NYC Midnight Short Story Competition
Round 1 Prompts: genre, political satire; action, an inspection; character, a self-starter
Margaret looked into the hazel eyes staring back at her in the mirror. Dark circles showcased her lost battle with insomnia, the wrinkles starting to creep across her face. Sunspots danced across her forehead. Most days she used her hair to conceal them, but now she pulled it back tight to inspect every freckle, line, and wrinkle that betrayed her age.
As she tugged at her skin and rubbed expensive oils and creams across her face, she heard the television in the background.
Free consultation … ensure your investment lasts … you deserve something to make you happy.
The commercial played out in her head. Perfect, gorgeous women floating through her memory. Bright smiles adorned their faces but something in their eyes left Margaret with a sense of unease only a deep sadness could convey.
Hugh and Margaret spent the last seven years married, the one before that dating. Every moment they were together she felt him watching her, admiring her. She knew he loved her hair long, her make-up minimal, her legs tan and in jean shorts.
But lately something shifted. His eyes no longer lingered when she walked into the room. His compliments were sporadic. Margaret wondered if he would finally give in and take her for improvements.
She pulled out her hair tie letting the hair drift toward her face and adjusted it over her shoulders before turning to leave the bathroom. When she walked into their living room Hugh remained in his seat, eyes glued to the commercial as it repeated again on the screen. His eyes flickered over to her and lingered for a moment before cutting back to the television.
She tried to keep her eyes forward on the television, fighting the urge to look over to her husband. Most days she enjoyed his introversion and limited conversation but today she willed him to speak – to make adoring comments about the new dress she wore or her recent haircut. He remained silent next to her.
As a young girl, Margaret promised herself she would never marry and become the property of someone else, but the dreams of girlhood die and reality sets in. When her father began to get sick, Margaret knew to survive in this world she had to find a decent man to care for her.
Seven years she spent not regretting her decision, but she knew change was in her future. The air around her seemed to press inward, suffocating any thoughts of leaving. Hugh remained the same simple man with simple tastes, but the allure of perfection drew all men into its clutches.
“We have an appointment tomorrow in town,” Hugh said, breaking the silence.
All Margaret managed was a soft “Oh.” Afraid to ask what type of appointment and why they needed to attend together.
“11:30. I’ll drive.”
He provided no additional explanation and turned his attention back to the game.
A fog settled over Margaret’s brain as time passed,each second pulling her closer to the appointment. She hadn’t asked her husband what the appointment was for because she knew. Age finally caught up with her. The longer Hugh waited to begin her procedures the more pressure he received from his friends. The longer he waited the more extensive the upgrades would be.
A piece of her hoped he loved her for all the same reasons she loved herself. Sunspots from trips to the beach where they laid in the sun and drank the days away. Wrinkles around her eyes from the times they smiled and laughed.
But ownership is not love. In the end Margaret knew she was property and property required maintenance.
– – –
As she stepped out of the car, straightening her skirt and running her fingers through her hair, she considered running. But she knew he would find her or hire someone else to do his work for him. Men do not let their investments go so easily.
Hugh led the way to the elevator, always two paces ahead of her, and waited patiently as it ascended to their floor.
While he wasn’t a man of many words, he remained uncharacteristically quiet since informing her of the appointment. She knew he could never look her directly in the eye and explain all of the pieces of her that required a tune-up. Margaret’s words froze in her throat, gagging her. She was fearful that if she began to speak her anger and hatred would explode, bringing only wrath from her husband.
He remained a few paced ahead of her as they crossed the lobby, her heels clicking on the tile floor.
“Appointment for Margaret Miller,” he said to a woman behind a desk in the middle of the expansive room.
Margaret took in the white and gray marble floor, bright white walls, and floor-to-ceiling windows that overtook the room. Everything around her gleamed with beauty and perfection, especially the women. She felt out of place, like an older model on her way to be replaced with something new and shiny.
She jumped as Hugh touched her elbow.
“Only a few minutes. I booked our appointment with Dr. Adam Saunders. Figured if we were going to do this it would be with the best,” he guided her to one of the clean white chairs. She hesitated before sitting.
Everyone knew Dr. Saunders, the man behind the world-changing technology. Beginning in a warehouse with a few of his friends, the doctor developed, built, and perfected the technology used today to ensure the wives remain exactly as their husbands want them. Women had always been property, but this gave the men who owned them more power than they deserved – the power to control every facet of a woman’s body.
Margaret felt lightheaded and took a deep breath to steady herself. All she could manage for Hugh was a nod, tears threatening to spill over as she blinked them away.
A beautiful, ivory skinned woman walked over to lead them back to their appointment. Margaret inspected the way her hips swayed, her gorgeous long braids cascading down her back and wondered how much of this woman was engineered to meet the needs of the men around her and how much that remained was her.
The woman led them into a crisp, white room with various computers surrounding two couches set up in the middle.
“Dr. Saunders will be with you shortly. May I get you anything while you wait?” the woman said to Hugh.
“Water please. For me and my wife,” Hugh replied with a gleaming smile. Margaret remained silent and distracted herself by trying to remember the last time she saw her husband smile.
They sat in silence as the woman set two glasses of water on the table in front of them, glanced toward Hugh for approval, and turned to leave the room. The silence settled in threatening to suffocate Margaret as they waited for the doctor.
A light knock sounded from the door before it slid open and the doctor, followed by three gorgeous women, walked into the room. Hugh shuffled to his feet, reaching down to pull Margaret up beside him.
“Dr. Saunders,” the man said as he extended his hand. Margaret noticed the name tag attached to his jacket, but none of the women around him wore the same. Their names were unimportant.
“Hugh Miller and my wife, Margaret,” Hugh said as he took the doctor’s hand and tilted his head in the direction of Margaret standing beside him. “We are thrilled to meet you. Had to make this appointment almost nine months in advance just to get on your schedule.”
Margaret let out a light cough to cover her audible shock. Nine months. He had known for nine months, never saying a word to her. Not that it would have made a difference.
“So what are we doing today?” the doctor asked. He barely looked in her direction as he sat across from Hugh.
“I don’t want to make any drastic changes,” Hugh said. “Just a few anti-aging procedures and possibly a breast enlargement.”
The doctor looked over at one of the blonde women and nodded. She walked over to Margaret and indicated for her to stand and follow.
“Our first step will be to complete a full-body scan of your wife. From there we pull it up on the computer and take a look at some possible alterations we can make.”
Hugh nodded as he watched Margaret walk across the room.
“Can you change things that aren’t physical? Lately my wife hasn’t been happy like she used to be. Doesn’t smile like she used to,” Hugh said.
“We can’t change emotions, but we can adjust the muscles in her face so that she looks happier and smiles more often.”
“That works,” Hugh replied.
The woman brought Margaret into a small room set off of the main room and asked her to remove all of her clothing. Unsure what to do, Margaret complied and began slowly removing her clothes. She folded everything into a neat pile and stood, trying to cover as much of her body as she could with her arms.
Margaret followed the woman back out into the main room and over to a machine that reminded her of a standing tanning bed.
She placed each foot onto the space indicated on the floor.
“Lift your arms above your head,” the woman instructed, lifting her own arms in demonstration. Margaret mimicked her movement.
A soft clicking sound echoed in the machine as the brunette woman typed on a computer across the room. Margaret kept her eyes forward, blinking away tears.
After a few seconds the machine shut off. The door opened and Margaret walked back to the small room where her clothes awaited.
“Don’t just focus on obvious changes. There isn’t a part of your wife we can’t alter to your liking,” Dr. Saunders said as the door closed behind Margaret. “Eye color, tan, fingernail length, nipple size, nose, ear shape, weight, softness of her skin and hair. Anything is possible.”
Hugh’s voice remained light. Margaret couldn’t hear him through the heavy door. She pulled her clothes on slowly, afraid to face her future. She wanted a few more moments as herself before Hugh determined who she would become.
As she walked back toward the room, she noticed a glass wall between her and where the doctor stood with her husband. She gasped at the large monitor on the far wall. The rotating picture of a woman looked both familiar and strange. Her breasts were larger, wrinkles smoothed away, tan deepened, blonde hair cascading down her back. She audibly inhaled when she saw the bright blue eyes looking back at her. Her hand moved to her face, touching her eyes. Margaret’s hazel eyes reminded her of her mother. She wasn’t ready to part with them.
“How long will the procedures take,” Hugh asked.
“12 to 24 hours. You can pick your wife up tomorrow. She will likely be tired for a few days, but otherwise there shouldn’t be any pain or other side effects.”
Margaret noticed the doctor never said her name, only referring to her as Hugh’s wife. Almost like he feared humanizing her.
She wanted to scream and fight back, but she knew it would do no good. The moment Hugh purchased her from her father her fate was sealed.
Already forgotten, the men ignored Margaret and continued to chat as the brunette woman typed away at the computer, setting everything up for the procedures.
“It’s really impressive what you’ve set up here,” Hugh said. “Started from nothing and built all this. A real self-starter.”
“Thank you. But I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for customers like you, trusting me with your most prized possessions,” the doctor replied.
Margaret drifted into a fog. She heard everyone around her speaking, saying their goodbyes, and followed as she was led to the procedure room. Her legs felt heavy. She was drifting, afraid to pull herself back to the surface.
Once in the procedure room, she was instructed to remove her clothing again. Nurses came in to clean her body. She laid back onto the table. The nurses inserted a needle into her arm and set up her medication. She drifted further, settling into darkness.
– – –
Even after being home for days, Margaret startled when she caught a glimpse of the person looking back at her in the mirror. Her dark, brunette hair now lightened to a bright blonde. The sun spots and wrinkles that held her memories wiped away. Her breasts were larger. Her stomach flattened. But it was the blue eyes she hated most. When she stood in front of her reflection she looked anywhere she could to avoid her gaze.
But now she forced herself to look directly into these new eyes. She couldn’t blink the tears away. They flowed freely down her ever-smiling face. Margaret was gone and only Hugh’s wife remained.