Audrey got home late most nights, and to break up the endless cycle of go-to-work-come-home-conk-out-repeat, she would immerse herself in faraway and fantastical worlds. She would do this by watching her favorite channel. Considering the subject matter of the programming—adventures in mythical lands, life aboard a galactic cruiser crewed by hundreds of sentient species, and so on—it came as no surprise that some of the advertising skewed toward the fantastical.
She was usually too tired to do more than close her eyes and sit through the commercials, telling herself that at some point, she should set up one of those systems that would allow her to skip them. And that’s how she ended up hearing the commercial for Prosopokaf’s Fusion Cream again and again. That’s how she heard the same testimonials again and again—teens who needed relief from acne, adults who were on guard against any sign of a wrinkle, people of all ages who had significant scars they wanted to cover up, and on and on. That’s how she heard the same vague explanation of the science behind the cream, the “patented nanotechnology” that identified the specific flaws unique to each face and blended them away…somehow. That’s how her feelings shifted from indifference to annoyance to mild curiosity to strong curiosity.
And that’s how she ended up ordering a jar of the stuff, just to see.
Audrey had taken a day off in the middle of the week specifically so she could catch up with chores and errands while everyone else was at work. She dreamed of zipping through stores with no waiting in line, tackling the weeds in her back patio, and trying one of the hundred recipes she’d saved in her “to try” folder.
But when the day came, when real sunlight woke her, instead of the fake light of her alarm, and when her bargain bedsheets and comforter felt like silk and satin against her skin, Audrey snuggled up and slept in. Dozens of tasks needed to be done, but none needed to be done that day. Audrey began to wonder if she should take the day to relax and enjoy herself, so she could go into work rejuvenated and re-motivated the following day.
She tapped a finger on her mug full of tea as she strolled through her place, wondering what she should do. Read a book? Pull out that watercolor set that she’d gotten as a gift for her birthday and try it out? She decided to cook one of those saved recipes, but realized that there were some ingredients she was missing that she would have had on hand if she’d done her shopping errands as originally planned.
She sauntered through her place again, looking for something to do that wouldn’t take too much time, so that she could do some activity at least before lunch time.
In her fridge, tucked behind a bottle of coconut water, she spotted the jar of Fusion Cream. It had arrived a couple of days prior and she’d wanted to wait until the weekend to try it out. So she had stored it according to the instruction card in the shipping carton.
She pulled the jar out and peered at it. That morning, she’d frowned at the dark circles under her eyes and the strange shrunken shape of the eyes themselves. Was that from being sleep-deprived? Had her face always looked that way? She’d been meaning to learn how to use make-up to conceal those circles, but it seemed like so much trouble to go to.
Blending away wrinkles, pimples, and scars was one thing. But Audrey wondered if that Fusion Cream could do anything about those circles under her eyes.
She read all the instructions and guidelines on the jar and the little manual booklet that accompanied the cream. She took the jar into the bathroom, tied back her hair, leaned forward and peered into the mirror, then took a “before” picture of herself, the better to compare the results.
She rolled a coin-sized amount of the cream between the fingers of her hands, then patted her fingers against the skin under her eyes.
According to the product documentation, she could expect to see results in a few minutes to a few hours, and on some occasions, on the following morning. It all depended on how much work the nanotechnology had to do to identify and blend away the flaws. (The infomercial had shown the cream blending away the crow’s feet around one woman’s eyes in a mere thirty seconds).
Audrey wondered how the cream could possibly know that she had put it under her eyes to cover up, or rather blend away, the dark circles under those eyes.
She waited in front of the mirror for a few minutes, seeing no difference. She started feeling hungry. Sighing as she put the jar back in the fridge, she shook her head at what she deemed a failure and a waste of more money than she cared to admit.
She had lunch, and she tackled some household chores, and she all but forgot about the cream until the late afternoon found her in the bathroom again. As she washed her hands, she glanced up at herself in the mirror, then looked down again. She did a double-take and glanced up at herself again. Her eyes widened.
The dark circles under her eyes were gone. It wasn’t just blended into the color of her skin. The sunken space beneath her eyes looked plumper and healthier than it had looked in a long while.
Audrey was impressed. She tried to wipe away the cream with a regular facial tissue at first. Then she resorted to eye make-up remover wipes. Then she washed her face. As promised on the jar, none of those activities compromised the flawless look of the blended area.
Of course with the dark circles gone, it was easier for Audrey to notice the scars, redness, the all-around unevenness of her complexion.
Why not? she thought, as she turned her face from cheek to cheek, assessing herself in the mirror.
She took more Fusion Cream into her hands, rubbed it between her fingers, and massaged the cream into her whole face. She looked away from the mirror and took a deep breath, feeling her heart beating, chastising herself for feeling so giddy about a stupid cream, and smiling in anticipation of what she would see the next time she looked in the mirror.
She set to some of her other household chores.
And she waited.
She actually felt nervous as she looked at the door to her bathroom. She hadn’t been able to wait long. It was only an hour since she put the cream all over her face.
She took a deep breath and walked into the bathroom, eyes mostly closed. She turned to face the mirror. Then she slowly opened her eyes.
Audrey blinked a few times. She rubbed her eyes. She squinted.
Then she squeezed her eyes shut, only slightly disturbed by what she’d seen in the mirror.
She brought her hands to her face and felt for her cheeks, her nose, the tops of her eyelids, molded over the solid curves of her eyeballs.
Reassured, she took a short breath and opened her eyes.
This time, when she saw what she saw, she gasped.
She shook her head. She couldn’t possibly be seeing what she was seeing. Something was wrong with her eyes…or maybe the mirror.
She grabbed a tissue, ran some water over it, and wiped the mirror to see if it made a difference.
But she knew the mirror was clean. She had cleaned it just that morning.
Audrey went to her bedroom. She rummaged through a few of her bags to find a compact. She managed to find one, opened it, and looked at herself.
The compact mirror showed her the same sight that her bathroom mirror had.
Audrey’s thoughts began to race.
What have I done? Why did I put that stuff on my face? Is it my eyes? Or is it my face? What have I done? Will it go away? Will it go away by morning?
Will I have my face back by morning?
Audrey took pictures of herself with her phone and looked at them. She wondered if a still image, a photograph, would show her the same thing she saw in the mirror.
One hour after Audrey put the Fusion Cream all over her face, her entire face had vanished.
It was a blank. A smooth featureless expanse of skin. No nose. No eyes. No lips.
She obviously had those things. She felt them. And she had eyes. She could see.
It was as if the cream considered her entire face a flaw and had blended it away.
She took a few more pictures just to be sure.
She scanned through the product documentation again, specifically the troubleshooting section.
She didn’t even really know how the technology worked. She’d always thought that there were particles in the cream that shifted shade to match the user’s skin tone and then patched the area to which it was applied. Basically a fancy type of skin putty. But it obviously wasn’t that, or not just that. Was it a hologram effect? That would make some sense. Maybe the fixes were just overlaid images, and for some reason, the image on her face was a blank.
She couldn’t go out into public like that.
Audrey calmed herself. She was home for the day. She had time to deal with this. The overly chipper infomercial host hadn’t mentioned this particular side effect. Even the fine print didn’t mention it. But though it was not listed in the troubleshooting section, there must have been other instances of this.
Audrey had seen a customer service number on the jar. She briefly practiced what she would say and called the number.
As she dialed, as she thought about actually telling another human being about her ordeal, she nearly hung up. Her face was a blank. There was obviously something wrong with the product she had put on it. But for a brief moment, she considered that the product was working as it should. That her face was the problem. That the person on the other end of that line would tell her that the product was working perfectly and that her face was the problem. Her whole face was a flaw that needed to be blended out of existence.
Audrey closed her eyes and stopped her thoughts. She’d done a stupid thing, expecting some goo in a jar to make her feel like a conqueror again. The hold music stopped too, and a voice spoke on the other end of the line. He introduced himself as Brad.
“And whom may I ask am I speaking with?” Brad said.
Audrey gave her name.
“Good afternoon, Audrey. Thanks for calling us. Now, what can I help you with today?”
Audrey took a breath, and making sure not to speak too fast, she told Brad the story.
“I mean, tell me the truth, Brad” she said at the end of her account, “did your cream evaluate my entire face to be a flaw? I’m no beauty queen, but I’m also not so hideous that I have to hide my face from people so they don’t die of fright or turn to stone or something. What’s going on? I mean, has this happened before? The stuff is malfunctioning, right? What’s the fix?”
“It’s definitely not you,” Brad said. “It sounds like there’s a glitch in the product. I’m sorry that all I can do is say sorry for what you’ve been through so far. But I will do my best to make it right. Let’s start with the easy stuff. I’m going to send you out a new jar to replace the faulty one you’ve obviously received. And we’ll be crediting your account. Now, let’s figure out how to get you your face back.”
Brad had a checklist he had to go through for due diligence reasons. So he started with things that Audrey had already done, like wiping and washing her face. He apologized for making her try the things she’d already tried. But Audrey didn’t mind, just so long as she was doing something about the problem. And because she was no longer in it alone.
While Brad waited on the line, she washed her face and toweled it off, hesitantly looked at mirror, and still didn’t see anything.
“Should I try a different soap?” she asked, “Or oil, or is there something else I might have in my home that I can use?”
Brad had her try makeup remover wipes, baby oil, just water by itself, even the last bit of unsalted butter she had in the fridge.
None of it worked. According to Brad, successfully wiping the cream off should show immediate results.
“This is very rare,” he said. “It means the nanoparticles have really bound to your skin. You probably have more receptors on your face than the average person. Okay, Audrey, I think we’ve exhausted all the phase one solutions. Looks like we’re going to have to take a look at this in person. I see here that you’ve got one of our clinic locations not too far from you. If you can make your way—”
“That’s not possible. I don’t have a vehicle. And I can’t let a driver see me like this.”
“Well, might I suggest covering your face? Do you have any—”
“A hoodie or a scarf isn’t going to cut it. I don’t have any ski masks or anything that might cover my whole face. Anyway it’s the middle of summer. That would look suspicious. Even if I had a mask, what if the driver makes me show my face, freaks out either way, and leaves me in the middle of the ride? Then what if the cops stop me? Or some mom with a stroller passes me? I don’t want to give some poor toddler nightmares.”
“I understand, Audrey, but the problem you’re describing is extremely rare. So your face is probably not as bad you think. Blurriness usually isn’t perceived to be as severe by other people as you see it. Frankly that’s true of facial flaws as well in many cases.”
Audrey paused. She felt her eyebrows pinch into a frown. Though she wasn’t in front of a mirror, she knew that she would see no frown, no crinkle or crease of her brow, if she’d been looking, just a smooth expanse of skin. And she had thought that Brad knew that too. She had thought he believed her, but this whole time, he’d just been…handling her. What did he think she was seeing? How many other people called in to say their face had vanished?
He was working off a script. Of course. She’d known that, but she didn’t care how sincere or insincere his concern was so long as he could help her. But she did care whether or not he believed her. He couldn’t really help her if he didn’t believe her.
“Turn your video feed on,” she said. She’d had hers on the whole time, but as per the default policy of most companies, the customer service line had receipt and sending of video set to “block.”
“I don’t think it’s necessary for me to see your face in order to help you deal with your issue.”
“I disagree, Brad. Turn your feed on receive. I don’t need to see you, but you need to see me. You need to see what I’m seeing. I don’t know how often people call you to tell you that their face vanished, and how often that turns out to be a gross exaggeration, but I can prove to you that my face is gone.”
Brad was silent for a moment. A twinge of panic gripped Audrey’s gut at the thought that he would no longer be helping her. Runaway thoughts filled the silence. She thought about threatening to hang up and make a phone call to someone who was willing to see her face, and hear her story all about the faulty product, someone with journalism credentials perhaps. But she knew herself. She wouldn’t go that far. She thought about what would happen if Brad hung up on her and spread the word about the crazy lady who thought their cream had made her face vanish. She pictured a worst case scenario.
Maybe she would become a shut-in. Maybe she would barricade herself in her place so no one could look at her face. She’d hold off friends and family and work for a while. Neighbors wouldn’t notice. She didn’t mind their business and they didn’t mind hers. She’d wake up every day having forgotten, having dreamed of having a face, and get to the bathroom mirror and give herself a fright, until one day, her mind wouldn’t be able to take it anymore. It would snap. And maybe she would just sit in a corner feeling her face, not eating or drinking or sleeping, and she’d get faint and pass out. No one would hear from her for day or two. They would break down the door and find her lying on the ground.
And someone would say, “Look at her face. It’s flawless.” Because she still had the stuff on her face. It had never faded, and she had only imagined the vanishing.
Audrey huffed out a silent and humorless laugh.
Get a grip, she told herself. Something was wrong. There was a problem here that needed to be solved. And they hadn’t yet exhausted all the possible avenues. She would go, if she had to, to that clinic. But only as a last resort. First, she needed to goad Brad into trying harder to make right what his company had made wrong.
“Okay,” Brad said at last.
Audrey, who’d been readying herself to try convincing him again, exhaled a breath.
As she expected, he only turned video receiving on, so she couldn’t see him. He paused again, and she assumed that he was assessing the video feed, or maybe gazing in horror at her literally vacant face.
“Audrey,” he said. “I’m happy to report that I can see your face just fine.”
A surge of hope swelled in Audrey’s chest. She’d been sitting in her front room, away from mirrors or reflective surfaces, to give herself a break from the disturbing sight of her faceless face. She rushed to her bathroom and looked in the mirror.
And she frowned.
And she couldn’t see the frown. Because she still couldn’t see her face.
“Are you sure?” she asked. “Because I’m looking at my face right now, and I still don’t see anything.”
She heard a click and then a notification ding on her phone. He’d sent her a picture. A screen capture of her own video feed.
She looked at the picture. And in the picture, she had no face.
She was perplexed. “How can…you’re lying. You can’t see my face.” He was lying to protect the company. Of course.
“But I can,” Brad said, and he described her features to her. Dark curly hair, light brown eyes, the mole on her chin.
But that didn’t mean anything. He could have found a picture of her online somewhere. When she pointed that out, he hesitated. But she gave him a chance. Because she couldn’t decide which situation was worse, that she had no face or that there was something wrong with her eyesight, or maybe her mental perceptions. She told him that she had a bit of acne on her face at the moment, and asked him if he could tell her where it was.
Brad didn’t pause this time. He told her that he didn’t see any acne, or any flaws on her face. If she really did have acne on her face, the cream seemed to be working to blend it away and mask it.
Of course, Audrey thought.
In the moment, she couldn’t think of any other way he could prove to her that he really could see her face.
“I think I may know what happened,” Brad said.
Audrey pushed down the smaller swell of hope that was trying expand in her chest. She had to remain steady until she got to the end of this situation. She said nothing and let Brad speak.
“But I can’t be sure. I’m going to transfer you to tech support, but you can always call me back if you want to follow up or make a report. I’m sending you my contact information. And I’m going to pass you on to Tim. This may be perception malfunction. He really knows his stuff when it comes to that, so he’ll be able to help you, okay?”
“Give me a few minutes to get him up to speed.”
In the time she waited, Audrey checked her phone for other messages. As soon as Brad said he could see her face, she’d sent her picture to a trusted few with the message, “this is what Prosopokaf’s Fusion Cream did to my face.” It was a Wednesday. People were at work, or in class, or busy. Only one person had responded and the response was not helpful. Her best friend had texted “what am I looking at” with no telling punctuation. Audrey began to compose a reply, but then Tim came onto the line and greeted her.
Tim was just as pleasant as Brad, and just as certain that he could see her face. He was a bit more straightforward and no-nonsense though. Or maybe it was just Audrey’s perception. She did tend to prefer tech support people to customer service people—with some exceptions. Tim turned his side of the video on so she could see his face, his expressions. She felt a twinge of envy that he had a face.
Tim explained what he believed had happened. “The nanoparticles in the cream are programmed to deactivate if they hit a mucus membrane. In your case they didn’t, and naturally some got in your eyes, and you haven’t been able to flush them out. Of course, this is an educated guess of what’s probably happening. We can be more confident of our assessment, if we can get you into our clinic and do some tests and imaging.”
Audrey was ready for his clinic-visit pitch. “Is there anything we can try before we get to that point? Can we assume that’s the issue? It’s a pretty scary side effect, by the way.”
“Yes, I can imagine.”
“It doesn’t make sense though, does it?”
“It should be other people who see the change, not the user, right?”
“Well, the way it works generally is by combining an actual physical patch or mask with a projection. So if some of the particles are in your eye, they are projecting directly into your eye.”
Audrey frowned and wondered if it was just her, or if Tim’s explanation sounded somewhat like a non-explanation. “Shouldn’t it be blending away the flaws of the world then? Why doesn’t my place look nicer?”
Tim laughed politely.
“Brad mentioned this is rare,” Audrey said. “But that implies it has happened before. I don’t recall anyone complaining about this particular problem in online reviews.” She wondered if people had been compensated to stay silent. But on the bright side, that meant there really was a fix. Otherwise, there would have been people with no faces telling their story on some talk show by now. “How many people has this happened to?”
Tim pressed his lips together apologetically. “I’m not at liberty to say, because of privacy concerns.”
Audrey frowned. “Well…I’m not asking you for the names of the people. I’m just saying, has it happened before?”
Tim chuckled. “I fully understand how you feel, Audrey. There have been times in my life, I’ve felt like I’m not being seen.”
Audrey blinked. Her eyes widened. Did he just tell a—
“Sorry,” he said. “That was a bad joke. But you know, I wouldn’t be making jokes if I didn’t think I could help you.” His expression looked sheepish.
She believed that he really was trying to help her. He was keeping it light. Maybe because it wasn’t so light. This wasn’t a “cold cream turned my skin blue for a second” kind of problem. They were probably not too keen on saying anything to anybody. Brad, Tim, the rest, had probably all been trained to say as little as possible while still helping the customer.
She followed Tim’s lead. “So Tim,” she said, as he typed away at whatever interface he was sitting in front of, “once we solve this issue, would you recommend this product to me? I mean, Brad is sending me another jar. But if this happened to you, would you want to use this stuff again?”
“Well, that will be your decision, but for now I’m ready to try a few things.” He raised his brows. “If you’re game?”
Audrey said nothing, but just nodded.
“Okay, so Brad tried all the topical troubleshooting with you, but this is technology. We do have a way of deactivating the technology in case something like this happens.”
Audrey perked up. “Like an emergency release?”
“We don’t really like to do this, but you’re in dire straits, so I’m going to walk you through it.”
“I can do it at home?”
Tim confirmed that she should be able to do it herself without leaving her apartment, just as she’d hoped. She had to sign a waiver saying she wouldn’t share the method with anyone. Because she’d know how to deactivate the technology for any batches currently in circulation. They would change the codes for new batches, but for maybe for six months, Audrey would have the power to deactivate any jar of cream she could get a hold of. Tim made another joke about being kind to any enemies she might have who used the stuff.
There was a tiny device, a chip, built right into the jar. It was tricky to remove it. Audrey had to hunt down a paper clip and a cotton swab. If she stuck the chip on her face and carefully entered the code that Tim gave her, the nanoparticles’ projection function would deactivate. It should look like she just had some white powdery stuff on her face.
Audrey followed Tim’s every instruction and punched in the code at least five times. But it didn’t work.
“Do I need to put it in my eye?” she asked, half-laughing and partly close to tears. “Really? Your nanites are malfunctioning and the chip that deactivates them is also malfunctioning?”
“No, no, it makes sense, Audrey. Think about it. It’s probably not the chip. If the nanotech is malfunctioning, it makes sense that it’s not responding to the chip’s stand-down code. But just in case, let me run a diagnostic on the chip. Make sure it’s not the problem. If there is a problem, I’ll try re-programming it. And we can try again.”
He had her slide the chip into a universal reader on her main computer so he could perform his diagnostics and whatever else he needed to do. For all Audrey knew, he was programming the chip to tell her nanoparticles to stick to her skin forever and ever and make her itch or burn or think she had spiders crawling over her face.
She shook her head and gave herself a stand-down order. Imagining crazy scenarios did nothing to help her. But remaining skeptical probably would. She still wasn’t sure she bought Tim’s notion that the particles had bound to her eye and were making her see things. A part of her was still convinced that her eyes were fine, and her face was fine, but it was being hidden away.
Tim finished what he was doing and asked her to try the chip again a few times. Audrey wasn’t a bit surprised when it still didn’t work.
“Audrey, I’m so sorry I can’t help from here,” Tim said. “But I strongly suggest you allow us to take you to a clinic so we can take a closer look, because remotely we don’t really know what’s going on. We can’t do imaging to see how the nanoparticles are interacting with your skin.”
“I appreciate that you don’t feel comfortable leaving your place,” he said. “So with your permission, I can dispatch a driver to your home. They can take you to our clinic. We have great people at our clinics. Way better than me. They’ll be able to help you.”
“What if they can’t?”
“Well, at worst you may need to take some time off from work. You’ve seen the testimonials, right? The stuff works great, but it’s not permanent. The particles degrade. They fall off, get rubbed away, get broken down by the bacteria on your skin. The effect eventually fades. That’s why you have to keep reapplying. So if nothing else, you’ll probably be fine if you wait long enough. The question is how long? The particles have different binding efficiencies to different people’s skin. They really like your skin. So it might some time. Not seeing your own face might drive you nuts after a while.”
“I think that’s already starting.” Audrey agreed to the clinic visit.
“That’s good. Thanks for letting us help you, Audrey. Before I hang up, is there anything else that I can do for you?”
“Can you cancel that other jar of cream?”
The driver came right up to the curb. Audrey just covered up her face with her hands and made a mad dash, figuring she could make up some excuse or story if any curious neighbors happened to see her. She was in the car within ten seconds. Settling in, she asked the driver if he could see her face.
He didn’t answer directly. He only said that he’d been instructed never to cast any judgement on anybody’s face.
I’m not asking you to cast judgement on my face, Audrey wanted to say. I’m asking you if I have a face. Do you see my face? Do you see my eyes, my nose, my lips? Do you see anything?
But she said nothing. She wasn’t in the habit of aggravating people if she was at their mercy.
But the driver responded to her heavy and obviously frustrated sigh. He smiled politely and told her that he was sure they would be able to help her at the clinic. He told her not to worry. He told her he understood that she was upset, but they would reach the clinic shortly. It almost sounded as if someone had told him her whole story. But he was probably working off a checklist or script, just like Brad. Just like Tim.
When she checked in at the front desk, Audrey didn’t bother asking the young woman if she could see Audrey’s face. She knew the young woman would deflect if she asked. It didn’t matter. Audrey just wanted them to fix her. She didn’t see any other patients in the waiting area or passing through the halls. She heard someone come in the front door, right as she was being led into the hallway. And she wondered if the clinic had a sophisticated way of corralling patients so they wouldn’t see each other and share horror stories.
It was a company clinic and the company had other products. The cream was actually their only over-the-counter general-use product. They made medical devices like prosthetics, artificial skin, simple implants like pacemakers and spinal cord stimulators.
Audrey began to wonder what she was doing there. She began to wonder why she hadn’t just stayed home and waited for someone she knew to confirm her absent face, and waited until the nanoparticles faded away naturally. She spent most of her time not looking at her face anyway. She could have just covered the mirror in her bathroom. She could have waited.
She had these thoughts as she was led down the hall. She only passed a few people, all clinic employees. She started directly at them, trying to gauge their reactions to her, trying to tell if they were seeing something or seeing nothing. No one looked startled or taken aback. Maybe that meant that Tim was right. It was her perception. Or maybe…they were used to seeing sights like a blank-faced woman walking down the hall. Or maybe they’d been warned she was coming and they should act natural.
Man, I’m really getting into conspiracy theory with this company, she thought.
She didn’t have to wait long before someone walked into the typical-looking examination room where the attendant had left her.
The tall man with dark hair and sophisticated gray streaks above his ears smiled at her, shook her hand firmly, and introduced himself.
“I’m Doctor Vex,” he said, sweeping back the pristinely white lab coat he was wearing as he took a seat on the stool before her. “And before we speak of anything else, I need to tell you that I do not see your face, Audrey.”
Audrey blinked, and imagined a shoe dropping. She waited for the other one to drop.
“You’ll either forgive us or you won’t,” he said, “but any customer service or technical support staff who helped you and saw your face were instructed not to admit to what they saw. They were to do as you requested, and whether or not they were able to deactivate the nanoparticles, they were to try and encourage you to come here to the clinic.”
Audrey took a moment, but not a long one. “Wouldn’t telling me that they couldn’t see my face and couldn’t help me themselves have been a better way to get me here?”
The doctor smiled. “We really wanted you to come in, but our first priority was to do as you wished. And you wished to get your face back. So we tried. And you were already quite scared, so we didn’t want to scare you further.”
“How about, ‘We haven’t seen this before, but that doesn’t mean we can’t help or that this is a serious problem. We’ll send you a car, cover expenses, and take care of this ASAP. In the meantime, just remain calm. Help is on the way.’” Audrey crossed her arms.
“On hindsight, the decision was a bad one. A selfish one. And it was mine. To be honest, we were worried ourselves. I needed to calm myself down and the best way was to…have them tell you that you looked just fine.”
“I probably shouldn’t be surprised that your people are pros at covering stuff up.” She uncrossed her arms and pointed to her face.
“We needed to have you with us in person before we told you the truth, so we could manage the problem together.”
“Manage me, you mean? Keep me from spreading the word and causing a panic?” Audrey leaned toward him. “I wouldn’t have done that.”
“We couldn’t have known either way. Audrey, when we first told you that what you were describing was rare, we were understating a bit. You see, it’s rare in that it’s unique. You’re the only one, as far as we know. We will need to run a lot of tests to figure it out, and we will need you to be patient while we do.”
Audrey felt her stomach lurch. So there was no certain treatment, no sure fix. And they wanted to study her. She was the only one. They would probably throw every test they could think of at her. Scenarios tried to intrude in her thoughts. Of being locked up, experimented on. In the infomercial, they spoke of revolutionizing make-up. They spoke of the future of the cream technology. A cream that went beyond blending away flaws. One that could make people look completely different. People could stay forever young. Actors could more easily make their faces look like the roles they wanted to play. And why wouldn’t it all start with a blank slate?
A blank face.
She stopped those thoughts and inhaled. She flipped the scenarios to her advantage. As long as her face was gone, she was valuable. No, she was precious. Maybe even after they managed to restore her face she would be. How could she leverage her situation? Did she want to?
What do I really want to do? she asked herself.
“I want to know what you’re doing at every step,” she said. That was a start. “I want you to describe it to me, and I want to see the images and the data or observations, or whatever information you’re collecting.”
“Of course, that’s a given.”
“Is it? I know you have to keep product details under wraps.”
“Well, yes, but what you’re describing is information about you and your health. I’m obliged to share it with you.”
What do I want to know?
“How do you think this happened? If I’m the only one?”
“There’s a waiver that you signed when you made your purchase, Audrey. Do you remember that?”
Audrey blinked and narrowed her eyes, trying to recall. There was a user agreement statement that flashed on the screen just before the bill. She did remember scrolling to the bottom and signing it.
The doctor continued. “Part of that agreement stipulated that a small number of jars contain a slightly different product, enhanced nanoparticles that have been tested in the lab, and with volunteers in the public, and are then sent out at random, so they might be tested on a broader range of people.”
“Is that legal?”
The doctor chuckled. “Of course. We disclosed the fact that you might be getting an enhanced product and gave you the chance to change your mind.”
“You disclose that you’ve changed the product, but not how. Is that legal?”
“Again, yes. PS Fusion Cream is an elective product for the general population. We do provide more information and fuller disclosure to any patients who need it to function normally in society—people who have significant scarring on their face from an accident or medical procedure, for example, and who don’t want to be treated differently. But to anyone who’s using it cosmetically, we don’t, because we’d like to hear their honest opinion on the improvements we’ve made. And there are rules to the degree to which we can make the product different. Major changes would require more than user agreement. You are welcome to check with a lawyer on everything I’m saying.”
“Sure,” Audrey said, feeling a general sense of unease. If she’d met this doctor in her regular doctor’s office, she would have considered him normal and nice, and honest. But in connection with the cold cream company and the creepy clinic, he seemed off.
Or maybe she was off. Maybe she was the one who had goofed. There was a time when she would at least scan through all the user agreements for products and services she used, despite being younger and more trusting of the world.
“You can still change your mind,” Doctor Vex said. “If you want to go home and wait to see if the product fades away on its own.”
Audrey recalled some of the testimonials. There were some people, usually younger people like her, who claimed the effects of just one application lasted them for months.
Sometimes the wait-and-see approach was the right one. Sometimes it wasn’t.
What do I really want to do? she asked herself again.
Audrey glanced between the doctor and the door.
She took a breath and exhaled.
Copyright © 2018 Nila L. Patel.