by Tim Vowles
I hate being woken up especially when I’ve been in a deep sleep. Every day it seems the same shuffling and fretting all night. Then just when sleep is at its most distant from the real world, the alarm shatters my sleep and drags my consciousness back at high speed to another dreary day. I feel so tired as I dress. The water from the tap as I clean my teeth makes me jump from its cold bite. I sit at my bedroom mirror, a twenty four year old woman. The reflection seems nearer forty. I heave a deep sigh. There is a mass of make-up and perfume surrounding me. Where do I start? Shall I use the pastes and paints to hide or to advertise? My spirit wants to hide; after all what’s the point? The men never stay. Not when they see the forty year old me. Am I really that bad, is it me or them? It must be them. I’ll prove it. I’ll put on my longest lashes, the brightest lips, all my nails, hands and toes, re-varnished. Hair re-styled, a new look, something with flair. When it’s all done my reflection looked great but the time I had spent made me late for the train. It would have been all right if all of those silly people had gotten out of the way. Sometimes I think they are doing it deliberately just to spoil my day. I swear at them and the train and plonk myself down on the nearest bench and scowl. A young man looks at me and quickly looks away when I see him. That’s right don’t look at the madwoman. So much for the new look, he probably only likes women with big boobs. He looks quite nice; if he looks back I will smile at him but he doesn’t look back, he is being distracted by something. What is it that he is so interested in? Then I see her coming along the platform towards us. She is only an ordinary looking girl, nice but nothing special yet there is something about her that makes us both stare. Whatever it is he likes it’s not boobs, they’re no bigger than mine. Then what? Her clothes? Her hair? I don’t think so. She just looks; well happy I suppose. It’s only then that I recognise her, its Melanie from the office. She looks different, something has changed in her, what is it? The man smiles at her as she reaches me. She politely smiles back.
“Hi Mel,” I say, “Looks like we are both late for work then.”
“Yeah looks like,” Mel says cheerily, “Never mind could be worse eh?”
She sits down on the bench next to me. It’s not make-up.
“Mel,” I say tentatively, “Are you in love or something because you look so happy?”
She beams at me, “No course not.”
“You could tell me you know if you were, I’m not anti-men even if the sods do keep leaving me.”
“No, nothing like that, it’s just a nice day that’s all.”
I look at her thoughtfully, “Pregnant then, you’ve got that pregnant glow.”
Mel laughs, “No nothing, honest.”
“There must be something, ever since you came back off your holiday you’re different somehow, you’re nicer, better.”
Mel shifted on the bench and looked away.
“Oh my God something happened on that holiday didn’t it?"
When she looked at me I knew I was right. “You must tell me please, I won’t tell.”
“No, no there was nothing, let’s talk about something else.”
“Why won’t you tell me? Don’t you trust me?” I could feel the tears starting to form. “Don’t you like me? Nobody likes me anymore, Jamie has left me and no boys will even look at me any more.” I sob and Mel puts her arm round me.
“Of course I like you, it’s not you I just don’t want to talk about it, there’s, well,"….Mel paused, “Scars!”
“Scars? What do you mean scars? Oh my God you went on one of those trips to get a boob job or a tummy tuck or something, where show me? I pulled away so that I could look.
“No, there’s nothing to see, it’s not like that,” said Mel.
“Well what then? Please tell me, I need to do something. I want to have what you have got, whatever it is, please help me.”
Mel looks at me unsure, “I don’t know if it would be right for you,” she said.
“Why not it worked for you didn’t it?”
“Well yes it did, but...”
“But what? Are you happy? Are you glad that you did it? So there are a few scars, so what, I will take that if it works. Please tell me, if I don’t like what you say I don’t have to do it, but at least give me the choice.”
“I can’t,” said Mel, ‘I can’t give you any details, it doesn’t work like that.”
“So you have had something done, what was it, let me see”. I looked her up and down. They must have done a good job it was very subtle.
“Ok, yes” Mel admitted “I did go somewhere “she paused.” I can only give you their number. If they don’t think you’re right they won’t help you, you will have to talk to one of their consultants first”.
“That’s ok, I don’t mind, I haven’t decided what to have done yet anyway.” I searched for a pen in my bag.
“You could go somewhere else” said Mel “somewhere nearer there are lots of places that do cosmetic surgery these days; I could help you find one”.
“Why don’t you want to give me their number? Did something go wrong?“ I asked.
“It’s just; well let’s just say some of their methods are a bit controversial”. Mel stopped talking and looked me straight in the eye. ”It was the Holofarm clinic,” she said.
“The Holofarm clinic! Is’nt that the one the're trying to close down?”
“Yes,” said Mel “It is”
“Oh!” I stopped to think. Mel waited patiently while this sank in.
“Well, you have been there,“ I started, “Would you recommend it to me?”
“No; no, I can't do that ,it was the worst experience of my life but what I will say is that it has totally changed my life for the better, it’s the best thing I ever did.”
She did not seem to be making any sense; maybe Mel is one of those people who don’t like physical pain. That did not worry me. I had my appendix out a few years back. It was not pleasant but the pain was not too bad with the drugs.
“Was it painful?“ I asked.
“I can’t tell you the details its one of their conditions to keep things secret about their methods, here this is their number.” She paused slightly as she passed it over. I thought she was going to take it back. Then she hugged me and said “Good luck”.
Three weeks later I arrived at the Holofarm clinic. It was in the middle of nowhere, a converted farm with the out buildings spread about in a jumbled mess. It did not seem quite right for a medical centre. Once inside, it felt more real. The house was the reception area and it was modern and clean. It could have been the inside of any small hospital yet it felt more homely then my local general. There was nobody at the reception desk or anybody waiting. Just a bell to press. I rang it and waited with my weekend bag. Briefly I wondered if anybody was here I had not seen any cars in the car park and it was so quiet. The taxi driver had left and it felt lonely. I remembered Mel’s words ‘the worst experience of my life’. Maybe I should ring the taxi firm and ask him to come back. Have I still got the number? Then a door opened on my left and made me jump.
“Hello, come this way please,” said a pretty nurse. “Doctor is waiting for you.”
For me? How does she know it is me? She has not asked my name yet. Maybe I am the only patient today. That’s private health care I suppose. She took me down a short corridor that was wide enough for a hospital bed to travel down. Then to an insignificant door. She knocked and went straight in. The room took me by surprise it was wood paneled with leather easy chairs. It looked more like a squire’s library then a consulting room. The man I assumed was the doctor did not get up from his comfy chair. He was relaxed with a cigar in his mouth and a glass of whisky on a table by his side. I tried to size him up, was he being unprofessional or was he a maverick genius who did not give a fig for convention. He indicated a chair opposite him.
“Please sit mademoiselle.” His accent was very strong. I began to panic, what if I can’t understand what he is telling me. Medical jargon is hard to understand at the best of times. “We talk about treatments, what is it you be desiring?”
“I’m not sure yet, I don’t know how much I can afford, or how much you can do in one weekend, may be an enlargement?”
“No! no! you not understand.“ He was becoming animated. “I decide what you have done, I am an artist, what is your reason ,do you want to be like film star, to please husband, to get confidence, you not like your nose because it reminds you of your mother, what is your reason, please tell?”
I was hoping for some photos or something so this threw me for a moment. “I guess I just want people to like me, I suppose.” A wave of sadness overcame me as I remembered the boys that had left me, how my life always went wrong just when I thought it was getting right. The doctor and the nurse, who was standing behind me, looked at each other. While I dried my eyes she went to a draw and pulled out some papers and handed them to me.
“We need you to sign these,“ the doctor said.
“What are they?“ I flicked through them.
“The're consent forms, to say you give permission for me to decide on your treatment, that you will keep our methods secret, and that in the event that anything going wrong that we are not liable for any legal actions against us, they are standard procedure.” They both stared at me expectantly so I signed so I didn’t look anymore like a silly girl. The nurse took the papers away as soon as I had finished.
“Don’t worry,“ she said “You’ve made the right decision.“
“Now” said the doctor take mademoiselle to be prepared, we start right away, no time to lose." The nurse took me to a room near by. There was only one bed in the room, the bed was a proper medical bed like you would get in a hospital only nicer but the room was more like a guest bedroom. I put on a gown. The nurse chatted away to me, putting me at ease. Then she put a needle in my arm while I looked away. I began to feel sleepy. Then I began to panic. Had I made a terrible mistake? I was about to tell the nurse this when darkness overcame me.
It was my hearing that returned first. I could hear the bleep bleep of a heart monitor. My head ached and my mouth was extremely dry. It took me a little while to remember were I was. What has he done to me? I couldn’t tell. The only pain I noticed was in my left leg. I moved my hand and felt my face. No bandages there. I tried to sit up but could not. I was strapped to the bed at the waist. That’s when I screamed and screamed and screamed.My left leg was gone below the knee. I began to panic. I had to get out. I ripped off the blanket. There was a massive bandage were my knee should be and beyond that nothing; only empty bed. I tried wriggling my toes; it felt like they moved but there was nothing there. The nurse came rushing in.
“Ok! Ok! Calm down “she embraced me to stop the panic.
“It’s gone, it’s gone where’s my leg? Oh God what has he done to me?" The doctor had come in and before I realized it he jabbed my arm. Before long I sank again into darkness.
I heard the bleep bleep again. When I opened my eyes the doctor and the nurse were both standing over me. I was too tired to struggle.
“Now stay calm,“ said the doctor,“ or you could do yourself more harm.”
“What happened to me? You butcher look what you have done.”
“Yes, well...” the doctor looked uneasy, “We did have a few complications in your case.”
I began to cry. “I'll never be able to dance again, you’ve ruined my life,“ I shouted. “I demand you get me to an NHS hospital immediately."
“Yes, well it’s not that easy and frankly pointless.” The doctor and nurse shared a knowing glance.
“What do you mean? What is going on?“ The doctor went to speak but the nurse got in first.
“The complication was not our fault it’s something you already had, you probable did not even realize you had it”. She stopped talking and looked sympathetically into my eyes. “It’s going to kill you “
“I don’t believe you, you're lying to me, you're trying to get my money or something .“ I looked at my missing leg - it was still gone.”
"How long do I have?“ I asked with a shaky voice
“Weeks, only weeks,“ said the doctor. “Now try to get some rest."
I was going to die. I had not yet lived. I had not seen the wonders of the world or given birth. I had not experienced true love or fulfilled any of my dreams and now it was all too late. What can you do with only a few weeks left? Nothing, probably only lie in this damn bed. If I could only have another chance, please God, I will never complain again, I will do anything please. Then I sobbed and sobbed till I had no tears left. I just lay in the bed, numb. I began to dream of all the things I could have done. The things I should have done but didn’t. The nurse came in and smiled weakly at me.
”Nurse.“ I asked “Do you think I would be well enough to do one more trip out, I’ve always wanted to ride on one of those giant rollercoasters, I was always too scared or too busy before.” She smiled at me. This time with real enthusiasm.
“I think that could be possible,“ she said. She went to a cupboard and got out my clothes and passed them to me. She began to unstrapp my waist where it was still fixed to the bed.
”I'll just get these bandages off and you can be on your way.” She began fiddling around my knee then to my surprise she pulled my leg up and my foot came into view. It had been hidden in a hole in the bed. It had been there all the time.
“What the hell is this place? “I screamed. I grabbed my clothes and ran out still undressed. I found the nearest fire escape and managed to get away.
The next day when I woke up in my own bed I was still tired but I did not care. The water was still cold in the tap but it made me feel alive when I brushed my teeth. I did not bother with make up; it was too nice a day to waste messing about indoors. I left early and just walked the streets watching the people and looking at the flowers in the gardens. It felt good to be alive. I was late for the train. Melanie was on the station.
“Morning it’s a lovely day isn’t it,“ I said.
“Yes it is,“ she said smiling back at me. “Don’t look now but that man over there is looking at you, I think he likes you.” I looked, it was the same man as before though he obviously did not recognise me.
I smiled back.
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