The vanity betrayed its age; white paint peeled from the wood, as if attempting to escape the structure it was bound to so long ago. Viola studied her face in the mirror, tilting her chin up and her cheeks side to side with the gentle guidance of her left index finger. She arched her back and with a controlled exhale, she began.
The procedure—Viola liked to call it a procedure as it made the whole thing sound more official—always started the same. The left side drawer of the vanity always offered resistance, but with a small tug, Viola pulled it open. There lay her scalpels, delicately placed on a white handkerchief waiting for her. She trailed her fingers over each one until she reached her No. 10 blade. If Viola was being honest, she’d admit she knew little of the intricacies of the blades she’d ordered online, but No. 10 had yet to fail her.
Wrapping her grip around the handle, Viola lifted the scalpel from the drawer and tilted her chin down, exposing her left cheek to the sunlight from the window. The slightest wince flickered across her face as she dug the blade into her cheek with the force necessary to break skin, careful only to target the apple of her cheek. It was silly, but she hadn’t made it round enough last time.
Viola first discovered her newfound abilities purely by accident. The muffled words of the talk show hosts from the flat screen in the living room lulled her mind into a comatose state, pulling her attention from the task at hand. When the thread of her thoughts led her back to him, she chopped down with fervor, pretending each of the carrots laid out on the wooden cutting board before her was an appendage he was far too fond of. With each chop, Viola found more pleasure in his perpetual castration, and lost in vicious vengeance, her grip on the knife faltered.
Her ring finger lay where she’d chopped it, separated just below the first knuckle from its stump by a growing pool of blood seeping into the wood of the cutting board.
Figures, her mother had said on the phone when Viola told her from the Emergency Room. It’s not like you needed it anyways.
That was the end of their relationship, but the beginning of something far more entrancing. As she waited with a bloody cloth cradling the space between her pinky and middle finger, Viola felt her finger itch. She soothed herself, repeating the mantra, It’s just phantom limb; the finger was gone.
Viola hated blood. To this day, she’s still unsure what could have possibly compelled her to pull back the cloth and peer at the carnage that lay beneath, but she did. The burning itch entirely forgotten, Viola concealed a shout. Where, just twenty-four minutes ago, had been a throbbing blood red stub, a new finger sat. Or would sit. It was smaller than the others, not exactly the colour of blood, but a deep magenta throughout. It had yet to grow a nail.
She’d wiggled it. An action she’d immediately regret, as the throbbing and itching and burning all flew straight back into the exposed nerves of her strange new finger. By dinnertime, Viola had been back home in her apartment, sipping a glass of cabernet and enjoying the meal she had begun to prepare only a few hours ago.
It wasn’t until three months later that she took a knife to her body. Rage clouded her vision and pulsed through her thoughts, though she’d admit now that she may not have been thinking clearly. Viola slammed the door and strode straight through the kitchen to her knife drawer. They jumped, their metallic edges blinking, from the force she’d used. No, these won’t do, she’d thought. She pulled open the drawer underneath. Clutter lay at the front, but a sheathed meat cleaver sat atop the folded tea towels.
She’s smaller than you, he’d said to her.
Viola tore it out of its casing, the knife clattering as she tossed it on the granite island. She ripped at her blouse, her focus solely only removing the horrid piece of clothing from her body. But when it was off, the only result was Viola standing half naked in the middle of her kitchen, the peach of her flesh reflected in the massive knife before her.
She’s more beautiful than you could ever be, he’d said. I couldn’t help myself.
With a determination she was delighted to find she possessed—as would her mother, if they ever spoke again—Viola gripped the meat cleaver in one hand and the sagging pouch that hung over her abdomen in the other. Then she began her first procedure.
It was a hack job, quite literally, with her screams echoing off of her stainless steel kitchen. When Viola was finished, the bloody sack of fat landed on the tiles with a sound that reminded her of the time she dropped a raw fish on the same floor. Viola screamed again before she, too, fell to the cool, unforgiving tiles, writhing just as she’d imagined the fish had done in the moments prior to her purchasing it at the market.
The pain wasn’t like her finger. Her abdomen seared, and her entire body pulsed with agony. Truth was Viola didn’t know how long she was on the floor, or why this time it took so long to heal when her finger only took an evening. She didn’t know how long, other than that it was a long, damn, time. When she was aware of the tears on her cheeks they were already cool and the searing had subsided slightly. Now her stomach itched.
With unsteady legs Viola stood. A fear gripped her now that an understanding of her actions flooded through her mind. Viola yelped when her hand slipped to her abdomen. Partly out of pain, but mostly from the surprise at what her fingers touched. Like her newly regrown finger, her stomach was a deep pink, with a thin translucent layer of growing skin beginning to shelter her nerves. It was sticky.
The next hour was spent sitting in front of the floor length mirror in her bedroom, watching her skin turn from its deep colours to the fleshy pink she’d been accustomed to. The more she focused on how she wanted her body to look, the quicker the process became until finally, she could run her hands over the smooth baby skin of her stomach. The smooth, flat skin. Viola’s heart soared.
Fuck him, she thought. Who’s skinny now?
The mirror unequivocally replied, You are.
Her skills refined themselves the more often she used them. Whatever alteration met her whims one day didn’t always carry over to the next, and often she found herself modifying her features over and over to new specifications. Her eyes needed to be wider, her lips plumper, her fingers more slender—the last of the list testing her skill far more than the others. Until today.
Viola peeled the skin of her cheek from their bones like an orange until her blood soaked teeth appeared in a small window of her face. Once, in the early days, she’d tried breathing out of it without opening her mouth. It was unpleasant.
She moved on to the other side of her face. You had to do these things together. Too many times Viola made alterations one at a time, and too many times her face healed askew no matter how hard she’d focused. It only worked if it was all at once.
She made quick work of her second cheek. Her nose suddenly felt small and childish, prompting her incision and removal of the shape and cartilage, followed by impulsively lifting her upper lip away as it lacked the heart-shaped quality Viola desired for their first date. The searing never became more bearable, only familiar.
Her face was stripped down to the barest of bones. In the beginning, the tight, red, sinewy muscles hidden under her flesh caused Viola disgust, but the more she worked the more welcome the sight of her unmasked face became. Viola smiled--or best she could smile with only a bottom lip--and wiped her scalpel clean. This is something her beloved No. 10 blade couldn’t do.
Viola visited the salon down the road that morning in preparation for today’s procedure. The manicurist had obliged her strange request, despite the hushed whispers to her colleagues in a language Viola wasn’t familiar with. She paid no mind; she was pleased with the results.
Viola ran each thumb over the unnaturally pointed nails of the rest of her fingers. Blood in various stages of drying resided underneath them. Viola let out a shaky breath. Once again, she was in new territory.
After a moment’s hesitation she plunged her fingers into the unprotected meat of her eyes, screaming louder than she had since her first procedure as she tore out the offending colour.
His profile said he liked blue eyes.
Emily Beckett is an enthusiastic geek and writer who spent the first semester of her second year in the Professional Writing program over at Spectres and Haunts. She loves creating worlds outside of our own that have that magical spark we're missing in our day to day lives.