Luckily, the Design Room is not far from the pink laboratory, so Morgana only has to shuffle 15 or 20 tentative steps to get there.
Calliope escorts Morgana through another whooshed door opening in the wall. Morgana is still woozy from the sedative. They both sit down on the same side of the console where Calliope manipulates a small touch screen which is projected onto the wall in front of them.
This time, an unexpected “whoosh,” which is actually starting to sound almost normal to Morgana, ushers in a handsome young man with an engaging smile who sets a gleaming, vintage silver tea service for two between them.
“Excuse me, Ladies! I have some jasmine tea and blueberry scones for you!”
“Morgana, meet Armando—he’s our new intern, and he’ll be with us for the next six months.” Morgana takes his hand and mumbles an awkward, “Hi ya.” Embarrassed, she reflects that she never, ever says “Hi ya.” Where did that come from?
“Well, I’ll leave you to it—Enjoy the tea. Nice to meet you, Morgana.”
Morgana manages a more confident, “Thank you for the tea, Armando—and good luck to you!” She presses her back into the soft chair and inhales the intoxicating fragrance of the steaming tea.
In between delicate bites of a blueberry scone, Calliope begins with, “Alright, then, Morgana! It is here, in the Design Room that we plot out what you’d like to look like. The new body we create for you will be referred to as your ‘Tenum.’ That’s an acronym from the phrase, ‘The New Me.’ Your Tenum will be more you than you’ve ever been before. It will fit you like a glove and will be the ‘you’ that you were always meant to be. The contours of your face, your complexion, and your basic bone structure and musculature will guide our creation but within those confines, there is a lot of room for variation, and here’s where the magic happens: You get to make some very important decisions, so here are our options.”
Morgana’s hands are wrapped around the hot cup of tea. The warmth delights her, as does this delicious news that she, a person who has spent so many years
feeling powerless, can help create her new self. That deserves another blueberry scone!
On the screen, there are computer-generated face and body composites. There are faces with dimples, low or high hairlines, widows’ peaks, cleft chins, long, aquiline, upturned, pointed or snub noses, high or low cheekbones, prominent or moderate chins, sharp or softened jaws, deep set eyes, thick or thin eyebrows, full lips, thin lips, rose petal lips, all shapes and sizes of ears. Then there’s teeth—long, short, straight, spaced. A slight overbite can be kind of cute, but maybe not. Hmmm…So many decisions! What kind of hair? Long, short, thick, thin, curly, straight, wavy, frizzy, out-of-control, restrained, blond, red, chestnut brown, ebony black. Any styles you’re partial to? Oh, and then there’s the body! Breasts—what size, shape, amount of bounce, pert and perky? Waist? How small? Hips? How large? Derriere—round or flat? Ample or not enough to jiggle? And what about the thighs? Legs in general? Thin, thick, muscular, shapely, soft, sinewy with bony ankles?
“Well, for me, the choice is simple! Right off the bat, let’s go with thin ankles and thick hair! That’s the exact opposite of what I’ve always had! I’ve always hated the mousy-brown, fine hair that runs in my family. I used to imagine myself with thick, rich, long, dark brown hair, until I realized that hair dye, shampoo or conditioner could only do so much—But is that a real choice for me, even though I’m 47 and have mostly grey hair now?”
“Oh, yes! We can take 15 years off your chronological age, so you will be a beautiful young woman of 32, which is really the perfect age for any kind of hair.”
“At 32, I wasn’t all that gorgeous, but, I looked a lot better than I do now,” she says sheepishly, eyeing Calliope’s flawless face.
Calliope pats her hand reassuringly. “Well, don’t you worry about it because all that will be behind you in just a short while.”
“Speaking of ‘behind me,’ the new me must have slim hips, and a nice, tight derriere! Since I’ve always been flat-chested, I don’t think I’d like big breasts—smallish breasts would be just fine, but I’d love to have some cleavage—not a lot, just a little!”
“That can all be arranged,” smiles Calliope as she swipes different body parts onto a grid-like armature that rotates on the screen to reveal all the contours in 3D.
An exquisite, lithesome body begins to take shape, so sleek and sexy that it takes Morgana’s breath away. For the face, she chooses large, limpid, green eyes set wide apart, veiled by thick eyelashes. The eyebrows are so beautiful—almost aerodynamically shaped. The nose is not some cute, little pixie thing, though—it’s a little less than prominent, and on the long side, but it’s the perfect nose to offset those thick, pouty lips. The mouth is wide—good for smiling, she figures. And good for talking, too! She’d kept her mouth shut for so long, maybe now she’d find her voice, and maybe she’d discover that it would be as sensual as those lips!
Calliope tells Morgana to pick out a hat as she is presented with a serendipitous array of all kinds of outlandishly cute hats that she would never, ever consider wearing. Morgana chooses a very loud, black and white striped sun hat with a wide brim, something you’d see a Vargas Girl sporting on an old pin-up calendar hanging in a 1950s gas station. After a couple of clicks, Calliope announces, “And now…the new you!”
The rotating armature disappears and in its place is a rather intense brunette beauty with large, hypnotic eyes regarding them with a lazy, somewhat piqued interest. Her red, painted mouth is just barely open as if to entertain an incipient orgasm. Her skin glows with a limited palette ranging from dusty rose to toasted peach, backlit by a high-wattage celestial gold. Almost as an afterthought, there are a good four inches of cleavage lurking in the shaded area of the photo where her left shoulder intercepts the sun.
Morgana presses her finger tips to her closed eyes, hoping to stanch the tears that sting her eyelids, but only succeeds in rubbing some greasy cookie crumbs into the hot tears that spill over her cheeks.
“I’m sorry!” She blubbers. “I don’t know what’s come over me…it’s all so overwhelming. I’m feeling so many emotions right now that I’ve just never felt before.”
Calliope turns towards her, takes her hands and holds them tightly between her own.
“I know what a challenge this is for you. All our clients have very similar reactions. It’s totally normal and actually quite healthy. The decision you have made to commit to the Adaptation is huge. This is a life-changing event, and not one to be taken lightly.
Calliope lets go of Morgana’s hands and rummages through the console’s desk drawers until she finds a tissue. She hands it to Morgana and smiles.
“OK, Morgana, there’s a left-over scone on that plate, and since we’re not taking any hostages today, you and I have to finish it off! What do you say?” If there’s anything that can get Morgana to stop crying, it’s a blueberry scone! She happily agrees and they laugh as the scone disappears between the two of them.
Behind them, a door whooshes, and another beautiful person (of whom, around here, anyway, there seems to be no lack), Dr. Hosanna Valenzuela, strides towards them. Her face and head are almost Betty Boopish. Her thick, black, shiny hair is short and clings to her head in a cap of wavy curls that caress her face. Her big, jet black eyes sparkle mischievously as her pretty lips scrunch up to repress a silly smile.
“Call-i-o-pe!” she sings in a pleasant, airy, girlish voice. “I’ve come to steal our new client away from you!”
“And, hello, Morgana, I’m Dr. Valenzuela. I feel as though I already know you—I am the person who has reviewed your psychological profile and I will be working with you to get you started with the Adaptation.”
Momentarily dazzled by Dr. Valenzuela, Morgana manages a vacant smile as she wonders if Dr. Valenzuela can feel the greasy crumbs from their soft handshake.
“Nice to meet you, Doctor,” and she adds, “If you had only come two minutes earlier, we would have had a nice scone for you, instead of a crumby, greasy handshake.”
“I lose out on more scones that way,” jokes Dr. Valenzuela. “If I were to arrive on time and talk less, I’d weigh twenty pounds more than I do.”
Not that Dr. Valenzuela can avoid it, but Calliope points to the projected image in front of them. “So Dr. V, what do you think of “the new Morgana?”
Dr. Valenzuela is clearly hamming it up to put Morgana at ease as she does a little double-take, wide-eyed wowing. “What a work of art!” she exclaims, carefully adding that the same is true of the old Morgana. Inwardly, Morgana chuckles at the absurdity of telling aging, dowdy, frumpy fat people that they are beautiful works of art. On the other hand, what is Dr. V supposed to do? Plus, it’s a whole lot better than being publicly—or even privately—humiliated. Even if it can be a bit patronizing, political correctness at least errs on the side of being kind.
“But,” wraps up Dr. Valenzuela, “This is the conversation we’ll have in my office. So if you and Calliope have finished up here in the Design Room, you and I can adjourn to my office.”
Calliope says, “I’d say we covered everything! Wouldn’t you, Morgana?”
Dr. Valenzuela’s office is a cozy little hobbit hole of a refuge. It is so out of character with the rest of “The Our Little Secret Travel Agency,” that it’s hard to believe that they haven’t left the premises—low, rounded ceilings and round openings to different rooms coming off the small office, low, yellowish soft lighting coming from little wall lamps with tiny shades made from old fashioned, Laura Ashley prints and end tables covered with pretty Provence motif fabrics–very cozy, very safe, very comforting.
They settle down comfortably into the soft, overstuffed, low sofas and armchairs, ready to talk.
“So, Dr. Valenzuela. I’m just curious as to why I wasn’t interviewed before the Design Room.”
Dr. Valenzuela, picking up on that little edge of challenge in Morgana’s question, proceeds gingerly. “That’s an easy question to answer. We wanted to see how you would react to the new you—your Tenum. The fact that you recovered quickly is a good sign. It shows that you will easily adapt to your “rediscovered” youth and beauty. If a client has a problem at this point, and there are some who do, the client will be given the option of breaking the contract with only a $1,000 penalty. By the way, should you have any doubts, you will have the same option right up until we actually begin the Adaptation.”
“No,” says Morgana, “No matter what, I want to do this. I cried before because I didn’t think I would ever experience what it’s like to be young again. And to be so beautiful! I really don’t know what I’m looking for. Maybe it’s just to rekindle a sense of hope that I’ve lost all these years. I’ve never been a very vain person, but my reaction makes me wonder.”
Dr. Valenzuela, trying to reframe her earlier comments, says, “Before, I told you that the old Morgana is also beautiful, but, I know that you’ll have none of that, because, of course, here you are, “escaping” to another body. Someone who can accept that they are still beautiful probably wouldn’t be doing such a thing.”
Morgana fidgets and concurs, “I’ve never felt beautiful. In fact, most of the time, I feel downright ugly. When I was fairly young, I gave up on being pretty. My goal was just to look normal, less ugly than I felt. I had two older sisters, each ‘just as pretty as a picture,’ as my mother would say.”
“Well, Morgana, even the most gorgeous women share our sense of unattractiveness. I, personally, have always envied women who project a complete lack of self-consciousness about their looks. But here’s what I’m getting at: having read your background, I believe that the experience of perceiving yourself as beautiful will exceed your expectations in so many ways. You will be able to see yourself in a whole new light.”
“I guess that’s also a bit of what made me cry. I know I’m putting the cart before the horse, but I was also grieving in advance for what it will be like during my 31 visits to know that each visit will be one less occasion that I am able to hang onto this new me. I’ll just be getting accustomed to being attractive, and then I’d have to give it all up, and I’ll be right back where I started.”
“Well, Morgana, that’s what I wanted to talk to you about. The new Morgana will teach you how to be more confident and how to be who you truly are. Each person is different, of course, and so much depends on the individual, but there is every reason to believe that during and after your experience being the new Morgana, the old Morgana will find herself renewed and invigorated, but at the end of the experience, you will find that your negative emotions can be severed from your self-perception, replaced by a new confidence that will transcend the physical realities and limitations of time of nature.”
Morgana considers this new insight and feels more at ease.
“You know, Dr. Valenzuela, there’s something I didn’t divulge in the paperwork. My husband is at home, just about comatose. He had a stroke two months ago, and it’s not looking very good. I feel so guilty about spending this money on something so frivolous and self-indulgent. On the other hand, I really need an escape, some kind of distraction, even if that distraction is me. Aside from feeling behind the eight ball, I’ve never thought about myself very much. This might not be a good time to start, but it’s probably as good a time as any.”
“Oh, Morgana! I’m so sorry to hear about your poor husband. This must be so hard on you!”
“Believe it or not, it was harder before he had the stroke. My life had become so unhappy with him. But I still feel an awful lot of loyalty towards him, but to be honest, I don’t love him anymore. I feel trapped, and am still trying to figure out what needs to be done. So far, all anyone tells me is just to wait and to be patient. I’m so sick of that! This “indulgence” is perfect because my “visits” will take place when he’s sleeping and when I’m sleeping. I don’t leave the house, he won’t be alone, and whatever happens during my “visits,” will be “our little secret.”
Dr. Valenzuela smiles and nods her head in an empathetic, well-practiced gesture of active listening. “So tell me, Morgana—Is there anyone in your circle of family and friends who knows about your venture with The Our Little Secret Travel Agency?”
“Only my best friend, Jerinda.” It is at this juncture that Morgana breaks down into an almost convulsive fit of breathless sobbing which lasts almost five minutes. She avails herself of a big box of tissues on the coffee table in front of her, blows her nose several times, wipes her face, and sighs in utter exhaustion. Her face is splotchy and her eyes are glassy.
“We need to talk about Jerinda,” suggests Dr. Valenzuela. “Are you up to that right now?”
To be continued in Chapter 3: Jerinda
Photo Credit: Charissa du Plessis in “The Perfect 10” by Kass Dea for Gaschette Magazine, June 2013
Music Credit: Gotye – Easy Way Out – Official Video (youtube.com)