To The Teeth
“The sun is setting on the century,
And we are armed to the teeth,
We are all working together now,
To make our lives mercifully brief”
~ Ani DiFranco
When you get final approval to join the Community, you’re first assigned a Companion to guide you through the transitioning process. In addition to coaching you on the rules and history of the Community, your Companion typically serves as the template for your Remodeling. I don’t think this is an official rule, but the remodeling technicians are either too lazy or too afraid to do otherwise.
This is why the first time I see my Companion, I cringe inwardly.
“Hi!” she steps away from the rough grey wall, her blond ringlets bouncing and wide blue eyes bright. “Welcome! You must be the new Member. I’m your Companion.”
I smile nervously and since she doesn’t offer a hand to shake, I shift mine behind my back instinctively. She must be six feet tall and she looks like a model. “Hi. Yeah, I’m Gr-”
“Oops,” she smiles and makes a little tsking noise, holding up one perfectly manicured finger. “We don’t need your name. You’ll be assigned a new one when you begin Assimilation.”
I know this, of course -- I’ve carefully read all the brochures and rule books. But for the first time, I realize what it will be to give up my name. All the words are one thing: remodel, expunge, assimilate, transition. But finally faced with their reality, my throat begins to feel dry. It is a hot summer day. In the periphery of my vision, I see a teenager bicycling lazily through the park with strong, even strokes.
I turn back to my Companion and smile tightly.
“Yes, of course.”
She smiles back and gestures for me to follow her long-legged stride. I don’t know why I should feel intimidated. I know that everyone in the Community is beautiful, I’ve seen the pictures. Soon I will be too. At the thick black door, she stops to punch in a long code, her fingers flitting like hummingbirds over the keys. She looks over her shoulder to chat with me.
“They’re not all as easy as you, you know,” she says with a conspiratorial smile. “Sometimes their families come. Or friends, co-workers. You know,” she pushes open the heavy door with her shoulder and we walk into a narrow hallway that’s sterile white and smells like a doctor’s office. “There are scenes, threats, name-calling. Not everyone is as lucky as you.”
Inside the Remodeling Room, there is a chair like at the dentist’s office. The scrawny technician welcomes me and tells me to sit down. Once I am settled, he sits in a rolling chair beside me, swivels the bright light into my face and sighs.
“How did she get accepted?” he asks my Companion. Did she ever tell me her name? I can’t remember now. I’m nervous but feel only slightly insulted by his tone. I had dreaded this part of the Remodeling the most, being scrutinized and talked about like I wasn’t in the room. But now that I’m here, I find that I strangely don’t care. Instead of protesting like I once would have, I relax and tell myself that it will all be over soon.
“It was a close call,” Companion admits, “But she’s a lifer and they’re short for the new project.”
The technician nods in understanding, but still looks frustrated. I pretend that I don’t know what they’re talking about and stare into the blinding white lights. I can imagine that I’m sitting on the beach in the sunshine. Beads of perspiration form on my upper lip but I don’t bother to wipe them away.
“Well, the hair is easy enough, and the eyes. But her height? That is going to take some work. She’ll need implants. It might be a while before she can start work”
Good things come in small packages, my mother used to tell me when I fretted about my height. They come in big packages too, I would mutter into my Cornflakes.
Companion hums sympathetically, but looks bored.
“I just thank God she’s not fat. I’ve had enough of those this week” He scoots closer to me and peers disapprovingly into my face. “She had freckles too. She’s going to have to apply the cream for at last a month, even after Remodeling. You’ll have to remind her.”
He had loved my freckles, a testament to my sun-worshipping ways. She had them too, but just a handful, sprinkled across her nose and shoulders. I force them out of my mind, for what will perhaps be the last time.
“Open your mouth, sweetheart.” I bristle at the term, but open my mouth obediently. I think of baring my teeth at him in some primal way, but what good would it do now?
“Ugh, just as I suspected,” he pushes the chair back and stands up. “Teeth stained. Coffee or cigarettes?” I can’t tell if he’s asking me or just talking to himself, so I don’t answer. He sits at the desk in the corner and starts making notes into a folder. Companion leans up against the wall, contemplating her fingernails. I wait – wait for my heart to start racing, by breath to become short, my hands to shake, my voice to object. But I am silent and calm. Relieved. I breathe in and out, and wait. The technician’s pen finishes scratching and he stands up so abruptly that even Companion starts and stands up straight.
“Okay. I’ve seen enough. I’m going to get started.”
This is Companion’s cue. She waggles her fingers at me. “See you on the other side!” she chirps, and hurries out of the room. I look after her as she shuts the door firmly. I will be her soon.
The technician is fiddling with the anesthesia equipment. He approaches me with the mask, looking almost sheepish.
“We are required to ask a final time for you to confirm,” he says. “Your contract is retractable up until this point. After this, it’s indissoluble.”
I look at him witheringly and reach out to snatch the mask from him. I cover my mouth and nose, stare into his eyes and breathe in, deeply. I smile. Forget.
***** CONFIDENTIAL FILE *****
Community Profile for #2017
Previous Name: Grace Ellerson
Previous Hair Color: Brown
Previous Eye Color: Brown
Previous Skin Type: Caucasian
Previous Height: 5’ 4”
Previous Weight: 120 lbs
Previous Occupation: Elementary School Teacher
Previous Spouse Information: Tom Ellerson, Deceased
Previous Child(ren) Information: Lily Ellerson, Deceased
Previous Next of Kin Information: N/A
Date of Assimilation:
Assignment: Nuclear Armament Program
Contract Period: Indefinite