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Thread: "Just the Way You Are"

  1. #1
    Inexplicably Undiscovered
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    Jun 2007
    next door to the lady in the vinegar bottle
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    "Just the Way You Are"

    Just the Way You Are

    Wednesday you were a leggy, grey-eyed blonde with a cultured accent. On Friday you spoke only French, though those long black lashes on that tiny gamin face told me volumes. Remember?

    Then Monday you became a strapping, corn-fed farm girl in ginghamed arms big as Iowa hams. You looked as if you could mug a 400-pound hog for its pigtail. I recall you had a healthy set of lungs that evening. You yodeled.

    The other night you came to me as the image of Eleanor Roosevelt, circa 1956. You pestered me until I switched myself into the Adlai Stevenson mode. You insisted that wemarch arm-in-arm into the Democratic Headquarters. Contrary to what you thought, the committeemen did not freak. In fact, they were so unflappable they handed us a bunch of envelopes to lick.

    I thought we had agreed not to do celebrities any more. Your repertoire already includes just about every female notable of the present and past: Marilyn Monroe, Mother Teresa, Barbara Bush, Lucille Ball. They are classics, every one, but, Darling, what is the point? Everybody worth doinghas already been done, via a mask, a costume, a lip-synched recording. I have to admit, though, nobody can touch your Oprah -- it's a stunner! The point is, Dearest, we have gone beyond the merely experimental stage. We have at last perfected the Process. The time has come for us to utilize what we've discovered as pure science and enter the realm of killer applications. The power we have acquired is not longer a toy, but a tool.

    This is the precise point which I tried to convey to you the other night when you stopped by the lab. Ah yes, there you were -- as who? Elizabeth II.

    "It's perfect," I said,"though I'd get rid of the gum."

    "Yeah?" You extracted a long, grey rope from your mouth, experienced a second thought about it, then snapped it back in. " I dunno. She's just not right for me, too-too chichi." In an instant the Queen transmogrified into Whoopi Goldberg asseen in Sister Act (Both I and II). "Now this is more like it,” you said. “More me !"

    "But the point is to be not like it. Less you. This has never been about self-expression. Try to think of yourself as a medium, as a mere vessel."

    You sulked at that remark as if you were a child
    forcibly separated from her favorite plaything.

    "Listen, I've finally perfected it. Not only can we instantly change our appearance, now we can even change our genders -- down to the anatomically correct details."

    "You mean, without surgery?"

    "When will you stop trivializing the Process!" I
    screamed. Certainly, I'd had enough of the fun-and-games, the costume party aspect of the whole thing, the Halloween disguise as foreplay. What did you think we were going to do, go on forever with the sailor-meets-girl routine?

    Once again I explained the Plan for tonight, the Final Test,followed by the Perfect Crime, which – should it work-- would show once and for all that the Device is foolproof, thus patentable and ultimately profitable. And once again, half in character, half out, you said, "It ain't gonna work."

    "Of course it will work. We simply will not fail." As I said that, I had to reassure myself as much as you, but thes imple fact of stating it should have indicated my own subconscious misgivings about the whole scheme. Both the statement and the doubt (and the doubt about the doubt) would serve as prime examples of "magical thinking," I suppose, but the truth is, I've done failure, I already know how failure feels. I even know how it sounds and tastes. Now I'm ready to meet its opposite, if only to complete the experience.

    What held more interest for me: the advancement of science or the advancement of my finances? I wasn't kidding myself that the latter stood as the only avenue of getting you, keeping you.

    I must admit that you were "game," perhaps more game than I, and so very good-naturedly, you went along with thefinal test. For I knew that the Process would be one hundred percent effective if your own mother didn't recognize you.

    We went to the hospice. In the doorway of your mother's room I stood watching. You "went as" a little old man in green checkered trousers and a flat-topped driving cap,exactly the image which we had agreed upon for tonight. Would your mother fall for it?

    "Excuse me, Sir, but I believe you're in the wrong room." (Your mother wasn't talking to me.) In quick succession you went into a half-dozen female types and threw in a couple of celebrities (Hillary Clinton, Dolly Parton) for good measure. Your mother probably thought that the staff was spiking her mineral oil until you finally changed into the you that she knew and loved.

    "Perdita! That's you?" she cried. "What do you call it? Is it like a hologram or something? How do you do it?"

    You turned to me to field that one, and when I
    gesticulated that I didn't want my presence known, you shrugged your shoulders. "I really don't understand it myself, Mom. All I know is that it works out of this box on my arm. See? It's called the Processor."

    Your mother drew your wrist down for a closer look. "It looks just like a watch!" She shook her head in disbelief. "Amazing! How do you work it, something on the order of refracted light?"

    You looked puzzled. "Huh?"

    You had often complained to me that your mother constantly nagged you about continuing your education, that it hurt inside being a college graduate while you, ever the rebel, were not. You told me that she always lorded it over you. And now she was trying to explain to you how a device you were using operated!

    "When we see color, we're not really seeing red, blue, what-have you, only the play of light upon objects. That's why you can't see color in the dark."

    Again you shrugged. "Like I said, Mom, I really don't exactly know how it works. I'd have to ask the Doc."

    "Well, I must say, Perdita, I always knew that you'd be a success some day." This time there was neither condescension nor sarcasm in her voice, and for once perhaps you had given her a reason to be proud of you. There is noaccounting for a mother's ultimate faith in her offspring, regardless of an avalanche of evidence to the contrary.

    "So what do you and the doctor plan to do with it? You're going to file a patent on it, I'm sure. But what are the applications, beyond the obvious venue of show business?"

    A thin, flannel-sleeved arm went up to conceal a giggle. "I just had a crazy notion. Suppose I had full-blown Alzheimer's. I wouldn't recognize you even as you truly are! What impact would that have had upon your experiment?"

    "Like I said, Ma, I don't have a clue. So. How've ya been?"

    "Pretty well, considering the circumstances." Your mother's cheerful face lengthened into seriousness. "Oh, I don't know. I have good days and bad days, but lately it seems that the bad far outnumber the good. I don't want to alarm you, Honey, but --"

    "Aw, come off it, Ma! You'll be around forever!"

    "You think so, huh?" Your mother's face gradually resumed its natural, smiling state. "The one good thing about it, about the thought of dying, I mean, is that maybe I'll get to see your father again." She pointed to the arsenal of brown medicine bottles on the nightstand. "What happened to your mother?” she went on, referring to herself in the third person. “She used to be rational. Maybe it's the Percodan talking."

    You reached into your pocket for a tissue, and you handed it to your mother, who nonetheless didn't seem to need it.

    "I've been reading a lot -- what else is there to do here? I'm on seventeenth century metaphysical poets. Have you ever heard of the John Donne?"

    "Oh, yeah: 'No man is an island. . .'"

    "The poem I'm thinking of is called "The Relique." The two lovers take locks of each other's hair, weave them into bracelets, and wear them on their wrists. This is to ensure that their skeletal selves will recognize each other long after death."

    "Oooh, how gross, Mother."

    "Not really. I would have done something like that so if there is an afterlife, I'd be able to find my husband." (A momentary memory lapse -- just as quickly she remembered to whom she was speaking.) "Your father. I want to find him, and I want him to know me."

    On that upbeat note you said goodbye to your mother. Then we finalized the details of tonight's scheme.

    At first it looked as if everything would go as
    expected. According to plan, we met at seven, under the "Special Evening Hours" sign in front of the bank.

    Posing as retirees about to cash our Social Security checks, we certainly looked the part: you in those checkered pants and pancake-shaped cap, me in the long silk dress and the "sensible" shoes. My palms dripped nervousness; perhaps I passed off the shakes as Parkinson's. You! You were Coolness Personified. No need to worry about rising blood pressure tripping up the Process round your wrist.

    "Remember, stay close to me," I whispered. "The Processor has a range of only fifty feet."

    After the heist, I figured that the authorities would
    have an A.P.B. out on a little old man in checkered pants and a little old lady in a black dress. Our original scenario called for us to change back the second we exited the bank.

    What I hadn't counted upon was your barging ahead in line, pulling the gun on that unsuspecting teller, taking the money and bolting.

    No, I hadn't planned on that. In the confusion, with the screaming, the screeching sirens, I saw you separate yourself from me -- ten, twenty-five, forty feet: a little old man running faster than one would ever expect, a sweat-suited jogger, then a high fashion model in confident stride. Then, I ran -- not so much to evade the authorities
    but to narrow the gap between you and me.

    So far the police haven't suspected me. Perhaps that's a good thing; there are only so many ways -- conventional ways -- for a little old lady to disguise herself (himself). At first I thought you'd come back to the lab and change meback, but the night is growing old. A little old lady is
    what I shall remain until you and the Processor approach within fifty feet. Oh my dear, forgive me for underestimating you so! I now know that you're not stupid enough to wear the persona I'd recognize (the Perdita I knew and loved.) I also know that since you're the one with the Processor and the money, you'll never willingly recognize me.

    I have no choice but to search for you, my perfidious love. How will you appear tonight: a fat woman, an emaciated man, a spoiled child? Will you be wearing a red hat? A pink carnation? "A bracelet of bright hair about the bone"?

    How will I know you?

    All Rights Reserved.
    Last edited by AuntShecky; 11-12-2007 at 01:05 PM. Reason: Inexplicable line breaks in the text

  2. #2
    Vincit Qui Se Vincit Virgil's Avatar
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    Nov 2005
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    Very nice. I liked the style. It exudes personality. It's not easy to do really short stories, but this one was able to grab me. I can't say I caught on to all the references and details (could be me, because I have trouble reading extended writing off a computer screen, and so I usually avoid the stories), but very well done Aunty.

    "Love follows knowledge." St. Catherine of Siena

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  3. #3
    Registered User
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    May 2007
    This was very interesting! The start was very capturing and I really like the storyline.

  4. #4
    still waiting to be found amanda_isabel's Avatar
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    Apr 2006
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    wow. really. wow.
    ...don't need therapy to rehabilitate my smile...

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