In the Ashland Outpatient Surgery Center, eighteen-year-old Brandy Michaelson picked at the taped gauze on her cheek. She fidgeted on the edge of the exam table, awaiting the results of her latest surgery. Her palms were sweaty. A successful surgery meant everything to Brandy. No matter how many career opportunities life brought to her, being an actress would always rise to the top. She glanced around the room. Its walls had been recently painted. Yellow. The color of hope.
Sighing, she watched her dad, a professor of English Literature at Southern Oregon University, read a student essay. She’d been disappointed so many times before. But this time would be different. “I had a dream last night,” she said. “And my face was perfect.”
He readjusted the crease on his trousers, that neatness he wore like a uniform. “Don’t get your hopes up too high, honey. Life seldom succumbs to our timetable. This type of surgery can take years.” He returned his attention to the same page of the essay he’d been staring at for fifteen minutes. How did he do it—year after year, the same freshman essays on Faulkner’s symbolism in Light In August?
She studied her dad’s jaw, chiseled with such precise angles that it must have obeyed some law of geometry. A jaw that was as stoic and rigid as his personality. If only her mother were still alive. She wouldn’t have her nose stuck in a frickin’ essay. She’d know how fast Brandy’s heart thumped—how excited and frightened she felt at the same time. Her mother would stand beside Brandy and hold her hand.
Careful to hide it from her dad, she slipped a small, silver-framed photo from the pocket of her carpenter pants and held it in her palm. In the photograph, a tall slender woman stood forever frozen at the edge of the Pacific, waves cresting behind her back. She wore a sleeveless, yellow sundress and her hair hung to her shoulders in dark, spiral curls. Brandy wondered if as she grew older she’d look more like her mother. Wondered if she should have her hair permed into corkscrew curls.
In the photo, her mother’s head was flung back and her whole body seemed to be laughing. It wasn’t the kind of smile someone pasted on for a photograph. It was something deeper—something as pure as joy.
She’d died from ovarian cancer when Brandy was almost four—far too young for memories. At least that’s what her dad claimed. But she often remembered small things. Romping in a backyard garden. Lilac soap. And bath oil that smelled like cinnamon and eucalyptus. The songs her mother tossed into the morning air like ribbons. Yet, despite Brandy’s frequent efforts to see her again, the fuzzy videotape of movement, scents, and sounds never added up to a whole woman. She needed to know more. Especially now that she’d gotten the role of a mother in the senior class play.
When Doctor Sorenson—a tall, square-jawed man in his early forties—entered the examining room, Brandy tucked the photo back into her pocket. Sorenson wore a bright blue lab coat and his matching blue eyes had mastered the sincere look—like every other plastic surgeon who’d ever examined her face.