On Hens and Elephants and Being Like Them

(1,300 words)

In my family, all the women have noses like hens. All the men have ears like elephants. Somehow, I wound up with both a hen’s nose and outrageous elephant ears that waggle whenever I shake my head, that could handle twenty pairs of earrings had I the patience to insert them. While being funny looking isn’t so bad for a man—he can rush a fraternity, transform himself into a G-Man, or settle down with his REM-sleep girl—a woman with a face like a Dr. Seuss character has a Grinch of a time finding a boyfriend. Millennial men demand a lot from women in the looks department, more than in my parents’ generation. Blame it on cable TV, video games, Sports Illustrated. But their worldview makes it impossible for a girl like me to attract guys like them.

How can anyone love a Cluck-a-phant?

Since a block of concrete was more exciting than my teenage social life, I became a reader—books, teen magazines, food labels, appliance manuals. My favorite guilty pleasure was the “Illustrated Classics” series I discovered in my grandmother’s attic. Nana had shoved them beneath a shoebox filled with Lincoln Logs, where she thought comic books belonged.

That’s how I became familiar with “real” literature. Classic stories in comic-book form helped me remember characters, plots—even themes sometimes—so solidly that my world literature professor at City College called me “prodigiously well read.” Apart from these pocket-sized classics, my literature collection consisted of bodice rippers plucked from the free-to-all shelf at the city library. But I appreciated the sentiment. At that point in my life, Mr. Ostrowski’s comment was the most flattering thing anyone had ever said to me. People aren’t queuing up to dole out compliments to ugly girls.

It’s been seven years since I started reading these tales, and I still stuff them into my purse in case I have a spare moment to read. While taking the cross-town bus to my job at the Wine and Spirits, I re-read Ivanhoe, The Count of Monte Cristo, and Cyrano de Bergerac.

Each time I read Cyrano, I laugh along with the love-struck poet with a too-large nose. You might say we’re sympatico. I’ve fended off sieges with d’Artagnan and fallen in love with Edmond Dantès, but Cyrano stands out as my favorite because it’s laugh-out-loud funny. It’s like my pop says, “Most days the world needs more funny.” Once I laughed so fiercely on my way to work, other people on the bus must have thought I suffered from a severe personality disorder from having a frightful face.  After living with myself for twenty-two years, the only real handicap caused by ugliness is loneliness.

A few days later, inspired by Cyrano’s derring-do, I scribbled down a personal ad on the back of a library slip I had dug from my purse. After work, I opened an account at PerfectMatchPlus. With the cunning prose of Cyrano at my elbow, I began my pitch:

Searching for Dreams Intoxicating

Twenty-something with singularly impressive nose—a crochet hook! . . . a stalactite! . . . a trowel of good humor! . . . seeks kindred spirit for companionship. ‘Tis well known, a long nose is indicative of a generous person. Yes, I’m not only the proud owner of a prize carrot smack in the middle of my face, I have elephant ears to boot. If you are a like soul, I promise you, that with the wind at the back of my ears, you may take hold of them, and we can fly away to dreamland together.

Two days later, I received my first response from a guy named Bud Light: Intoxication is what it’s about. Let’s hook up. I should have known that adding the word “intoxicating” might attract the lesser millennials surfing the personals.

Undaunted, I checked for more replies later in the week. Responses like this were piling up in my inbox: Hey, carrot schnoz! You think any man would be interested in you and your hook nose? Keep your tremendous need for oxygen and your mudflap ears to yourself. Signed—Hot Rod

After a week’s worth of such messages, I flipped on my computer to dismantle the personal ad. I began deleting all the responses but stopped when I got to the last one.

It was posted by Tim. No picture, just an outline of an electric blue Anyman in lieu of his photograph. His message was two sentences long: My dear Roxane. Let’s fly away together in search of our dreams.

“My dear Roxane?”

This Tim understood everything: my literary tribute, my sense of humor, my self-effacement. In a dozen words, he showed me the possibility of a much different life than the one I lived now, one without ever-present reminders that I’m unlovely. Living twenty loveless years filled with snickers and insults and betrayals was like trudging through life with a big boulder strapped to my back, the burden of my long nose and gigantic ears pinning me and my girlish hopes to the ground. There is no soaring above the clouds for truly homely women—only the prospect of living alone for the rest of our lives with only house pets to love you.

Absolutely no soaring . . . unless they had an electric blue man in their lives.

Swept up with elation, I floated inches above my typing chair, my fingers barely contacting the keys. Somehow I managed to reply that I’d be willing to meet him at the library, third floor fiction, among Nora Roberts, J. K. Rowling, and my other lifelong friends, two days hence.

Finally the day of our rendezvous among the “R” authors arrived (“R” for romance). The prospect of Romance, even romance with a little r, filled me with so much happy confidence, as I strolled to the bus stop, I had to fling my hair out of my face exactly like the leggy nymphs in the hair spray commercials. Only when I boarded the uptown bus did I wonder, what kind of man wants to date a woman with a hook nose and elephant ears? Perhaps he’s legally blind or only goes on dates to the movies. Maybe his mother was a ghastly creature but died when he was very young, and so he hopes to replace the mother he lost in an equally ghastly-looking girlfriend.

What if he’s a Cluck-a-phant, too?

I trudged up the staircase, preparing what I would say, steeling myself for the likelihood that I was going to be stood up or set up. Any moment now I expected a man with a nose embellished to the size of an icicle to accost me between the stacks and say, “Ha! You fell for it, you ugly cluck. No one wants to date you,” then stagger away senseless from belly laughter.

I slunk past the volumes written by the “O,” then the “P,” then the “Q” authors (there were a couple, I was surprised to learn). I rounded the corner.

There stood a short man wearing blue jeans and a neat baby-blue polo shirt. His ears were no bigger than wild strawberries. His nose was turned up so profoundly, he could tuck a gumdrop in there and run a fifty-yard dash without losing it.

He smiled at me.

“Are you Tim?” I asked, out of courtesy, but I knew. It had to be him. I mean, with those miniscule ears and that pug nose, who else could it be?

He gazed into my eyes with a softness that liquefied my heart. “You’re just as I pictured you—the girl with the beautiful soul, who’s going to fly us off to dreamland together.”

* * *

Author’s note: This story won first place in the 2009 Writers-Editors Network annual writing competition.

4 thoughts on “On Hens and Elephants and Being Like Them

Add yours

    1. Thanks for stopping in, ma’am. I used to love those serial short fiction contests. This piece was my entry during one of them. I didn’t win the round–kind of surprised at that–but I knew I had something so I submitted to Writers-Editors (international) Writing Competition, and it won first place. So I both loved and hated those competitions. Loved because I created so much content; hated because I was rarely in sync with the judges because I didn’t write horror.

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