Connie surveyed her face in the bathroom mirror and decided that her sister Natalie was right—she really was starting to look old. The deep vertical lines between her eyebrows told the history of the worries that had gone into raising her children. The creases that started beside her nose and curved out around her mouth told of the smiles that had been a part of the journey too—the cheering at soccer games, the laughter at family parties, and the pride when all three kids left home for college and the wide world beyond.
“It’s very easy to get rid of those lines, you know,” Natalie had said yesterday, when she took Connie out for lunch at a posh Manhattan restaurant to celebrate Connie’s fifty-third birthday. “Everyone gets Botox and dermal filler nowadays. Nothing to be afraid of; it’ll only take a few minutes.”
Chewing on a forkful of arugula, Connie had tried to sort out what bothered her about that suggestion. It wasn’t that she felt afraid. There was something on a deeper level that made her uncomfortable, having to do with how fast the world was changing and life’s familiar landmarks being erased.
“But we shouldn’t always have to change who we are.”
“You’re taking it way too seriously. It’s a fashion, not a social conspiracy. You color your hair to hide the gray streaks, don’t you? What’s the difference? Connie, in today’s world, when a woman gets to be our age, she needs every advantage she can get. There are always younger women looking to steal our husbands, you know. Everything seems like it’s going along fine, and then one day, poof, he’s gone. That happened to two of my friends last month. Two!” Holding up two neatly manicured fingers to illustrate the point, Natalie fixed an earnest gaze on her sister from beneath her perfectly smooth brows.
“I’ll think about it.” Connie had never been much of a debater on social issues or anything else, and by now she just wanted this awkward conversation to be over. She broke eye contact and looked away, picking up the glass of iced tea that the attentive waitress had refilled for her.
“Okay. I’ll text you my doctor’s name, address, and phone number. She has a lot of experience, and you can be sure of good results. It’s nothing to worry about, honestly.”
Natalie had sent the information the next day, as promised. The message included a link to the website of the doctor’s office, which shared space with a beauty salon and spa. Colorful photos invited Connie into a courtyard with tall cascading fountains and lush greenery. Stone sculptures of mythological figures held out their hands as if to promise eternal youth and beauty to the fortunate visitor. Connie could almost feel the refreshing mist and hear the birds singing.
Of course, the mist surely came from a machine hidden somewhere in the artificial rocks; and if there were any birds, they were no more than an audio recording. Wasn’t that just the way life was nowadays, in a society that was all about fashion statements and getting ahead? And wasn’t she being silly to think it could be anything else?
As she began to turn away from her reflection in the bathroom mirror, Connie noticed that the door of the medicine cabinet had been left ajar. Its mirrored surface displayed the same reflected image, creating an endless row of darkening faces that grew smaller and more distant until they finally became unrecognizable.
Connie looked down at the phone in her hand, which had gone into power-saving mode and now showed only a black screen where the cheerful photos had been. For an instant, she almost expected her hand to disappear, too.
The phone looked solid enough when she put it down on the counter, though; and so did her hand when she closed the medicine cabinet firmly. There was no reason to worry. Everything was normal… whatever that might be.