No wonder all her friends were suspicious. She’d gone to New Mexico, of all places. But, she tried to explain, it was to visit my grandmother, who is very elderly. It was an ear-nose-throat clinic I checked into. You thought tonsillitis was bad as a kid, she said, try adult-onset tonsillitis, that’s a whole other world altogether: four days of not being able to swallow. That’s when I let a doctor look, and this being the States of course, faster than you could say “hospital” I was on a gurney wide as a boat. Have you ever had an encounter with private medical care? A whole other world altogether!
But then again, this happened as well.
Rosie had woken without tonsils, yes, but also with a new nose. All she could remember about the surgery was this moustache, the moustache on — oh, what’s it called, the doctor who gives you the gas? — the moustache was tri-coloured, grey-red-blond, and in retrospect she wondered what kind of hypocrite gets involved in fixing other people’s faces when he himself looks like that.
Rosie, who couldn’t be firm or threatening in person, let alone over a video chat, told the surgeon she’d settle out of court on two conditions: one, getting her nose reversed, and two, airfare and recompense for the time she’d need off work, plus meals. The doctor laughed, actually laughed, and told her, In surgery school we focus on slippers, not boots; I haven’t got the first idea how to put your face back. Then he said, If you’d like to pursue this, how about you pay your legal team and I pay mine? He made no further statement.
Rosie learned to change the packing without looking, and kept it on even though her nose was long past due. She’d sooner meet the world as a gauze clown than with whatever was under there. She tried to compensate for the covered nose by dressing a bit smart — the trim jacket, the shoes that had to be kept dry. She tried to look convincing, even though nobody who heard her story was fully convinced. I went to America and tripped and fell on a plastic surgeon. As likely as that is.
One plastic surgery story always led to another. Some full of magnanimity, some full of scorn:
“You know, in Iran it’s become a bit of a status thing. Girls leave the tape on their faces much longer than strictly necessary to let the world know they’ve got that kind of money.”
Or, “Did you hear about the faulty European implants? Five weeks after the fix, they turn hard. Breast bricks!”
Or, “This one New York girl, her mother made her get a facelift at sixteen. This girl is all grown up now, but it still makes her so sad, she cries in the middle of her slam poem.”
Rosie alerted the local media about her situation, and both stations sent their human-interest guys around. Rick came from the CBC with just his cellphone and said, I’d like to do the interview with both of us in the frame. I just need to whip up a quick tripod. Do you by any chance have an empty tissue box?
In the second interview, Rosie felt a bit stilted. Her pacing was definitely phony when she pointed to the heavy gauze on her face and said, I’m looking for the gifted surgeon who can reverse this.
She liked her interviews a little less each time she watched them on the news websites, and less again when she realized there was a comments section. She watched the tail of the comments grow through “liar, liar” and “sense of entitlement” until it finally descended into “free this” and “free that” and finally Vladimir Putin without his shirt. At that point, comments closed. Maybe it’s like a bot or something, Rosie figured. It automatically detects Vladimir Putin without his shirt and wham, comments are closed.
No surgeons got in touch, so Rosie tried crowdfunding. Bring back Rosie’s natural nose! was the name of her campaign, and the goal was ten thousand dollars. Rosie made a cardboard tripod like the CBC guy had done, and gave her promo video twenty takes until the lines she’d scripted and the gestures she’d planned were sloshing around in her head, and she could not repeat it all again. Even the best take, the eleventh, wasn’t really there. Rosie got all the words, but couldn’t do anything about her expression, the eyes like pebbles in a well.
Her luck was out, anyway: a few hours after she launched her campaign, a guy started a hilarious campaign for his potato salad. A day after, there was a young mum who was going blind. She was going blind because of an inheritable mitochondrial disorder, which meant her three kids would also go blind. She wanted money so they could buy Braille books to read each other and get a pack of seeing-eye dogs and fix up the house. Rosie couldn’t hold a candle to it. Her campaign was a flop.
Rosie didn’t think of herself as somebody who was easily bothered, but she could not get over having everybody think she’d been vain enough to change her face. She’d think back to that first swelling of the tonsils in the Albuquerque airport, shining her grandmother’s bulky flashlight down her throat and, later, shining the point light from her key ring down, trying to make her friends see the two white scars.
Rosie gave up trying to dress to offset her nose patch, and went the other way. She chose the unwired bra every morning, and let the colour grow out at the parting of her hair. It might have grown out the whole way too, if boredom hadn’t sent her to her email’s junk folder one night:
Hello and bonjour, the message read. I heard about your misfortune through a colleague. While I am known throughout the French world, for you I suppose I will have to make some introduction. I am the Surgeon Who Puts Things Back, it is my specialization.
The Surgeon Who Puts Things Back provided a link to his website (very professional, though the translation showed in places) and proposed, if she wished, to speak over video.
Rosie was surprised his spoken accent wasn’t French, or wasn’t only French. Polish originally, he explained. I joined the Foreign Legion, and am a French citizen by spilled blood. It was during my tour of service that I developed an eye for the many forms of beauty, and the conviction that the women are always better as they were.
The Surgeon Who Puts Things Back spoke like speaking was a walk in the sun, and he seemed to come to the point by accident. Though my business is thriving, he said, I’d like to attract more customers from the anglophone world; if you’d be willing to feature in a small advertisement, I’d be willing to defray —
Rosie left her job and got on an airplane. She landed in Terminal 1 of Charles de Gaulle and rode a slanted moving sidewalk through the centre of the great optimistic doughnut. Exactly the scale and form of what she felt.
In the waiting room, Rosie looked from client to client. Just like kittens in a box, she thought. Everyone here looks like Christopher Robin. Except that one man who got his chin built. He looks like Rasputin.
All the bungled faces made her curious about her own face. She wasn’t afraid to see it now, knowing it was going to be gone. So she went to la toilette to get a first and final look.
Her skin was parched under the gauze. And there it was: just like Christopher Robin. She covered it again, and thought of a child’s hand waving bye-bye from a train.