'Skin Deep' by Susan Howe
Well, well, if it isn’t Lovely Rita. Our paths cross once again. You’re trembling, as well you might.
“Please, come in and take a seat,” I say.
Now, let’s have a proper look at you. You’re still attractive but it isn’t all down to nature, is it? You must have spent a fortune. Did you marry your rich boyfriend? Where’s the flashy diamond? Don’t tell me he didn’t want you, after all?
I can’t help smiling. You smile back, but cautiously, as if you wonder what has amused me.
Oh, I see. You don’t recognise me! That’s not surprising; I was just a kid with a different name when we last met. The little sister of the boy who adored you. But he was only one of your admirers, wasn’t he? Unfortunately for him.
“Perhaps you could tell me what you’re hoping for from these treatments?” As if I need to ask.
You hesitate. “Well, you know. I just want to look my best.”
Then it all tumbles out. “I want to look like I used to.”
You hold up a creased photograph of a young, smiling girl. Carefree, but not quite innocent. There’s a knowing glint in your eye. Aren’t I gorgeous? You can have me - for a price. A glance at your older face reveals the shimmer of tears and I almost pity you.
You’d never guess what brought me here. It was you!
I should be grateful, really. I have a wonderful life. A loving family and friends, a celebrated career; everything I could ever want. And I owe it all to you.
It took them years to rebuild Andy’s face. The day I watched him study his crooked reflection without flinching, I knew what I wanted. To offer hope to people whose lives are ruined by disfigurement, and bring joy to those who share their pain.
Now I look at you. The dissatisfied downturn of your mouth, the petulant crease in your brow.
“You know,” I say, “I don’t usually accept patients for cosmetic improvements.”
Your eyes widen and I hear a tiny gasp of panic.
“But don’t worry.” I pat your hand. “I’ll make an exception, just this once.”
You relax, and I witness that same twitch of triumph. The one I first saw all those years ago, when you used my lovely, trusting brother as bait. You knew the thug you’d set your sights on wouldn’t tolerate competition, however unlikely. Did you also know he’d bring his boys in to settle it, once and for all? Did you even care?
I tilt your face towards the light and imagine its contours warped and buckled.
So, Rita. Do I love my job more than I hate you?
Yes, of course. But I think you owe me a little fun.
I hold out my hand for a syringe. You look directly into my eyes and I sense a connection. You stiffen, but it’s too late.
“I’m afraid this is going to hurt,” I say.