Lucy clawed out of her nightmare, the images of her face melting and dripping off her skull like a burning candle in a Chianti bottle still fresh in her mind. She touched the bandages that swaddled her face — nose, chin, mouth, eyes, all still there, all solid, none melting.
Footsteps approached the door. Shit, Mother’s here. She struggled out of the snarled hospital sheets and followed the sound of high heels clicking toward her. A chair dragged across the floor screeched in indignation.
“For God’s sake get out of that disgusting bed. You should sit up like a lady for that doctor whoever-he-is of yours.”
Lucy jerked away from the icy hand on her shoulder and groped her own way onto the chair.
“I stopped by your apartment yesterday and noticed you have another picture of that dead movie star on your wall. Ridiculous fixation. It will be miracle enough if your mystery doctor makes your nose look less like a cantaloupe.”
Screw you, mommy dearest. And what the hell were you doing nosing around my apartment?
“Here’s your robe. A woman must strive to look her best, no matter her deficiencies. Give me your arm.”
Lucy resisted the urge to slap her mother’s hand away.
The door whooshed open and Lucy felt him standing in front of her. His hand touched her shoulder.
“Good morning, Lucy. Did you get some sleep?”
“Doctor, I am not at all pleased with the level of professionalism exhibited in this so-called spa clinic of yours.”
The hand lifted off Lucy’s shoulder. “I’ll be right back,” he whispered. “Come along, Mrs. Jensen. I’ll escort you to the cafeteria. We can discuss all this later. Lucy must be kept calm.”
“I paid for every gold thread you stitched, and I have no intention…”
The closing door muffled the harangue.
Focused on the doctor’s return, Lucy forgot to concentrate on keeping her fears corralled and they stampeded through her. What if I look like those botched surgery pictures on the Internet? Why didn’t I just make friends with my face and tell my mother to go to hell? Why couldn’t I just …
The door whooshed open with the doctor’s return. “Now let the games begin.”
Lucy tried to smile. “Did you have to tie her down?”
He laughed. “No, but I’ve assigned a robust young orderly to guard the door, just in case. Now try to relax. I see you brought a picture of Ms. Bacall with you.”
“My favorite one.”
“An excellent choice. I’ve always thought this was her best age — mature, seasoned and just as exquisite as when she was nineteen. And you, my dear, have the same phenomenal bone structure she had. The stunning woman your bones were meant to be waits for us under those bandages.”
The snap of the latex gloves and the rattle of instruments on the metal tray startled her and the fear surged back. She grabbed the arms of the chair and squeezed until her knuckles ached.
“Lucy, you must try to be calm. There’s nothing to worry about, I promise you.”
She drew deep, ragged breaths and forced her hands to loosen their grip. You will be beautiful. You are beautiful. You are beautiful. You are …
“That a girl.”
The metal chair felt like cold marble, the scissors like icicles.
The gauze unwound clockwise, peeling the bandages away like dead skin from a sun burn. Round and around and around it goes/And where it stops nobody knows.
Her mouth broke through first, then her nose. She kept her eyes tightly shut against the stabbing light.
He tilted her face up, then side to side, touched a cheek then the side of her nose then her lips. “Yes. Oh, yes,” he mumbled. He snapped off his gloves and gathered both her hands in his. Lifting her to her feet, he whispered, “Open your eyes, Lucy. We did it. You’re perfect, absolutely perfect. The others were close but you, Ms. Lucille Jensen, are my masterpiece.”
He gave her a courtly bow then placed an envelope in her hand. “Here’s the rest of the package: a ticket to Maui and a generous check, compliments of Lauren Bacall, shall we say? Don’t worry. I buried the charges under so many medical codes your mother will never find them.” He laughed and flourished a small mirror.
Lucy’s hand trembled as she lifted the mirror to her face. She touched the tip of her nose, then her chin, then her eyes. When she touched her lips, they widened into a sensuous smile.
He grinned. “Told you, didn’t I?” He stepped back. “Now as much as I’d love to stay and chat with your darling mother, I must dash to the airport. Another set of magnificent bones awaits me, I believe in Memphis this time.” Laughing, he hurried toward the door then turned back to see Lucy standing by the window, sunlight illuminating the exotic planes of her face. He stood mesmerized for several minutes. “My Mona Lisa.”
Her smile shimmered. “Thank you, Doctor Cameron.”
He cleared his throat. “You’re welcome, Lucy.” He stepped into the hall. “Shall I send in the dragon?”
Her laughter was full and rich. “I’m ready.”
Lucy kept her back turned when her mother barged into the room.
“I’ll have that sonofabitch’s license …”
Lucy pivoted slowly around, her shoulders straight, chin high, the mirror a scepter.
“You know how to whistle, don’t you, Mother?”
“Oh my God, you’re HER.”
Lucy held her mother’s eyes for several long moments. “Just put your lips together —- and blow,” she said and turned back to the sunlight.