I’ve sold two Dianas this month. Harold is not happy. “One week,” he says, gesturing across the store, the first its kind in America, “then it’s bye-bye to Bodyvival for you.”
That’s when they walk in. The daughter, who’s twenty-five-ish, has a ballerina posture; the mother is one of those “natural” middle-aged women, wearing a body devoid of Ectosilicapolymer™ correction—not her hands, neck, and certainly not her high-arched, calloused feet, fully exposed in sandals.
“And good fuckin’ luck,” Harold adds.
My dad just left my mother. She has multiple sclerosis. I’m Generation Retail, stuck selling vanity, never mind my Master’s in anthropology.
Required smile: “Can I help you?”
The mother turns away, wanders along the racks of transparent garment bags hung like dresses, which contain life-sized photos of perfect beauties, as well as samples, slivers of skin types and supple, realistic-looking Ectosilicapolymer hands. She yelps when she encounters a lissome neck.
“I’m interested in a Vivian,” the daughter says, “and you can call me Bliss.”
Now that’s real money. But unfortunately the Vivian is all wrong for Bliss. A Bodyvival is not a miracle; we can swap out almost everything a body is, replace an apple figure with a pear or even an hourglass, but the starting structure has to be right. The Vivian is most suitable for a celery stalk looking for breasts and respectable buns. With her swimmer’s build, Bliss is too muscular. It’s true there’s some latitude during the operation—her bones could be softened and lengthened, and some surgeons will shave off more than the recommended percentage of fat and muscle before reattaching the arteries and remaining tendons to the new body. The risk is osteoporosis.
Harold is watching. He trained at company headquarters, South Korea, where Americans flock for Bodyvivals. Now, with Harold opening stores in five cities, they won’t have to.
“The Vivian!” I chirp. “Elegant in a leggy kind of way. ”
“Maybe too leggy,” the mother says.
“Stop it, Mom. You said you wouldn’t do this.”
“You said you wanted my opinion.”
“Which is, I shouldn’t do this.”
“Which is, you’ll look like Bambi.”
I actually agree with Mom. I’m not a natural at this. Harold was smart when he asked during my interview why I hadn’t replaced my arms (I have freckles). “Student loans,” I said. (Also a mother who can’t walk or pour a cup of tea. Ironically, my Bodyvival discount can’t help her. MS is in the brain.)
“But how can you sell renewal when you don’t practice it?” he asked, then hired me anyway.
Now, stepping between mother and daughter, I suggest the Diana. “Its enhanced flexibility resists nicks, and it does well in pregnancy.”
It’s also known to fail in hot climates, and apparently Bliss knows this. “We’re honeymooning in Antigua.”
Honeymoon? She’s doing this before the wedding?
Bliss starts down the custom-design aisle. I let her fantasize before we deal with reality. Right now, I must control Mom, who is already dealing with reality. “What about integration?” she asks.
Harold is heading our way, concerned about my command of the technology.
“With organs,” Mom continues. “If she gets a new body, it has to connect with what’s already in there.”
“Fertility, heart, lung, kidneys, they’re all protected.” This is not completely true. The Diana has that dehydration problem. Some designs don’t do lactation. The Henrietta gets hives.
“What about her—head?”
“It’s true, we’ll need good proportion. Would you rather use the catalog?”
Satisfied, Harold leaves the sales floor.
Mom sinks into our Relax and Renew Corner, and accepts a Chardonnay with the catalog. Bliss is contemplating the Marilyn. (Tempting, but no warrantee.)
“This one!” Mom has found the Serena II, a powerhouse of muscle and grace.
“Ugh, those shoulders!”
“It’s perfect for you.”
“I want to get rid of my shoulders. I look like a boxer.”
“Those are your Dad’s shoulders.” Mom’s eyes tear. “Your dad’s shoulders, your grandmother’s hands.”
“Oh God, kill me now.”
“That’s what you’re doing, you’re killing your heritage, the beauty they gave you.”
“Maybe the groom could help,” I suggest.
“This is Bliss’ gift for him.” Mom pours more wine. “He won’t see it until the wedding.”
“Let’s try one!” I’m chirping again. My mother needs caregivers, twenty-four hours. If I can’t make it at Bodyvival, I’m moving in with her. But my spineless boyfriend said, “No way,” and then, “Is MS genetic?”
Now Bliss smiles shyly. “How do I—?”
“That’s apt.” Mom drains her glass. “It’s all projection if you ask me.”
Bliss pulls on a green-screen bodysuit, which accepts the body image. The Vivian projection is a saggy disaster. But a cool, hipless number called the Sarah, dressed in a swingy Gucci, looks good. It moves with her, as if she’s stepped into a Golden Globe movie.
“Ageless,” I tell her.
She turns. She likes the lines, the petite waist.
But Mom is crying. “I won’t recognize you.”
“You always said what makes a person special is the stuff inside.”
Tears, trembling voice: “How can you give up legs that climbed Rainier? Your hands that paint so beautifully?”
“But I’ll be thin, pretty, everything—”
“No! Don’t you see?” Hysterical, Mom pulls on a GS suit and steps into a Sarah.
Now I understand. It was Mom who was the ballerina. She animates the Sarah, she exudes bodily grace. She is everything Bliss admires, but with a pelican neck.
Suddenly, Mom’s face changes, arms rise, hands flutter down.
“It’s as if you never had me,” Bliss murmurs.
“No scar from the Cesarean.”
This feels wrong.
“We can’t both buy it,” Bliss says.
“Why not?” Mom asks.
Why not? Erasure comes to mind.
But also caregivers for my mother. My own apartment. Please: “You each wear it so differently.”
And really, truly, aren’t they lovely, these creatures who may never know an age spot or abandonment, pretending not to pose? Swathed in immunity?
“And Bliss,” I add, “will be in white.”
Lee Reilly’s work has won recognition from Writers at Work, the Barbara Deming Fund, Hunger Mountain, Florida Review, the Ragdale Foundation, and other arts organizations. Recent flash pieces have been published in SmokeLong Quarterly, Apeiron Review, Flash Fiction Magazine, and Quarter After Eight. The author of two nonfiction books, she’s completing a memoir about life as an eldercare worker. She lives in Chicago with her husband, who has an artificial knee.