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by S.E. Casey

“So what can I do to make you happier?”

Dr. Harakal starts each consultation the same, purposely without mention of imperfection or flaw.

But the consult says nothing. Her neutral look chills him, although he is careful not to allow his professional smile to falter. The silence fast becomes unbearable. He hurries to fill the dead air, rattling off his accreditations, office capacities and insurance options. Selling cosmetic dreams does have its vulgarities.

He assesses her features with a practiced eye. She is a decidedly plain woman, middle aged with minimal wrinkling or facial discoloration.

In his mind, he begins to cut into her. The flesh is pared, tucked and reduced as it is lifted, filled and enhanced. It is done with an ultimate precision, beauty never in exaggerations or overstatements. For the real maestro — that ascended cosmetic artist amongst the dreck of plastic surgeons — beauty is in the subtleties of symmetry and balance. The face is ideally a mirror image. There are no fixed dimensions or shapes that define true glamour; rather it is the synchronized alignment of left and right, precise alchemical ratios between the features.

But his scalpel comes back clean: she is perfect. Of course a computer analysis would be done to find those asymmetric contours and misalignments that elude the naked eye. However, his gift of perception is so honed that no matter the canvas, his scrutiny has always yielded some flaw. With his mental loupe he confidently scans her again, diving down further into the details and applying the most archaic of formulae.

Still he finds nothing. Her balance is flawless. He should be delighted, wonderstruck, but instead there is only dread.

She suddenly leans forward as if she were waiting for him to arrive at this conclusion. The doctor recoils, betraying his revulsion.

I hear you possess certain talents, Dr. Harakal. You are the best — are you not?

As an acclaimed cosmetic surgeon he is accustomed to being complimented, but he shudders at her icy words. No hiding the truth, he nods in the affirmative. Indeed the very desk at which he sits is an extension of his self — everything in its place. His capped pens stand ramrod straight in the rosewood holder, the pristine desk blotter is centered and squared to the edge, even the paperclips are lined in military formation, the fat ends pointing the same way. His devotion to minutia is without peer.

Then what I want, doctor …

She leans over the desk’s edge, locking eyes. She fills his vision, the background retreating in his sudden fish-eye view. Her horrible face becomes his world, each laugh line perfectly matched in its sinister and dexter sides; ears, eyes and cheekbones aligned with spirit level precision.

… is for you to fix me …

Her foul mouth curls up at the corners in the same complexity — a reflection where there should be none. His vision tunnels further. Behind those exquisitely balanced lips and teeth, he falls into the endless pit of her dark crimson palate.

… so when I look in the mirror, I don’t see the face of evil staring back.

He isn’t shocked; he knew she would say this, his mind already planning the job ahead — the scalpel and the mallet, the scars and the shattered bones, the detached muscles drooping in palsied ecstasy.

From the fringes of New England, S.E. Casey is a writer of short stories, flash fiction and poetry. He writes of dimly lit doors, none of which are exits. His work has appeared in many magazines and anthologies, which are listed at www.secaseyauthor.wordpress.com.