Under the Knife

By Hillary Lyon

“You know, darling, not everyone is as fortunate as I am,” here the old woman paused to massage citrus-scented serum into the crepey flesh of her throat. She tilted her head to admire her own jawline. Her much younger assistant, Mandy, rolled her eyes. Gazing in her dressing table mirror, the old woman caught Mandy’s eye roll and scoffed. “I mean, most people my age must go under the knife to achieve this!” She raised her arms and her hands circled and fluttered about her face for emphasis. Mandy knew—as Ms. Calder had told her many times—an actor’s face was their fortune. Unless they were a character actor, then it didn’t matter. Ms. Calder had been an acclaimed thespian and noted beauty in her day; once upon a time, the camera was her most ardent lover.

“Yes, Ms. Calder,” Mandy mumbled. Elite folks didn’t go under the knife for vanity surgery anymore, she wanted to point out. They indulged in gene therapies, instead. Très chère, but less traumatic to the body, and provided much faster, longer lasting results. Unable to afford such luxuries, average folk resorted to applying filters to their public images. But Mandy knew better than to correct Ms. Calder. She unconsciously touched the one-inch scar on her otherwise smooth forehead—a memento from the time she tried to educate Ms. Calder on how things worked in the modern world. If she didn’t badly need the income from this job, Mandy would’ve left a long time ago.

“And I don’t need tacky filters for my photographs!” Ms. Calder said, as if reading Mandy’s mind.  She rose majestically from her dressing table, turned and looked down her nose at her assistant. “My beauty is natural—one has to be born with it.”

“I’ve read filters are accepted as the ‘new make-up,’ especially for those who can’t afford—or don’t trust—gene therapy.” As soon as the words left her mouth, Mandy knew she should’ve kept quiet. She took two steps back from Ms. Calder. Mandy remembered the last time Ms. Calder was displeased with her voicing her opinion; her bottom lip was still a tad swollen. After that incident,  Mandy decided to carry a small, but shockingly sharp knife in her smock’s pocket. Just in case.

“New make-up?” Ms. Calder squinted at Mandy. “You mean, ‘no make-up.’ Who wants to live in a world with no make-up?” She planted her veiny fists on her sharp hip bones. “It would be a world filled with ugly people!”

“It would be a world without needlessly cruel animal testing,” Mandy replied under her breath. She crossed her arms, bracing for the blow to come. “Most people, now days, live their lives virtually—everything is streaming online.” She took two more steps away from Ms. Calder.   “With the click of a button, you can become as young as you like, change your hair style and eye color, sculpt your cheekbones and chin and lips into whatever shape—”

“It’s all so absurd! So fake!” The color rose in Ms. Calder’s pale, deeply creased powdered face. Fake? Mandy wondered. This, from a person who’s made a lucrative life-long career out of speaking other people’s words, while playing dress-up. Mandy moved to the bedroom door. “Most filters are free, though you do have to pay for the premium collections.” Mandy stepped backwards through the doorway and on her way out, threw one last morsel of red meat at her boss: “You could act again—and get the juicy roles, not be typecast as the ancient dowager, or the demented spinster.” Mandy knew to play to Ms. Calder’s vanity if she wanted to keep her job. “And that was what, more than five years ago? You deserve better.”

Ms. Calder sat back down at her dressing table. She grabbed a hand-painted silk fan and began waving it frantically before her scowling face. But she didn’t throw it at Mandy, as expected; instead, she considered her assistant’s words.

Emboldened, Mandy stepped back into the room and continued. “Think about it: You could release video recordings to your fans—for a subscription fee!” Mandy was one a roll, lost in her schemes. “You have so many people out there who still love you! They’d gladly pay for access unavailable to the general public.” Ms. Calder actually nodded in agreement, never taking her eyes off her own reflection.

“And moreover, you could send publicity packages to the gossips sites,” Mandy’s eyes attained a bright, dreamy cast. “The whole world would be reminded of your stature as a great beauty.” Mandy dared to step nearer to Ms. Calder. “You could easily achieve all of this—with the use of filters.” She moved up behind Ms. Calder. “I have the know-how. I will help.”

Mandy pulled out her phone. “I have several apps already installed.” She moved in closer to Ms. Calder. “May I take a pic of you—to use as a sample?”

“Well,” Ms. Calder hesitated; her entire career she’d had control over her image, never allowing fans to take unauthorized photos. Those who did were sued into oblivion. But this was a whole new world, she supposed. She nodded her assent.

“I’ll delete the photo afterward,” Mandy reassured. “If that’s what you want.” Ms. Calder turned and struck a pose. Mandy took the shot.

Minutes later, after much finger tapping manipulation of her phone’s screen, Mandy handed the device to Ms. Calder. The old woman smiled for the first time since Mandy began her employment. “Oh, yes,” Ms. Calder breathed between her yellowed teeth, admiring her youthful image on the little screen in her hand. “No need for deletion, this—this is perfection!”

And I also have a voice-masking app, Mandy stopped herself from adding. Anyone can be you.  Anyone. And now that I have your image stored in my private database –‘anyone’ means even me.

Ms. Calder held the phone like a coveted award to her bony chest. “I’m back!” Ms. Calder’s eyes  widened and sparkled. “Think of the publicity!” She turned back to her dressing table mirror. “The choice roles, guest starring on talk shows, product endorsements, all that money—”

“Yes,” Mandy giggled. “Think of all that adoration,” she said as she stealthily pulled that little knife from her smock’s front pocket. Her eyes met Ms. Calder’s in the mirror. “Think of all that money,” she whispered in Ms. Calder’s ear as she jabbed her little knife into the actor’s papery flesh, then traced a deep, straight crimson line across the old crone’s throat.

Bio: With a Masters in English Lit, Hillary Lyon founded and for 20  years acted as senior editor for the independent poetry publisher,  Subsynchronous Press. Her speculative fiction and crime short stories,  drabbles, and poems have appeared in numerous print and online  publications. She’s also an SFPA Rhysling Award nominated poet. Hillary also creates illustrations for horror/sci-fi, and pulp  fiction sites. She’s the newly appointed Assistant Art Director for Black Petals.

She has published “Tell Me a Story” “On The Menu” and “The Ride” previously with The Yard. She can be found at her website HERE.

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Publishing Editor for The Yard: Crime Blog.

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