Potluck

 

ON RECESS!

BE BACK SOON!

 

A Deep Plane Facelift

 

Roger will never find out. He is currently in Arizona, leading a conference panel on “Restylane and Facial Aging.” He is too busy teaching others how to fill some thin-lipped woman full of hyaluronic acid, how to smooth her wrinkles into uniform flatness.

Sophie checks her makeup in the foyer mirror and grabs her handbag off the smooth white sideboard. Roger gave the credenza to her for their anniversary last year. She spotted it at a flea market out past Snyder. She loved the clean lines and the light wood, so he spent months refinishing it in his workshop, painting the birch an austere white. 

Sophie will go to Elena, the cashier at the farmer's market. She will arrive that afternoon and buy several heads of lettuce, firm when the leaves are balled together but as fragile as tissue when torn apart. Elena's lips sit broad and flat, and Sophie can't imagine them pumped with that poison. They would look as if they had been stuffed and displayed there like some prize trout.

Sophie smothers her cigarette into the ashtray and locks the front door behind her, biting her bottom lip so hard that she can feel the blood pounding beneath her skin. She slides into the car. Her hands barely shake as she shifts into reverse.

                                                         ▪ ▪ ▪

When Sophie met Roger, he wanted to be an architect. She was in high school, a shampoo girl at the Beauty Spot, the only salon on Main Street since 1974. One day he came in to get a trim, and she practically had to wrestle Irene to cut his hair. She usually washed men like dogs, fingers taut and fast, but something about his smooth brow seduced her, made her take her time.

Roger had this easy confidence about him―a friendly well-shaped smile. After work, she folded into his little yellow Trans-Am, and they drove to a hot dog stand. They ate dinner perched on the car's hood. He told her about the blueprints of buildings he kept in his locker, about how he wanted to build his own house some day―the concrete foundation up to the number of joists in its roof―build it so he knew it'd last.

On Roger's thirtieth birthday dinner, he had asked Sophie to get a little plumping, he called it. It was his last midnight shift of surgical residency and he had drunk a little too much red wine.

“Come on. Don't you want to plump your bottom lip―just a little―before the wedding?” 

“You have sauce in your beard,” she said.

                                                         ▪ ▪ ▪

Sophie ashes her cigarette out the window and examines the road in her rear-view mirror. The removal of the trees was what really killed Main Street. It had been green and welcoming up until last year; a lawyer tripped over a tree root outside of the Beauty Spot. He sued, and a week later, the county trucks came and ripped the shady oaks from sidewalk, leaving only weeds to crowd underneath the benches and grasp onto the concrete. 

The city had attempted to beautify the street by planting streetlights where the trees once stood. At night, the halogen bulbs shone so bright, it bared downtown Petersburg like a movie set. The farmer's market was the only point of relief. After the Mexicans took it over from the Mennonites, it became this colorful little gem. Orange stucco walls and chunky red-brick tiles stood out on the gray and industrial Main Street. 

In the late spring, the workers would stand outside, lingering to salsa music that blared from a tinny radio. You could hear the echo of the salsa―the almost-mourning cadence veiled by the upbeat drums―from four or five blocks away. When Sophie would make a deposit at Third National's little drive-thru, or get a shampoo at the Beauty Spot, the music would find her―the brass seemed to grab her by the throat. 

With Elena, she will feel hungry; the sex will be exciting. That spring day, she will meet Elena rowing lettuce on a wood-slat table. She will feel passion as the salsa stings around them. She will not take her eyes off Elena's hands. Her fingers are short and thick, and they will move with grace like a pianist's over the vegetables. Pressed against the dusty and crowded floor of the farmer's market, she will wax content, nestled in the lettuce.

Sophie always had these thoughts, that having sex with a woman would be so simple and fluid. Not like having sex with Roger. He kneaded her beasts like they were dough, stuck himself into her not like she was his wife, but a noiseless, faceless other. Something he could use until that final shudder, when he would remove himself to the bathroom. 

Before she first saw Elena, Sophie had never been a Girl Scout. She had always hated walking in the forest or swinging from vine to vine—whatever people did in nature. Sophie felt Elena would change all of that. At once she saw them driving in Elena's old truck: Out past the cul-de-sacs and strip malls, the land tears away like leaves of lettuce—layers of puffy trees and grassy fields, the roads spreading broad like roots beneath them. 

Elena would make her work the fields, the sun beating on the backs of their necks as they dug wide holes and folded soil gently around little shoots. Afterward, they would lay in Elena's truck-bed, pick at their sunburns and drink Spanish wine.

                                                         ▪ ▪ ▪

At cocktail parties, when Roger drank a little too much, he was always first to tell this story. He found that most of his clients were wistful middle-aged women, finally getting to fix a flaw they've seen all their lives. But once, he worked on a young man. He reconstructed that marine's nose after he returned from Iraq. He'd got it blown off by an IED. 

Sophie could tell the story of the marine by heart. Sometimes, when Roger told it, he cried too. Roger would talk about the frenzy before he looked in the mirror and saw his nose straight on his face. How his eyes were dilated and distant. How his hands shook as he raised the mirror to his face. How he wept hot, surprised tears.

One night, Roger and Sophie were eating a nicely chilled gazpacho. The housekeeper made it from the deep orange Kentucky Beefsteak tomatoes and fresh cucumber Sophie had brought home. Roger was reading an article about nasal membranes―preparing for a round-table discussion at the conference in Tuscon―as he sopped grilled bread around his bowl. She could tell he was sick of all the salads, the celery dipped into peanut butter.

“What's with this vegetable kick anyway?” 

“Just trying to be healthier; we both could use it.”

“Every culture has a different idea of beauty,” he said, patting his midsection.

Lately, the housekeeper made lots of vegetable soup and stir fry, and Sophie would tell Roger how to properly grow each one as they sat around the dinner table. The week before, Sophie started bringing home several bags of produce a day, lots of early season tomatoes, rust-colored beets, heirloom carrots and odd, varietal lettuces. They littered the credenza in the foyer until the housekeeper gathered them up and shepherded them into the crisper. 

Elena will know the names of even the most obscure vegetables. Sophie's father had cultivated a collection of heirloom peppers―from the small sweet peppers that grew in pairs, like cherries to the spicy mulato isleno pepper that grew black on the vine. So good pickled, but hot. As a child, she would eat them and the tears would just fall.

Roger just bent his head low over his chilled soup, the tip of his nose disappearing behind another medical book. After his last conference—a weekend in Duluth—she watched Roger nail autographed headshots of minor celebrities to the bulletin board behind his desk, their faces and bodies small-circled in red. He had purchased them from some ex-Hollywood quack who made his money off silicon.

Though the pictures didn't mean anything, she guessed they were his way of telling his customers that they were safe. If a Real Housewife was happy with her ground and flattened nose, or Norah Jones found tabloid fame in her circled breasts, Roger would likewise take care of them.

                                                         ▪ ▪ ▪

Sophie steps out of her car and crushes the cigarette butt beneath her shoe. The store looks empty―probably closed for lunch―and the crappy little radio and chair are locked inside the lobby. Sophie just walks among the bruised produce, still exposed in their bins. New potatoes with black spots. Bleeding radishes, shriveled by the late-spring sun. 

In her fantasy, she comes dressed as a goddess, a white gown draped around her like a toga. Elena is outside, stacking the lettuce. She holds out a leafy green head and their hands touch, tense. Sophie grabs Elena by her waist and then they are lying on a bed of Romaine, as crisp and cool as Sophie's hand firm on her left breast.

But as she drives home from the closed farmer's market, her hair falls from her bun like loose straw. She thinks of the women she knows, the upwardly mobile ladies who see her husband every couple of years, searching for younger-looking genitalia. 

Roger said that one of them came in with a porno magazine once. The woman flipped the magazine to page twelve, a spread featuring an eastern European girl with dirty blonde pigtails and black smudges under her eyes. The woman dropped the magazine on his desk, and asked for that vagina.

Every time she got naked in front of Roger, she always felt that she was just another pair of too-small breasts, another slack and sagging ass. When he penetrated her, it was perfunctory. An unconscious movement, just like how he turned off the lights when he left the room. 

Roger was the only plastic surgeon in the tri-county area that still performed vaginal rejuvenation. He said that he would respect a woman's wishes, but most of his colleagues refused to do it, likening it to the clitoral mutilation still rampant in Africa. 

A few days ago, a woman’s rights group even protested outside of his office with their poster-boards, their bullhorns and well-practiced chants. Sophie just sat in the parking lot and watched them as they marched a tight circuit in front of the lobby doors. She had thought that Elena would join the protesters with her, after they became lovers. They would march in front of Roger's office, waving red signs: Warning. Danger.

 

 

 

Shaun Turner writes in West Virginia, where he is fiction editor for Cheat River Review. His work can or will be found in Cleaver Magazine, Bartleby Snopes, Blue Lyra Review, and Word Riot, among others.