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Dream Quest One Second Writing Prize Winner -

 Summer 2016



of Oshawa, Ontario - USA






By Kerry Craven



               The old man sat in the back room polishing the latest face.  There are a number of faces, lined up on his shelf, but it is not his sole trade, simply the most affordable option in his line of wares.  Usually his younger clientele choose from the value menu laminated on his walls—services he’s been offering since long ago when he was more of a surgeon than an artist.  They demand little of his time or creativity.

               Nose too big.  Nose too small.  Piggy nose.  Tiny mole.  Cellulite on the butt.  Wobbly tummy. Wobbly arms.  Patchy skin.  Chronic split ends.  Ears stick out.  Eyes too small. Teeth too crooked.  Teeth too yellow.  Scars.  Burns.  Pimples.  It used to be in the old days that you would have to go to a specialist for each of these ailments, but now it was easy.  Quality replacements in about an hour.  The more services rendered, the more business he found, as perfect became not enough.  Beyond perfect.  More perfect than perfect.  That was his motto.

               But these were merely his common trade, offered by any local convenience store.  The old man was a master polisher though, and his real money came from more intangible things.  It had taken him decades to perfect the machine, and it was… perfect.  It could remove any flaw, no matter how big, no matter how small.  You stepped in.  It sucked out.  Clean. Neat.  Tidy.  Nobody ever asked what happened to the leftover bits. Nobody cared or asked to take their flaws with them, though he always offered it.  He couldn’t understand it.  Sure, it was a part you didn’t want, but it was yours.  Just like the kidney stone he kept in a small jar in a drawer.  It had made him miserable, he’d puked his guts out for a month before it passed through.  But it was his. His body had made it and he had kept it, a reminder of the beforetimes. Now, he could just have used the machine.  Ow. Suck. Gone.

               His clientele were varied, though he steered away from medical conditions.  Hypothetically his machine could remove your cancer, but doctors now had far more efficient ways to deal with that, and it was covered by OHIP their way.  Taking money just didn’t seem right.  He did everything else though.  Stutters.  Guilt.  Mistakes.  Jealousy.  Foot-in-mouth.  Apprehension.  Lack of ambition.  He took it all away, as if it were never there.  Picked it up from the waste slot after they’d left.  He had quite a collection.

Last week, a woman had walked into his shop wanting her fears removed.  “Are you sure?” the man asked.  “Once I take it out, you know that I can’t put it back?”

“Absolutely…. I think….  I fear, everything.  I fear heights and snakes, and revolving doors.  I shake when I have to talk to a bank teller or count out change at the store.  I even fear you… so please, can we just do this before I have time to think?”

The man nodded gravely, warmed up the machine.  She walked in a mouse, and swaggered out a mature, confident businesswoman.  She stood taller, her back straighter, as she counted out her money with a sneer.  Her heels clicked briskly as she walked out into the street.  He lifted the flap, and pulled out her fear—so fragile.  Carried it to the back room.  Yesterday, he read in the paper that she’d been caught in a tragic revolving door accident.  She’d survived, but the old man knew he’d found another repeat customer.  That kind of accident?  Those kinds of scars?  He’d be taking a trip to St. Lucia this winter for sure.

The man put the last sheen of lacquer on the face in his hand, ran it through the polisher, and then set it aside.  It was for an eleven-year old girl.  Peaches and cream skin.  Shining black hair.  An adorable birthmark just on the top of her cheek. He had tried to capture that same glow in the new face—minus the birthmark of course.  The man sighed.  There were some things only nature could create.  But she’d be happy, and that was good, he supposed.

The little bell over his door jingled.  A tall man walked in, muscular, golden.  Some nice work from one of his rivals.  He looked like the heroes of ancient times: an Achilles, a Thor, a Jason after finding his golden fleece. ‘Jason’ smiled at the empty room, bewitching, twinkling teeth—he charmed the walls, then strode forward to the old man’s bench.  He examined the ancient, craggy surface before leaning one hand on the edge, casually poised.

“I hear,” he whispered confidentially so the walls couldn’t here, “that you are a master fixer.”

               The old man nodded gravely.  Suspiciously, ‘Jason’ eyed the old man’s face, the craggy spaces around his temple, the rheumy eyes, the ashen skin—compared them to the loveliness of those body parts lounging on the wall, waiting for the clients to return and claim them.  ‘You’d think’ thought the young man ‘he’d want to fix himself up first.  That’s just good business.  Dress for the jobs you want.’  He shrugged.  The old man was clearly eccentric, but came with impeccable references. 

               “So, tell me,” asked the old man, “what can I remove for you today? Pigeon toes?  Failure?” looking the man up and down, “Arrogance? “

               This brought a chuckle from the golden man.  “I wish it were so simple,” the man said. “What I have is something well-hidden, but I can’t have it.  I just can’t have it.  I’ve been to every fixer in the city.  They all say it can’t be done, except maybe by you.  What I need to lose is,” his voice dropped even lower and the old man had to lean in to catch the word, “vulnerability.”

               The old man looked into the pale blue eyes.  He examined them. Past the polished face and the straightened teeth, the eyes stood out. They glittered with something.  Something small, coming from the inside.  They were the young man’s best feature.  “Sure,” said the old man, “I can do that.  It will cost you.  Come into the back room.”

               He pressed the yellow button to start up.  The man walked in.  Green button.  Red button.  Faster than you could say lickety split, it was done.  The doors opened in a puff of steam.  Out walked, not a Jason, but an Adonis.  He glanced at the man briefly, his eyes cold and grey.  He wrote the man a cheque.  He walked away, imperious to his surroundings.

               The old man always counted to ten, before he cleared out the chute.  He counted to ten to make sure they wouldn’t change their minds and come back for what their bodies had made.  He counted to ten, because he knew once he had seen it and claimed it, he would never want to return it.

               Popping open the metal door, the old man gently plucked the “vulnerability” from the garbage bin.  It was a velvety blue jewel, sparkling, with a hint of laughter in its depth.  With his special eyepiece, he examined the piece from every angle, measuring its qualities and its imperfection level.  This one was a ten.  A real beauty.  It would be a centerpiece in his collection.  Shuffling back to his apartment in the back, the old man walked to the display room, turned on the special lights he’d had installed for the price of an “indignity”; he spun around slowly, examining his treasures, sparkling in every colour, in every size.  Some were the blacknesses of people’s hearts, some the rosy glow of hopes dashed.  The chartreuse of envy, and the jade of want.  They reflected off each other. Made themselves brighter.  The old man’s face glowed with the joy of ownership. “Mine,” he said aloud to the precious gems. “You are all mine now.  They didn’t want you, and now you are mine.”  With one last glance, he placed ‘vulnerability’ on a pedestal beside the section of pale blue “age”, by far his biggest collection.  It made the room brighter, the blue of the sky illuminating the surface below.

               As he walked out the door, back to his run-down shop, he turned one last time, felt the warmth in his heart. “And you are all precious to me,” he told the stones, as he clicked off the light, left them alone in the darkness.

- 30 –




About the author:

Kerry Craven is a teacher of English and Creative Writing at O'Neill C.V.I. When she is not grading papers, Kerry is an avid reader, and adventure seeker and a Netflix addict. Kerry lives in Oshawa with her two Pomeranians, Bella and Bazinga.