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Coffee Table Book


Jeanne Gulbranson




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DAVID HADN’T SAID A WORD SINCE THE PETITE WOMAN WITH THE BLACK, MEDUSA-LIKE HAIR HAD BURST INTO HIS EMPTY RECEPTION AREA. She talked like a Chihuahua on speed all the way into his back office.  “Hey, are you the lawyer that advertises on the bus benches?   I’m Tiara.  That’s my artistic name.   I have the project of the century and I need some legal stuff.”   He managed to get in a nod before she filled his small space with wall-to-wall pacing, and out-to-there gestures.  He glanced toward the door hoping that someone—anyone—would interrupt, but he knew that wasn’t likely.    

“No burn victims, acid-in-the-face.  No car accidents—none of those kinds of people.  Nothing accidental.   Just naturally born-that-way, step-on-it ugly.  That’s who will be in the coffee table book.  You know, the ones that are so ugly that you just can’t stop staring at them?  Cleft palates, bugging-out eyes, rabbit teeth, huge warts—stuff like that.”

David tee-peed his fingers to his mouth when she was distracted by a ceramic frog on his bookcase.  His ex-wife had given it to him after the divorce with a note that read, “Still not a prince.” 

Tiara put the frog back and pinched its lips.  “Where was I?   Okay.  I need to get a consent form for people to sign.  I can’t publish a book of ugly people without their permission.  But it can’t say anything like, ‘Gee, you’re so grotesque that I want to take a picture of you.’  You know what I mean, right?  Just use tons of legal words and say right in the waiver that the title is In the Eye of the Beholder.  That sounds kinda nice, doesn’t it?

Tiara leaned over his desk, looking for agreement, but didn’t wait for David’s response. “I thought a cute subtitle would be But Why Would You Look, but my photographer said he wouldn’t hang around when I told people that.  He’s way too skittish, but the guy knows how to shoot!  So, can you write this up for me?  Don’t worry about the money.  I got a bundle off my last ex-husband.” 

David cleared his throat to dislodge the words that were sticking like peanut butter.   “Can you find enough…are there so many…uh, grotesque people that you can fill a whole coffee table book?”  He was pretty sure the answer was yes, but he wanted to buy some time.  He didn’t want to look desperate for the work.

“Oh my god—they’re everywhere!  My eyeballs are bleeding from staring at them!  I found one on the way over that’s the Triple Crown of Ugly—the absolute Queen of the Uglies!  She’s got a huge tumor-thing hanging over one eye, a mole the size of a mouse on her cheek, and a chin that sticks so far out that if her nose runs, it’ll drip right in her mouth!  This woman is cover material!”  Tiara raised her arms high, palms up. 

“She’ll be a STAR!  I got all of her contact information.”  Tiara grinned and nodded.

“I already have so many picked out that I’m going to organize the book chapters by professions.  Nurses are going to be in ‘Healing Warts,’ and I’m calling the housewives’ chapter ‘Mole-y Mamas.’  Aren’t those just too clever?”  Tiara finally sat in the chair across from him, and leaned forward.  David’s chair lurched backwards a little when he tried to stretch the distance between them. 
“This book is going to be big.  I mean BIG!  You know that woman with all those books of babies in the huge props?  Her name is Gaddas or Heddes—something like that.  Anyway, she’s made a bundle off those pudgy little brats and they all look the same to me!  The pictures aren’t even clever.  Three kids stuck in an egg carton.  Come on.  Now, if she could cram 12 of them in there, she’d have something!  I’m telling you—my ugly people are going to knock her babies right out of the coffee-table-book game!” 

David affected his let-me-take-this-under-advisement posture while he argued with himself.  Do I really need work so bad that I’m actually going to do this Consent Form?  David L. Malconi—Attorney-at-Law and Manipulator of Ugly People.  Who am I kidding?  I can’t even make the rent on this place right now.   

“Yes, I should have something for you to look at by tomorrow noon.  But I can’t guarantee that some people won’t try to sue when they see the finished product.  If they do, defending the suits will be extra.” 

Tiara clapped her hands.  “Great!  I’ll worry about their stupid lawsuits later.  So, tomorrow when I come by to pick up the form, I’ll bring my camera guy with me.  I want to feature you in the lawyer section: ‘Legally Ugly.’  Cool, huh?”    

It was several minutes after Tiara pranced out the door before David picked up the ceramic frog.  He held it next to his face, looking into the dusty mirror in the dimly-lit reception area.  For the first time, he could see a resemblance. 



Jeanne Gulbranson

Jeanne Gulbranson is a Las Vegas-based writer, who recently retired as a corporate strategist to seek fame and fortune writing short stories and novels.  (Not a perfect life strategy, but what the hell.)   She has two previously published books on the subject of leadership development: "Be the Horse or the Jockey" and "Pink Leadership" and a third book about the first nude showgirl in Vegas.  (That one has nothing to do with leadership development.)  Jeanne's short stories have been published by seven different literary magazines, and have been rejected by too-many-to-count.  Her future plans include writing prolifically, reading compulsively, learning to cook, winning at video poker, and continuing to search for that elusive fame and fortune.



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