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The Pretty Pill
I think this is the fourth or fifth club we've hit tonight, but I don't remember how long we've been here. I am consumed by strobe lights and the rumble of bass, and the air is heavy with perspiration and perfume. Losing myself, reality becomes just flashes and dream-like blurs. A pair of eyes. Whipping hair. A sequin dress.
We are wild. We are young.
And we are gorgeous.
They're calling this the Image Era. All over the world, the priority is having a good time. Yeah, you have to work during the day, but come sundown, it's time to party. My motto is: just live for the thrill, and everything else will follow. Sure enough, there are some "anti-hedonist" groups saying the world is being wasted, blah, blah, blah. But who would listen to that when you can dance until the sun rises? When you can be beautiful?
That's the key to all this. It started with a little thing called the Pretty Pill.
Imagine: pop in a pill, and you're fabulous! Eyes suddenly sparkle, lips darken, hair untangles. The perfect body is possible, along with the perfect face, the perfect hair, the perfect voice. Everyone wanted a piece of the pretty as soon as the Pill came out. Make-up businesses closed down. Who needs make-up when you can have the total package? Sure, it was expensive at first, but prices for the Pretty Pill plummeted once the market for it bloomed and competition began. Plus, there are always some knock-off brands.
I am dazed. The room spins violently around me. The music pounds on my head, and bodies cocoon me. It takes me a second to realize that my wrist-phone is vibrating madly. I pull myself to the side, away from the lights and sound, and look at the screen.
It's the alarm I set. Already? I took a Pill four hours and fifty-five minutes ago. This is my five minute warning.
See, it's all a compromise. There are drawbacks to everything, and nothing lasts forever. This is how it is: five hours of beautiful, and after that, five minutes of something not so beautiful. So what? the Pill has side-effects, but that's alright with me. With everyone. It's worth it. What's that five minutes anyway but a grain of sand in the Sahara of our lives?
I grab my purse and rush down a cramped, lit hallway. I read the plaques on the doors as I pass them.
Employees only... Women... Men... Side-Effects. I push swiftly through the door.
It looks almost like a bathroom. There are orderly lines of stalls. There is a mirror at the front, and a countertop, but no sinks. The biggest difference is what's inside the stalls.
I ignore the sounds and smells of this place. The air sweats tears in here. I block out the muffled screams, the heavy panting, and the unearthly gurgling. After placing my purse on the counter, I select an empty stall.
Two minutes left.
I stem inside, shut the door behind be, and although I should move faster, I take a second to survey the apparatus in front of me. There are steps up to a ledge that juts from the wall. I hop up and plant my feet on the ledge, facing the stall door. Automatically, I shove my arms back into the harness. I fumble with the buckles until the polyester straps are tight against my skin.
Thirty seconds left.
When I push down on a lever with my elbow, a tangle of bars lowers in front of my face, a clean strip of cloth at the level of my mouth. I clamp the fabric between my teeth and grip the handlebars tightly.
Any second now.
There is a long mirror hanging on the back of the stall door. I lock eyes with my reflection to steady myself. Vaguely, I try to remember how many times I've done this.
The five minutes begins like a blow to my gut.
If it weren't for the harness, I would be doubled over. I bite down ferociously on the cloth to stop the scream from coming out of me. Hot, sharp pain begins near my belly button and spreads out to my whole body until I am convinced that I will burst open and paint the floor red.
According to the mirror, my face is becoming distorted. My skin fades until it is gray and cracking. My sparkling green eyes fill with ink, and I thing they will fall into my face.
I shake violently, and finally, the screams spill out. I shriek louder than the music on the dance floor, louder than the cars outside, louder than the drunks singing off-key on the curb.
This is agony. I can't escape. How long has is been?
My hair falls pin wisps to the tile below. My feet fly up to the ceiling. Someone is twisting a rope around my knock, and I can't breathe, can't breathe. What's that thing in the mirror?
The five minutes ends like finally hitting the ground after falling forever.
I feel sweat dripping down the side of my face, and I gasp for air.
It's over. It's over. It's over.
I repeat it like a mantra in my head as I undo the harness and wobble out of the stall.
It's hard to face the mirror, but it is inevitable. The sight of myself takes my breath away. The life has been drained from my eyes, and my body is battered. I tell myself that this is the original, that this is the face I was born with, that it looks bad in comparison to my pretty self, that's all. Through the lies I tell myself, I know that I am damaged.
I must have taken the Pill too early; I wanted to be back home by the time the five hours were up. What now? If I don't take another Pill, my friends will have to see me like this. And I don't want that. But if I take the Pill again, I'll have to suffer the five minutes twice in one night. I don't think my body can take that.
I study myself more closely. I recognize my mother's nose. I'd always hated it, but my mom loved it. She liked her nose crooked; she wouldn't touch the Pill. I sigh. She was killed by a man who was looking at his reflection instead of the road.
I pluck my pill case from the side pocket of my purse. My fingers make no move to open it.
Do I want to trade this ugly body for a beautiful one?
So, does that mean I do or do not take this Pretty Pill?