BY HARRISON KIM
Copyright is held by the author.
JANINE WENT in for Botox injections, two in the middle of her forehead to wipe out the deepening vertical line between her wide brown eyes. “This won’t hurt but for a minute,” said Dr. Alicia Metodo, and it didn’t.
Janine celebrated by taking her friends Gal and Sandi to Lure Lounge. “I’m so happy,” she laughed, and pointed. “This line is gone.” Gal and Sandi raised their glasses in a toast “to youth and beauty.”
“I’m 36 tomorrow,” said Janine. “This is the best present I could give myself.”
A month later, Janine pulled back the skin behind her jaw to show Gal. “I’m getting a turkey neck,” she said. “When I pull the skin back I look 25.” Then she let the skin go. “See?” she announced. “A double chin.”
“Hardly,” smiled Gal. “I had a facelift last year, and there’s no side effects except my cheeks feel a bit tight.”
“I’ll try it, then.” said Janine. She went for a facelift with Dr. Metodo. This time, a more involved procedure, and it took Janine a week or two to recover. But afterwards, no more faint double chin. “This is even more satisfying than the Botox,” Janine laughed, and bought herself and Sandi a short trip to Seattle, where they shopped for new hats.
“Don’t you think my breasts look too big?” she remarked to Sandi, as she stared at herself in a store mirror while trying on a tan coloured beret.
“Some are large, some are small,” Sandi said. “I got mine reduced a few years ago. They didn’t reduce them enough, though.” Sandi showed Janine the outline of her curves. Janine said the curves looked fine. “But I need some reduction myself. I look so big in these summer blouses.”
This time, Dr. Metodo first gave Janine general anaesthetic. Because she was a redhead, she needed more of it to go under. She contracted a few breathing complications from the procedure. But her realigned breasts turned out very small and compact. “We’ve made them so both the nipples point in the same direction,” said Dr. Metodo. “Just like you ordered.”
Janine showed off her new form to Gal and Sandi. “Wow, they look great,” said Sandi. “This inspires me to go in again.”
Janine nodded. “My self-esteem has really improved. I see guys checking me out. I think I’ll go on a short trip, to celebrate.” She travelled to Mexico and showed off some new bikini tops. But as she walked along a street and checked her image in passing shop windows, she noticed how flabby her belly seemed, and how it bounced. The bikini just didn’t feel good to wear, with that bounce.
Janine vowed to make a tummy tuck appointment as soon as she arrived back home.
Over the next year, she completed the tummy tuck, liposuction, and brachioplasty for her perceived flabby arms. She finished a buttock enhancement “everyone’s doing it,” said Dr. Metodo. Then, nose and eyelid surgery, and a thigh raise. Each time Janine finished a procedure, she felt happy. She threw a party or went to a special place with her friends, though the happiness wore off faster and faster each time. The more she tried to feel as much joy as with the first Botox shots, the quicker sadness returned. She spent way more time at work, trying to divert her mind with occupational activities. She drank frequently in the evenings, too, going to Lure lounge with Gal and others, usually needing them to drive her home.
Her friends became concerned. “You should see somebody,” Gal said. “But not just anyone. A specialist, someone who can look into your heart.”
Gal was very much into heart-based healing. She’d been seeing an aged guru, a wise crone named Dr. Lucille Jackson, over on Spakagut Island.
“I recommend her,” said Gal. “I feel much better after the treatments. She pulls down good energy, and transfers it through her body to mine. She says it’s a difficult procedure for her, but for me It’s such a lift.”
Janine thought about it. She needed some of this positive energy transfer. Every day she looked at herself in the mirror and saw more flaws. It seemed like there’d be no end to cosmetic surgery. She couldn’t afford it, either. Dr. Jackson’s rates were quite reasonable.
She made an appointment with the wise crone, and headed over to Spakagut Island in her little Smart Car. She drove to the door of a tiny brown bread coloured house at the end of a twisty road lined with arbutus trees. The crone was in, a sunken cheeked, tiny lined faced lady with scraggly white hair. “Yes, I may be able to help you, but these energy transfers do wear me out,” she announced, in a rather unexpectedly deep voice.
“Well,” Janine showed the crone her profile. “I feel good in my tummy and breasts and face and thighs, but It is my heart I want to change, because there I’m unhappy.”
The crone laughed, a low chuckle, and reached her hand forward to touch Janine’s wrist. “You must remember we can’t fix the heart. There are things we can alter and things we cannot.”
“I’ll just have to accept what I can’t change,” Janine agreed. “But I want to experience joy again.”
“Live in the moment,” said the crone. She leaned forward, this time putting her thumb and finger partly round Janine’s forearm. “Don’t think of yourself, think of others. Laugh, and the whole world laughs with you.” The crone smiled. Missing a tooth or two, thought Janine, but her lips looked full. Maybe she had Botox treatments. The crone stared into Janine’s eyes. “You are very beautiful and still young,” she said. “I’d give anything to be you.”
“Oh, no,” Janine laughed. “I’m quite broken down. All these surgeries I’ve been having.” She told Dr. Jackson about her body flaws. “I feel stressed all the time.”
“Let me do some special energy therapy on you today.” said the doctor. “You’ll feel much more relaxed.”
Janine let the doctor put her hands just above various parts of her body. She went limp, and let the hand vibrations sink in. When the session was over, she felt like a jellyfish. Flexible. Mellow. She looked at Dr. Jackson. The old lady’s jaw clenched tight and there seemed to be extra lines spilling down the side of her cheeks. “I hope this helps you,” Dr. Jackson said in a low, tight whisper, upon farewell. “You don’t know how lucky you are.”
Janine left the island, loose limbed and laid back. “Lucille said a lot of platitudes,” she commiserated with Sandi later. “But the tone that wise elder spoke in seemed so genuine.” She paused. “The way Dr. Jackson looked into my eyes . . . she seemed to peer right through me.”
Two weeks passed. Janine lay in her bed one morning and stared at the ceiling. The tension and irritability had returned. She wasn’t sleeping well, even with the Melatonin. Tranquilizers didn’t do much either. The drinking made her dizzy, and the marijuana made her lazy. She’d taken a trip to Oregon with Gal and Sandi, and all the while things appeared flat, unexciting. When she regarded herself in the mirror, she viewed a tired, bloated face.
“You’re really touchy these days,” said Sandi, as they drove back from Cannon Beach. “And you seem really sad.”
Janine looked out the window. She felt a tear roll down her cheek. Even her friends noticed now, what she felt inside. “What I need,” thought Janine, “Is a personality restart.”
“Yes, you’re like a caterpillar,” Gal agreed. “Crawling along the ground. What you need to become is a butterfly, your true self. Dr. Jackson says she can help people that way.”
“I’ll give her one last try,” Janine replied, and phoned up the wise elder. “This might sound weird, doctor,” she said. “but is there any way to physically change the soul?”
The crone paused for a long time. “I know you are troubled,” she finally whispered. I can hear it in your voice. You seem to need more than the usual treatment. There is a way, but I rarely recommend it. Too many unexpected side effects.”
“I’m used to side effects,” said Janine. “I need to become a completely different person.”
“I can do it,” said the crone. “Though it’s risky. On the bright side, you are the ideal candidate. In your thirties, full of energy. On the shadow side, I don’t know why you want to do this. You have a gentle, winning personality.” She paused. “You have a good job, and good friends. However, if you want to do it, come soon. I haven’t been feeling well.”
The next day, Janine hopped on the tiny ferry that took her over to Spakagut.
Dr. Jackson had prepared two beds lined with lavender and cosmos flowers. She’d prepared two sage pillows. “Take off all your clothes and lie down here,” she said. “You can cover yourself with the blanket. The body must be completely revealed for this procedure.”
Janine followed the crone’s instructions. For a moment, she stared down at her self, smooth and pink-brown, with tiny cosmetic operation scars here and there. Then she pulled the blanket over.
“Who’s the other bed for?” she asked.
“That’s for me,” said Dr. Jackson. “I will be right with you through this. Right beside you, making sure all goes well.”
The crone hunched beside Janine. “Now, there’s only one thing you should know before we do this,” Dr. Jackson said. “There’s no turning back.”
“I’m fine with that,” Janine smiled. “That was the same for my breast surgery, too. That one made me so happy for a while.”
“I’m sure it did.” Dr. Jackson said. “Change can make us very happy for some time.” She put her face close to Janine’s. Janine saw all the lines, all the blotches, and the seepy, baggy eyes. “You have so much going for you,” said the Doctor. “Are you absolutely sure you want a complete soul lift, with added transplant?”
“Yes,” said Janine. “Never more so than now. I’m so unhappy with my life.”
“I can only do this once every twenty years.” The doctor poured something into a beaker. “And I don’t know if it’ll work this time. But one thing’s for sure, after this, it’s going to be great to be you.” She smiled. “I’m going to lay down in the cot now.” She passed Janine the beaker full of substance.
Janine sat up in her lavender scented bed and gulped down the chalky white mass. “It tastes like chamomile,” she said. “And a bit like blood . . . wow, is that ever odd . . .”
She felt a swirling, and a floating. After a long, dizzy time, it seemed like her body lifted, yet when she looked down, she saw her physical self lying unconscious below her. She floated to one side and perceived the old doctor’s body in the next bed, pale and stiff. Then out of the senior figure’s midsection twirled a grey black cloud of vapour, ash flecks rising within it. Tiny red sparks swarmed around those flecks, moving every which way. The cloud formed into a circle, with a foggy hole in the centre, and enveloped Janine. She knew she had to let go, as she felt her spirit dissipate, sucked into the gap within that cloud ring. “Yes, let me in,” she called out. “I want to change.”
Stars and flashes flew in front of her vision. She heard a voice laughing, it sounded like her own. Then it felt like falling and falling on beds of feather, over and over again.
She woke up with a start, bent her knees, stuff and achy under the blanket. She opened her eyes. Everything blurry. She wiped away some liquid, which felt kind of like wax, or gum.
She tried to rise up, didn’t have the strength. She looked down at her chest. Everything seemed small, shrunken. Not like before. She lay there awhile, as her vision cleared.
“How are you?” A voice that sounded very much like her own came from the other side of the room. Janine couldn’t see that far yet. She smelled sage, and remembered her pillow was filled with it.
“Everything hurts,” Janine said. She lifted up one hand, bought it close to her face, witnessed speckles of black, puffy blue-black veins and a jagged edged liver spot. “O my god. My skin is so old!” Her voice sounded low, raspy and deep. “Where’s Dr. Jackson?”
“She’s right with you,” said the voice that sounded exactly like Janine. “The transfer was a complete success, with, of course, the usual side effects.”
“What are these side effects again?” Janine asked. “Why is my hand so wrinkled?”
The voice laughed, but not unkindly. “You’ll find out soon enough. It’s all part of the exchange.”
Janine pushed the blanket back. The scent of lavender wafted up.
She viewed grey, white crinkled skin all down to shrunken tiny breasts. She let out a cry and smelled her breath, musty and rotten. She put her hands to her head and pulled down a lock of thin white hair. “What’s happened to me?”
“The change you said you wanted,” said the voice, sounding closer. Janine turned her head, saw the black hair and the tight face, the brown eyes and perfect teeth of her own form. But the form wasn’t her any more. “It was a reasonable switch,” said the voice. “With few complications.”
“It was supposed to be a personality change!” Janine croaked, her throat dry and her voice weak.
“Yes,” said Dr. Jackson, in her new Janine body. “I’m in your human shell, you’re in mine. Your body’s personality has completely changed. That’s what you said you wanted.”
The doctor held a small mirror to her new face. “Oh, my, I’m going to attract some interesting guys.” She threw off her green blanket and flexed her arms. “And it’s back to mountain biking again.” She looked down. “Wow, feel those muscles!”
Janine sat up on her elbows. Then she collapsed back on the bed. Tears filled her eyes, and it hurt to rub them away.
Dr. Jackson’s personality continued. “I can only change forms every twenty years, and you seemed to want so much to escape yourself. You were the ideal candidate. Thirty-ish, healthy, beautiful. Yet so unhappy. All those face lifts and other changes didn’t give you joy. So why not a complete metamorphosis?” She sighed. “I feel bad about your side effects. But they suit me.”
“How will I ever feel joy now?” Janine felt more sticky gummy tears down her grey, sunken cheeks.
“Well, since you’re in the old Dr. Jackson body, you can continue my practice . . . I have many needy clients, and you’ll own my property and this beautiful place on the island. I’ve got at least half a million in investments. It’ll all be yours.”
“But I don’t want that,” cried Janine. “I want to be in myself again!”
Dr. Jackson was already putting on Janine’s clothes. She felt in her jeans pocket for the smart car keys. “It’ll be rather tough economically for me,” she said. “But I’m sure I can establish a new energy transfer practice, over time, back in the city.”
She put her hand on Janine’s thin arm. “You’ll be alright. It’s a matter of adapting.” She squeezed the arm. “Goodbye for now. Just call if you have any questions. You’ve got my number.”
The evening sun went down behind the arbutus trees. After a few hours, the woman who was Janine hobbled outside, took a long stick from beside the brown bread coloured porch, and carefully tapped her way down to the ocean. Sitting there, in the growing night and listening to the waves, she found a rhythm to console her.
Back in the city, Gal and Sandi found Janine to be truly content. “You had some happy times before, but we’ve never known you so laid back and satisfied,” said Sandi. “Such a big smile on your face! That Doctor Jackson must be a miracle worker.”
“I see the world in a new way now, with this great body,” Janine grinned. “I feel perfect. Tomorrow I’m going mountain biking up Mount Ellsworth. Do you want to join me? I understand there’s going to be some cute guys out riding.”