The Everyman Meets His Maker
I'm outside the surgery in the rain. Rubbing my hands together with the rainwater cleans them a bit, but not much. They're never clean. They smell like the grass mulch I pump into my cows' stomachs and they look filthy. I can see grease in the lines on my palms. The water just beads and rolls over it.
Maybe my wet hair makes me look good. Maybe I'm just right for a photo shoot -- if I keep my mouth closed. Maybe with wet hair and a brooding look I look more like what Sabbiyah's dad is after. Dr Husseini, I need to call him. Dr Husseini. His name is on the screen by the surgery door. I walk through, rubbing my palms against the coarse denim on my thighs. Maybe that will get some of the grease out and maybe I'll look good... enough.
There's probably a posh toilet I can use before I see Sab's dad. Looking around the surgery lobby, I bet they've got proper towels. We don't have many buildings like this in Matlock. There's the town hall -- that has marble too -- and Gruber's, the synthetic meat company. I wouldn't set foot in that place if you paid me, but my girlfriend Sab told me they've got voice-controlled lifts.
Gruber's: trying to put me and my mum out of business with their voice-controlled lifts. At my family's old-fashioned farm, we don't have any lifts, just 1,000 diary cattle. They're my sweethearts. We have to force food into their stomachs so they get enough to produce 36,000 litres of milk a week. It is fresh, real milk.
But all the pretty receptionist at this surgery wants is Gruber's fake milk. She's got a half-litre bottle of the stuff beside her coffee mug.
"I'm here for Dr Husseini," I tell her. I don't smile because she wouldn't like my gums. She presses a button, points me down the corridor. And then, as if she knows I work with real cows all day, she takes a swig from her bottle of Gruber's synthetic, tossing back her head so I can see her smooth neck.
I've met Sabbiyah's dad before, at their hulking converted farmhouse. His first words to me were that he didn't know anyone still used farms for farming any more. I invited him to come and meet my cows, but he hasn't.
"Ryan, come in, come in," he says, not standing up. "You're wet."
"Does it look good?" I ask. I realise I sound cocky.
Dr Husseini doesn't answer. He stares at me over his bulky desk and I notice that his face is exactly symmetrical. I drop into a seat.
"Your hands," he says.
I wedge them between my legs.
"As my daughter has told you, I need a young lad to appear in some adverts. Someone like you. An everyman. To attract others like you to our practice."
"I thought you only did women?"
"That's the problem," he sucked in his breath as if he didn't like the taste of it. "We've always done procedures for men, but Dr Gillett's practice is more famous for that. We do outstanding work here for men, so we need a local boy to be the face of that: professional enhancements right here in Matlock."
I say, "Maybe most men can't afford your procedures."
Dr Husseini shakes his head, then he thinks about it, then he laughs -- but I wasn't sure what about. "They can't afford not to have them. Working on a farm, maybe you can. You're not likely to be smiling, revealing the awkward way your mouth creeps up on one side. No one cares much about how you look."
I don't say anything to that. I move my hands to prop up my face, but then slip them back between my legs. I do want clean hands like everyone else, and a better face.
"Sabbiyah likes you," he says. "But it's prom soon and she'll be able to pick between you and all the other 16-year-old boys. Men."
I nod. I know what he's saying. A drop of rainwater escapes my hair to land on my lap.
"I've treated quite a few lads from your year already. Niptucks, mostly. But gene therapy too. If there's something you don't like, we just replace the genes."
"Who've you done?" I ask, but he shakes his head. I know he can't tell me.
"The point is," the doctor leans forward and I can hear the creak of his leather chair, "I can 'make' anyone. No one's perfect, but we can all try our best to get there."
I can see now that Dr Husseini used to be a lot younger. He doesn't have wrinkles or saggy skin, but I can tell he's old from the way he looks at me. It's his eyes. They've got a sort of relaxed wisdom about them. They say, I know what I'm talking about. I can tell that he's been where I am: young, wanting a girl, but not the kind of guy most girls want.
"Ryan, if you be our model, your face will be all around town, on all the local blogs and websites. And I'll pay you. Your choice: money or a procedure."
I look down at my hands and pretend to think about his offer. But I'm not thinking about it at all. Instead, the picture in my head is this: I'm wearing a tuxedo, Sabbiyah is hooked into my arm and when I smile, everyone smiles with me.