Illustration: “Smile” © 2005 by Romeo Esparrago
Among my mother’s frequent sayings when I was a child was, “You’d cut off your nose to spite your face.”
I know she meant that I was stubborn and obstinate and determined to have my own way. She was right. I was all of that, plus! And now….
“Well, Mom, now I’ve done it. Too bad you aren’t here to say, ‘I told you so!’”
I thought I was thinking that to myself but my words clearly startled the aide at my bedside.
“Damn!” I added, as I pulled the mirror from her hand and held it up to my face again. “Damn and damnation!”
“The doctor will be with you momentarily,” she said as she edged out of the room.
I sat groggily on the edge of the clinic bed, clutching a side bar with one hand to stay upright and staring in the mirror that I held with the other. The room in the periphery of my befogged vision was clean but sparse by North American standards. No telephone, and the TV only played a few local stations. My Spanish is limited to a few cuss words. About what you’d expect to get when you go below the border for a “magical rejuvenation”.
If I were remembering correctly, I had been at that clinic for several weeks. That was expected. Medical “magic” takes a while.
Though it was hard to focus my wandering thoughts, I was reasonably sure my face had sported a bony jaw, prominent cheekbones, and a stubborn mouth when I arrived. Now my reflection showed a rolling landscape of hair. Even my twice-broken nose was furred. I felt to be sure it was still there beneath the central mound of hair.
It was the same bumpy proboscis, and it should not have been. The nose was Item 1 for renewal. I had decided on a drastic revamp after one of the adolescents I coach after school asked me during a lull at basketball practice: “Were you pretty when you were young, Coach?”
Truthwise, another factor had been the bouncy, bubbly, obviously enhanced and reconstructed, looking-ten-years-younger-than-me-but-actually-a-year-older other candidate for head girl’s coach. She had gotten the job a few days before “the question”.
My life needed revising, and I had told my girls many times that “if you are going to play, go all the way!”
So I went. And there I now sat, holding the mirror to the side to see what I could of my hirsute profile. My largish, un-delicate sound catchers were still in the right places. But now they were islands, aswim in a sea of sparse brown hair.
More motherisms echoed in my medicine head. “I don’t know why you don’t try and make yourself pretty like other girls,”
I started to giggle — what exactly were they giving me? I never giggle — at the thought of me trying to put makeup on like “other girls”. Would I use mascara, mousse, hair glitter, Just For Dogs?
“If my Mom could see me now…” started running through my fuzzy brain to a tune from Sweet Charity.
Good thing, really, that Mom couldn’t see me. She had spent far too much of her life (and mine) trying to make over a spitting, jeans-wearing, sandlot-baseball-playing tomboy into a fluffy lady. Now I could qualify as chimp-lady.
“Do something with that hair!” I could hear her say.
“What would you suggest? A nose perm? Full facial braids?”
I was mumbling the last to my mother’s fading shade as The Doctor swept into the room. Perhaps he was used to patients talking to nonexistent others.
“How are you feeling?”
“Rather fuzzy, Doctor, both inside and out.”
“That is natural. I told you on the first day of treatment that we would keep you under mild sedation. We have found the results come better and faster when our patients are not working themselves up about temporary side effects. It is unfortunate that the aide let you have a mirror without me here to explain. “
“So you think that I won’t be ‘Bride of Wolfman’ forever?”
“Absolutely sure, Miss Simpson, you are well on your way to the youthful you that you came here to become. I explained when we began the procedure how the injections temporarily reverse the maturation process. Surely a transformation into a younger-faced you is worth a little temporary facial hair.”
“Here,” he continued, “look at this book on prenatal development. The double-stranded RNA that we injected into the skin and deeper structures of your face reawakens those early programs. As you can see on this page, babies go through a stage when they are covered with hair, sometimes a great deal of it, as in your case. You just have a temporary overgrowth of lanugo. Soon it will start falling out. Your broken nose is taking longer because there are deep tissues affected instead of just skin.”
He went on about cartilage being sluggish to repair and such, but I started fading out again. I never found out what they used to keep me quiet and happy, but the last I remember of that conversation was looking at pictures of furred unborns and imagining what it would be like to take one home to Mom.
When I again managed coherent thought, my face was inside an elastic covering and there were no mirrors. I managed to get myself to the shared bathroom separating my room from the next. That had no mirror either and the door to the other room was locked.
I thought about roaming to other rooms to see what the presumed other patients might be experiencing. But when I went into the hall, all it got me was a yakking at in Spanish by one of the aides and a lecture from the English-speaking head nurse about staying in bed unless assisted.
Another nighty-night time followed, or maybe ten. I was happily, hazily aware of the days passing. Sometimes I ate a bit of what they brought, mostly not. The daily (assisted) showers were an annoying interruption to my naps and lethargic daydreams. I did try to worry about what was happening to the muscles of my once-toned body. Couldn’t manage that either.
Eventually they let me wake up again. I remember probing my nose, still hidden by the elastic mask that covered me down to my shoulders. It (the nose) felt like it once did, straight, and strong and proudly aquiline.
I managed to get a finger under the mask edge and was tugging it off when a new aide or nurse that I did not remember came into the room, carrying the elusive mirror. The Good Doctor was right. The facial pelt was gone. I had hair only where I should, although it badly needed a trim. Aside from that, I was looking good. I never had the pert-nosed girly look that my mother wanted, but still, the young woman gazing back at me looked terrific by my standards. That Roman nose I had learned to cherish only after I broke it twice was wonderful. And my skin glowed with the bright health of youth. Don’t look for me in the pages of a Victoria Secret’s catalog, but I would not insult Sports Illustrated.
I turned my head to check the side view and began to whimper. (What exactly had they done to me? I never whimper.)
The hair was gone all right, and the skin on the side of my face was baby smooth and youthfully perfect there, too. But on my neck, on both sides (more visibly on the right) were gill slits.
That must have been the Good Doctor’s cue. In he breezed with a wide smile.
I got as far as, “My neck…” when he smoothly interrupted.
“Now! Now! This too will pass. You said you said you needed to be back at school by August 7th for practice. Well, today is the 5th.”
“Looking like this?” I practically screamed. (I never scream, except on the playing field.)
“No, not looking like that. And ‘that’ really isn’t bad at all. You have already rejuvenated some of the area and the tissues just need a few more weeks to finish filling in. If you look close” (as if I hadn’t been!) “you will see that only the one slit is still actually open. The others are covered with skin and the depressions will almost certainly fill in completely. If not, I will give you my brother’s card and you can go to him for some very, very minor plastic surgery.”
He went on in detail about the aide showing me how to apply stage makeup to conceal my irregularities, etc. And I gradually cooled off. I did have that nose to look at.
There also was an opportunity to zing my mother for all the grief she has given me about my looks. I would wear the makeup at school and practice as needed. But Mom was going to see her daughter au naturel.
“Tell you friends at the pool, Mom,” I thought, “’shark girl’ is coming home!” *
About the Author: Anastasia Voight is a retired biology teacher who, in the six years since retirement, has entertained her right brain with art and creative-writing classes. This story was a product of her fourth writing class. Her poetry has appeared on the websites of American Feed, Fullosia Press, and The Fossil Record. A couple of other short stories were accepted by Wild Violet, American Drivel, and Dream Forge. Space would not permit a counting of her rejections.
(c) 2005 Anastasia Voight Anastasia3rd@aol.com
About the Artist: Romeo Esparrago was trained to operate computers and manipulate digital images by Humans, in direct violation of the Prime Directive. Nonetheless, it’s worked out pretty well for all concerned, and damage seems to have been limited to the southern hemisphere of his world, along with a few lightly inhabited neighboring planets.
(c) 2005 Romeo Esparrago http://www.romedome.com