restrictions on what he could and could not do. He imagined her body being covered over with little CAUTION and DANGER signs, arrows indicating detours, and tiny flagmen waiving him right or left or in a direction other than the one he wanted to take. He wished for traffic reports of the kind one hears on the radio every 10 minutes, so that he would know the least hazardous routes and how he might get from point P to point V. But no, no radio frequency carried traffic updates for Fox’s body. All Ralph got was static.
Other than when Ralph kissed Fox on her rear end, which she loved but left him cold, sex was increasingly frustrating for our boy. Indeed, as Fox gradually was transformed into a fox, the restrictions multiplied and the frustration grew. Attempts at sex became something like being very hungry, but knowing that the closest restaurant took a three-hour drive to reach and was only open for 10 minutes beginning at 3 AM every other week; and that the food was cold and tasteless and they never had what you wanted on the menu; and the wait staff were impatient and complained and banged around with pots and pans while you were trying to eat; and the servers were constantly reminding you to hurry up because they were closing soon.
Well, you won’t be surprised when I tell you that the surgical requests kept coming. Their form was always the same: “Ralphie, you know, my doctor says that he knows a surgeon who can do ‘X.'” Next came a complete reworking of her jaw, mouth, and teeth; then breast implants, then buttock implants, then cheek implants. Botox was injected into a whole variety of places including her lips. All this was followed by an “ear job” to close up the holes left by the conductor’s punch and pin them back so that they didn’t stick out so much. Then Fox requested an alteration of her hairline, in addition to lots of consultations with makeup artists, skin specialists, and hair stylists.
Fox became unrecognizable, but movie-star beautiful. And, curiously enough, she couldn’t stop raving about how wonderful her doctor was for picking out just the very best people to work their magic; with hardly a word about the fact that it was Ralph who paid the surgical bills and kept doing everything else that he’d always done — ever faithful, ever devoted, ever taken-advantage-of, all-day-sucker Ralphie.
Not even having Fox as “arm candy” was an unalloyed benefit to him. He surely did notice how people looked at her. Ralph was told that he was a lucky guy. But he also overheard strangers wondering about the ill-matched pair he and his wife had become. And he feared that someone would take her away from him.
By the time Fox reached her early 40s, her physical transformation was complete. She looked to be 33, at most, and felt like she could begin living the life she’d only imagined as a frumpy, freaky, friendless teen. The kids were both in college out-of-state and Ralph never stood in the way of what she wanted. Ralphie was making a very good salary, she rationalized, when she thought even a little about the financial consequences of her surgical make-over and wardrobe choices. But, in fact, he was working overtime when he could, to pay for the kids’ tuition bills, the old doctors’ bills, and Fox’s impulse purchases.
With fewer responsibilities due to the departure of the children and no more surgeons to consult, Fox realized that she missed talking to her doctor, the man she so idolized; the person who took such an interest in her and guided her to achieving her new, traffic-stopping, stunning state of being. The doc was now recently divorced. Their meetings started with her just dropping in to his office, unannounced, and saying hello. Eventually they scheduled lunches. Long lunches. Ralph couldn’t help but wonder if something was happening.
One day at sunrise, when Fox was still sleeping and Ralph was taking a rare vacation day, he took a drive to a nearby beach to try to figure things out. As a young man, when he was the class nerd who no one had time for, he’d go to the beach, let the sun beat down on him, and try to make sense of his present and plan for his future. Sometimes it worked. Sometimes the sound of the waves and the warmth of the rays took his mind off real-life. Sometimes he got lost in a fantasy of what his life could be, if only he had an adoring girlfriend who would eventually be his wife.
How had things gone so wrong, he wondered? The beach was deserted and the stillness provided no comfort. “What can I do? I still love her.” Ralph was talking to himself. “If only I could find a way to get things back to the way they were when we first met.” And then Ralph’s right foot seemed to catch on something and he fell on his face, eating a mouthful of sand and pebbles. Disrespect everywhere, he thought. Not even the beach likes me.
As Ralph got up, he noticed the thing that he tripped over. A piece of metal protruded from the otherwise flat surface. He pulled at it. A golden Middle Eastern style lamp. Scuffed and dented, it nonetheless looked as though it had once been a fine product of the metal artisan’s craft. Ralph took out his handkerchief and tried to clean it up a bit. That’s when the genie appeared.
For the conclusion of this story, go to Dr. Frankenstein and the Curse of Self-Awareness: Part II (Conclusion).
The top photo is of Megan Fox, by Luke Ford. Next comes Girlfriend and I by Christian Reusch. That is followed by Beauty and the Beast by Giovana Milanezi, uploaded by Johnny MrNinj and a Singapore Road Sign by Woodennature. Deep Sadness by Erik Charlton is the fifth image. All are sourced from Wikimedia Commons.