Gwen was at her wits’ end. Mother was going in for a Modification… again.
“Are you absolutely certain you want to do this, Mother? It’s so extreme.”
Candace Chesterwood tossed a stack of silk handkerchiefs and a lavender pomade into her threadbare carpetbag and closed the latches with an authoritative snap. “Doris Wilkes-Barron had the procedure last week. I’m already behind schedule. People will begin to talk.”
“I’ve never felt right about this mad rush to cosmetic surgery. Changing one’s skin as if it were a jacket or scarf. And now that they’ve added genetic manipulation to the mix… it just seems unnatural.”
“Nonsense, Gwendolyn. Ladies of our station must attend to fashion. To allow oneself to become outmoded, behind the times, is to become irrelevant. When people cease to be intrigued by a woman’s appearance, they sense a tacit permission to ignore her words and ideas.”
“I don’t believe that. Powerful ideas will always transcend external form. I mean, consider Stephen Hawking, or Albert Einstein, or even Joseph Merrick, the Elephant Man, for heaven’s sake. People were drawn to them because of their intellect.”
“All men, darling. Society holds women to a different standard.”
“Very well, then… how about Marie Curie? Betty Friedan? Queen Victoria?”
“No one ignores a queen, Gwendolyn, even if she looks like the business end of a boxing glove.”
“You’re being foolish, Mother. This is just too much. I went along with the cosmetic peels, the face-lifts, the liposuction, the implants, even the stripes. The magazines are still raving about the stripes, by the way.”
“As well they should. There was a headline just this morning: Jungle Chic — Candace Chesterwood Takes Mods to the Next Level!” Candace sighed, taking a moment with the mirror to adjust the shoulders of her black dress. It set off her tawny, feline skin nicely. “It’s a pity there are so few colors that don’t clash with Tigress. Ah, well, I won’t have that problem much longer.”
“What if it doesn’t take this time? You could have a rejection. You’d be ruined for the rest of your life.”
“Doctor Harrington is the best in the world, dear. I’m in good hands.”
“I hope so, for your sake.” Gwen threw her hands up in surrender. “There’s no turning back once you’ve set sail. If you don’t like the results, it’ll be at least a year before you’re permitted surgery again. Either way, I’ll be waiting for you in the recovery room when you wake up.” She enveloped her mother in a fierce hug. “I love you. I suppose it’s just hard for me to accept my mum changing her face every year. Childhood memories and all that.”
“It’s still the same me inside, dearest,” Candace replied, patting her daughter’s back. “Let’s go.”
Six weeks later, Gwen was quite ready for her mother’s convalescence to end, and Candace was eager to get the bandages off and reveal her new look to the world. Doris Wilkes-Barron had already garnered three favorable reviews in the society pages, and Candace’s only mention had been a snide speculation about whether the diva was falling behind her competition.
Gwen stood by anxiously as the doctor slowly unwound the wrappings shrouding Candace’s face. She was steeled against what she knew lay beneath, but as the final few swathes of gauze fell away, she gasped, involuntarily. Doctor Harrington was the best in the world. It was perfect… absolutely perfect.
Candace Chesterwood’s head, from the tips of her pointy ears, to the jowls wobbling pendulously below her tusk-jawed snout, was that of a large pig. “Give me a mirror, give me a mirror!” she squealed.
The doctor’s assistant brought a small hand mirror. Candace stared at the pink, fleshy image in silence for a few moments, eyes darting back and forth like tiny blue beads behind slitted eyelids. Her jaw quivered, releasing a thin stream of saliva onto her hospital gown, and she sniffed twice with a wet, snorting sound before exploding into a piercing wail.
Gwen rushed to her mother’s side. “It’s not so bad, really.” Her mind spun wildly, desperately trying to formulate some words of comfort. “Frankly, I think it’s a much better job than they did on Mrs. Wilkes-Barron. Much more true-to-life.”
“No, you don’t understand,” Candace moaned, “I’m pink. Pink!”
“What does the color matter? I think it’s a… fine… pig’s face.”
“It was supposed to be black. Black goes with everything. Pink is absolutely last year. It’s the kiss of death. The snout’s all wrong as well, and the ears…” Candace turned her attention to the doctor. “You idiot!” she snarled, “You’ve ruined me! I specifically told you I wanted to be a Hampshire! You made me a Yorkshire! I can’t show my face in public like this… I can’t… I can’t…”
She dissolved into grunting sobs.
“It’ll be all right,” Gwen crooned as she stroked her mother’s bristly face. “You’ll make it work. You’re still Candace Chesterwood after all… my brilliant, lovely mother.”
Fred Warren lives in the merry old land of Kansas with his lovely wife, three above-average kids, and two eccentric dogs. He recently retired from the Air Force and now has a fun but somewhat less exciting job flying computer-simulated airplanes for the Army. Fred’s stories have also appeared in Postcards From, A Fly in Amber, Sand: A Journal of Strange Tales, Residential Aliens and Sorcerous Signals.