From the author: A plastic surgeon is obsessed with a movie star.
Nose bone scissors excite me. The sound they make; that wet, raw sound when they snip through cartilage is to die for. As is the sound of a scalpel penetrating an abdomen, or a needle puncturing healthy pink skin. Lucky me, I do these things for a living.
I flick through this month’s copy of Vanity Fair. The models pimping perfume, handbags, and lipstick; all look flawless and fabulous. Perfect skin, perfect cheekbones, perfect lips. Features like these are usually unattainable to the normal person. Normal people are born with flaws – birthmarks, roman noses, crooked teeth, deformities, disfigurements. Normal people are ugly. The world is full of them. Vermin. Mutations of the ethereal beings we are supposed to be. God created man in his own image. There definitely were a few mistakes made along the way.
However, there are a handful, a clutch, a smattering of angelic beings who glide through life with grace and poise. They carry the light. They glimmer like the stars in the sky. This is Hollywood. They are the perfect people, above all others. They rule over all of us and are rightly worshipped. They adorn walls all over the world, from the ethereal beauty of Rita Hayworth, to the radiance of Anne Hathaway.
I glance at my designer watch. It is an Aquaswiss Trax watch, gold-plated with rose colouring on stainless steel. It retails at $1600. It always captures my attention. It was a gift from one of my fabulously wealthy clients, after I fixed up her cocaine ravaged filtrum (a pretty common occurrence in this town). A nip here, a tuck there and she was back to being radiant. So for that and the fact that I gave her a labiaplasty for free, I got this gift.
The watch was a payoff for my discretion. They all come here, the deities of the silver screen. She came to me because the studio knew I would keep my mouth shut, She came to me because they told her I was the best, she came to me because I have the hands that can fix anything.
That’s why he is coming, because I am a healer. I rectify Mother Nature’s mistakes. I am the elixir of eternal youth. In this disgusting world of human labels, I am referred to as a plastic surgeon. That diseased and immoral phrase makes me gag. The word “plastic” derives from the Greek plastikos meaning to mould or to shape, but most people think it is to do with the synthetic polymer known as plastic. How stupid they can be, do they not know anything? Those ugly, dull masses, doping themselves on a diet of fast food and consumerism, wallow in ignorance and idiocy… but I digress.
John Foster is coming to see me today. The most sought after and highest paid actor in the world has an appointment to see me. This is who I am waiting on now, but he is running late. I do not like to be kept waiting.
I get up to wash my hands for what feels like the fifteenth time in the last hour. I check my chart and see that it is in fact the eighteenth time. I dry my hands off, pick up my marker and place another stroke on the polymer board. I turn to the mirror and force myself to look at my face. I want to keep my eyes screwed shut, but I have to check to make sure I look good enough for John. I open one eye slowly. The light spills in and there before me is my wretched face.
My face used to be normal once upon a time, unremarkable even. Normal is never enough, not in this town, so I had a colleague of mine apply our craft to my person. At first the results were markedly better. A rhinoplasty had taken care of my roman nose, it had been chiselled and filed down, becoming straight and proud. Otoplasty had reshaped my ears from what were the lugs of a boxer to what were now the auditory filigrees of a cherub. Chin and cheek augmentations had made me somewhat handsome. But somewhat handsome wasn’t enough. I wanted more. So I had more.
And more. Until eventually I resembled a punchbag.
I look like a balloon animal, overblown and swollen.
But still they come.
I arrange my instruments carefully. I clean and polish their blades before carefully folding tissue paper around them and place them on a bed of cotton wool. I close their drawers, locking them, protecting them from the elements.
John Foster glides into my office 45 minutes late looking like he just strolled off Copacabana beach, hair wild and sun kissed. He says hello. I tell him to sit down.
We talk for a while about the new movie he’s working on. It’s shooting in Barbados for five weeks before the whole production crew moves to London to shoot the interiors in some god-awful studio where they usually shoot implausible spy movies. I pretend to listen; all the while I am agog. His skin is perfect. The proportions of his features are geometrically precise. He is a Greek god in boat shoes. I am rapt, in awe, worshipful.
He tells me about some laughter lines that have appeared of late. Asks me what I can do for him. Anything, I reply. He asks me to take a closer look.
I am breathless. I fumble with my latex gloves, tearing the first pair while my hands shake like two epileptic spiders. The gloves aren’t for hygiene’s sake; they are to protect his skin, and what wonderful skin it is upon closer inspection. His epidermis is flawless. The laughter lines are almost non-existent, but it is his will, so it will be done. His pigmentation is dark bronze. It has no pockmarks, no acne scars. It is like he was wrapped in silk and powdered in cocoa. His eyes glimmer like jewels. He stares up at me, piercing me to my soul. His scent fills my nostrils and floods my brain. My heart beats faster and faster until I can’t have him look at me anymore. I turn away before he can see my distress.
Oh yes, I can take care of those laughter lines no problem, I tell him. Come back tomorrow at 9am, I tell him. He will do as I say, because I am the elixir, the fountain, the source.
Will that young piece of meat be working the front desk tomorrow too? He asks nonchalantly, tossing the query out like dirty dishwater.
The phrase galls me. “Piece of meat.” I take it he is referring to Bianca, my receptionist, a thing of beauty and innocence and love. The derogatory and off-the-cuff way he threw out the comment is unbefitting of a star. Perhaps he is not so perfect after all? Perhaps the life of a star rots his insides the way a worm infiltrates an apple? Drugs, sex, booze, gambling. These are the ailments of the weak willed. Perhaps stars too can be weak, despite what we think of them?
What piece of meat? I ask him.
He smiles his easy smile and guffaws. He turns and leaves. I watch him go. I wash my hands.
On my way home, I stop in at a hardware store. As I wander the aisles, I think of John Foster. Perfect on the outside, flawed on the inside. I am the exact opposite of him, his Yang, the Omega to his Alpha. A real Star should be perfect inside and out. I pass the knife section and find a suitable boning knife with a sturdy, yet flexible blade. I wander on until I find the section with the zippers.
The one I choose is made from brass, manufactured for heavy duty winter coats. Its weight feels good in my hand. I take it and the boning knife, which I discover was on special, to the counter. I chat pleasantly with the young man serving me, a student no doubt, while his supervisor glares at us like an irate chimp from the shady corner he has secluded himself in. I pay in cash and leave.
I enter my sterile apartment. It is spacious yet minimalist and in it hangs copies of paintings by Van Gogh and Rembrandt and Picasso. I strip naked and hang my Tom Ford suit carefully beside my Ralph Laurent overcoat, and I place my shirt, also by Ralph Laurent, in the laundry basket.
I step into my gleaming shower cubicle and sluice away the days dirt and detriment. I take a hard bristled brush and scrub at my face. I scrub so hard it hurts.
I floss and stare at my pink and red reflection in the mirror. I am a mutation. I am grotesque. I am an animal, not a man. A gargoyle. I punch the mirror, hard. It cracks but does not shatter. I wrap my hand in a towel and head to the medicine cabinet before realising I am hungry.
The fridge is empty. A jar of mustard and a tub of butter huddle together on the top shelf. Both of them are past their sell-by date.
I wander into my vacuous lounge room and close the curtains. The place smells of furniture polish and disinfectant. I kneel before the shrine of the masses. I turn on the box of light and the DVD player plays automatically. John Foster walks into frame and berates his Police Captain, who is interfering with his investigation, something to do with rules and regulations, but John doesn’t care. He just wants his man.
As do I.
A close up of Foster’s face as he glares at his captain played by a plastic looking Mickey Rourke. Foster sneers. That is his trademark. His sneer is a blend of Brando, a sliver of Di Caprio and a dash of Dean. He is classically handsome. That face, that body, that skin.
That night I dream I am walking in a field of butterflies and moths. They surround me, singing to me. The flap of their wings caress me. They envelop me and then I am a butterfly. With a flap of my wings I lift off from the ground and soar amongst the clouds. I can almost touch the sky. I wonder if I can live there, amongst the stars?
I rise at dawn and silence the alarm before it can begin its infernal rooster screech. I shower and put on my Tom Ford suit and an identical Ralph Laurent shirt and slick my black hair back. I notice some specks of grey amidst the black but these things won’t matter much after today.
I arrive at my office thirty minutes earlier than usual. I call Bianca and tell her not to come in today. I tell her to take the day off, go shopping. I’ll see you tomorrow, she chimes, but I’m not listening. I am focussed on the task ahead. She is still talking as I place the receiver down on the hook.
I clean and sterilise my instruments. I decide which ones I will need. On a sterile towel I place:
Biopsy hooks (for show more than anything else),
Several knife guides and retractors,
Skin Hooks and elevators and retractors,
Suture scissors and swivel knives,
Tissue twist hooks,
and finally, some swabs.
I arrange them in order of size for shock value. I sit and wait for John Foster’s arrival. I read Vanity Fair again. This time I can see the creep of death behind the pale veneers of the models. They no longer glow with luminescence. They look pallid and sickly. I throw the magazine in the bin then decide to burn it. I drop a match into the metal waste-basket and watch it take flame. Fire purifies like nothing else on Earth.
He is an hour late this time. He has kept me waiting. I am not happy. I don’t like people who play games; it is another indication of his unworthiness. The right to wear that perfect face and have that perfect smile should be reserved for the worthy.
I mention this to him. He laughs and pats me on the shoulder and tells me to take it easy. The mask slips. John Foster glances at my instruments, arranged, gleaming and perfect. He hesitates a moment and the mask slips again. This time it is I who reassures him.
Everything will be fine.
I tell him to get changed into a gown. He dismisses his assistant, who I hadn’t even noticed was there (was she there yesterday?) He tells her to call him later, when the procedure is finished. She can drive him home.
I watch him change. Sunlight spills in through the window and illuminates him like an angel. There, bathed in purity, he is the most perfect sight. It almost burns away the memory of his rotten core. For a second I hesitate, I almost reconsider.
He catches me staring and calls me a faggot. He tells me he doesn’t like faggots and that he’s leaving. He won’t have a faggot doctor touch him.
I see it then. There is something beneath him, putrid and worm-ridden. As he dresses, cursing me, I take a syringe and fill it with anaesthetic. He has begun to put his shirt back on and makes to call out to his assistant.
John Foster screams as the syringe enters his neck, just below the lower left mandible. He is not heroic. He is not brave. The sneer is gone. He is a false idol.
He lies on my operating table.
The table light is intense and makes short work of the make-up he is wearing, which is now readily visible. I don’t mind. Infection is not a concern now, so I don’t bother with sterilising my hands, only pausing to pull on some latex gloves. The snapping of the wrist elastic causes little clouds of talc to billow outwards, lending the air a smoky quality. It is like a movie now. We are in the silver screen.
The skin of John’s abdomen makes a popping sound as the scalpel punctures its surface. I pull it downwards from his chest to his navel. The blade sticks a few times, so I tug it gently, causing his body to shift and wobble. I reach his pubic bone and stop, the skin opens like the petals of a blossoming rose. I take a bone saw and apply it to his breast bone. Its high pitch singing is the song of an angel. Blood and bone-dust spatter on my safety glasses and my lips.
I take a chest separator and open his chest cavity. He lies naked, open, and more vulnerable than any woman who spreads herself for her husband or boyfriend or boss. I think about entering him, climbing inside and living there, inside his body, forever. I could just climb in; taking with me a sewing needle and some steel wire, and close him up. I could snuggle against his heart, its beat and rhythm comforting me in the night while I sleep. I would be massaged constantly by the daily dance of his lungs, pressing me, pushing me gently against his ribs. I decide to try, but can only get in as far as my elbows.
No. That would be preposterous, to live inside a star. But to live as a star, now that would be far more realistic. A real star needs to be as perfect inside as he is outside.
I touch his still beating heart with my latex gloved fingers. It twitches and pulses under my fingertips. I take off my gloves. I yearn to feel its texture. The heart of a star. I hold it in my hand. How many teenage girls have dreamt of having this man’s heart? I squeeze it and in doing so squeeze out the life of John Foster. It pops as my fingers sink into its tough membrane, dark venal blood running through the cracks of my fist. The body doesn’t even twitch. The lungs just deflate. They are useless now. As are all these organs. Their presence is now redundant and they must be removed.
Somewhere a phone is ringing.
I begin to hollow him out. My fingers dig into his lungs. I tug, but they do not budge. Composure, I tell myself. I need composure. So I take a deep breath and then lift a scalpel and free those stubborn organs from their bodily restraints. I drop them on the floor; they make a sound like a bag full of water splashing. The stomach follows; I dissect it to see what he had eaten for breakfast. It looks like scrambled eggs and bacon, which hasn’t been chewed properly. Tsk. You should chew your food at least twenty times before swallowing. Another imperfection in John Foster’s imperfect life.
Kidneys, liver, pancreas, bladder, gall bladder, spleen, what is left of his heart, and finally the large and small intestines (which take a while) follow the lungs onto the floor; which is now a deluge of blood and gore. Red on a white floor. The contrast is stunning. My legs are splattered with blood, my Tom Ford pants are ruined. Blood is so hard to get out of clothing, but it doesn’t matter now. Someone is banging on a door, it sounds so far away, like we’re in another world.
I hollow out his penis and leave it attached to the body. It flaps flaccidly against John’s thigh. Next I fillet John Foster with the boning knife I purchased from the store, removing his bones and flesh. With the nerve retractors I peel away the nerve fibres gently; I do not want to damage the skin.
His brain and eyes I leave in the skull on the floor. They are no use to me.
After his skin is separated, I wash it down, sterilising it. I take a needle and silk thread and sew up the arms and legs, making them whole again. I take my time, making them as neat and small as possible. I sew the zipper I bought yesterday into the centre of the chest, leaving a flap of skin spare to cover it over. John Foster’s hide lies crumpled, like a wrinkled leather jacket. I think about ironing it out; to reduce those laughter lines he first asked me about, but decide that would be stupid and unrealistic.
The John Foster suit fits better than my Tom Ford one ever has. The zipper is invisible hidden behind a minute crease in the skin. He fits perfectly. I see myself in the mirror. I am John Foster. I am not an animal, I am a Star. Even though my eyes are brown where they were blue before, I am complete. I pluck away the excess hair from my new eyebrows and ears and nose.
Someone pounds on the door. I imagine sirens blaring in a far off town. I can almost hear the voices of yelling policemen. They sound like a cacophony of angels. I ignore them. They can’t touch me now.
I dress in my John Foster clothes and put on my John Foster shoes. I live in John Foster’s life. I can live here for a long time…
… with the occasional nip and tuck.
This story originally appeared in Psychopomp Magazine.