Authors: Bridget Brighton
I can flick a s
mile and freak people out. It’s not what you expect of a smile- not from a friend, or even a stranger. The face is an advert for the person beneath. I can prove it too: switch off your mobile phone to get to the inactive dark screen; this is your quick-mirror. Use it to look into your own face. Do it now. Smile, frown, shout or laugh- do whatever your face usually does. Ask yourself honestly: what does my face say to strangers? Is this face an advert for me? If the answers don’t come fast and easy, you’re ready for an Update. That’s where I was at.
his isn’t a story about my changing face; it’s about getting my side of the story out there. Not his. So I’m going to let you into my head exactly as it happened from my side, and all I ask is that you try to picture my face as you read. (Trust me, it helps.) Whatever happens to your mental picture of my face, or his, I can’t smile it better. My face can’t do that anymore. We’ll start with why.
We’ll start with the unopened box.
At first glance, the packaging appears normal. ‘Nanoperfect,’ the manufacturer’s name wraps around their logo of an eye, winking at me in jade and silver. I flip the box; the demonstration panel invites me to ‘Smile and See.’ The panel itself looks pretty standard: a mirrored surface the size of my face. A glossy image of 3D lips perch there, poised to become a part of my reflection. One thing is unexpected: there are two pairs of lips; two sides to this smile. I tilt the box away to avoid an accidental glimpse of my face; I’m not quite ready to line up my own lips, to ‘Smile and See.’ Disclaimer reads in tiny letters underneath: ‘Your reflection is not a guarantee of the product.’
“Where’s this from again?” I say
“I told you- my br
other’s contact. Freaky smile? Totally loves himself though.”
“Thanks for the confidence boost.”
“Yeah, well. It’s not too late to change your mind.”
Seven’s eyes are a dig in the ribs.
I slide the mask out. It feels normal: lightweight, still cool. The spongy underside grips my fingertip then chases it out. Access code doesn’t trigger any doubts – why would it? It’s just a line of numbers.
masks up, her fingers in the eye slits rocking left-right, left-right, apply pressure to the bridge of the nose. It’s a snug fit, customized. Her lips are faint undulations in its beige surface. Her complaint, when it comes, is muffled.
“I can’t believe we’re doing this. This is
you and me
She peels the mask off again and the expectant scowl emerges- is that nostalgia I’m feeling? Already? That expression never came as freely to me, but structurally, you can tell straight off we’re friends. She has a neat, controlled face with perfectly balanced features, and so do I. It’s the symmetry that allows us both to disappear, to fit. Our skin tones currently match, because we are agreed that this shade of brown best brings out the green flecks in our chocolate eyes. Last year we were opposites, black and white versions of the same look. Our look.
“Will that scowl be staying?” I say. “It’s been around forever.”
“Everybody needs a cross face. How else will I get you to change your mind?”
touch my face, how much of a giveaway is it right now? That I am going through with this, whatever. That I can’t wait. The muscles under my cheeks are soft, relaxed; they don’t know what’s coming.
“You’re so stubborn.” Seven says, replacing her mask with jabs to the forehead and cheeks.
I am glad
Seven isn’t here in person. Her 3D image is a life-sized display from my phone, hovering at conversational height. Right now her profile sits in the air, blanking me. She knows she can’t win.
“We’ll do a ‘MerlotFace’ again soon. Together.” I say.
“Call me when you’ve finished.” Seven’s image retracts into the screen of my open phone.
am left alone in my bedroom, but not for long- I’m joined by the preview of my Smile Update, a new image out of my phone. This one is of my own head presenting the left-side profile first. I interrupt completion of the circle.
, Dad would have said. I don’t need his permission anymore, his un-asked for opinion. I feel a flicker of my existing smile and hold on to it a second too long- a kind of goodbye.
ask slides on, no different to the mass-market brands. It finds my cheekbones, swells into my eye sockets, expands under my jaw line. A tighter grip this time? Maybe it’s just my nerves. The fast-rising heat draws opens the pores of my skin: the entrances. Then it’s the tickly weight of liquid on my skin, a burrowing like prickles and the worst is over. Sweat gathers in the creases of my eyelids, I blink three, four times, press on the mask to relieve the itching.
always imagined the nanobots entering my pores as rows and rows of tiny surgeons, identical, perfectionist.
Take her apart! Charge!
Deconstruction workers are closer to the truth I guess, but I prefer the crisp white illusion. Stupid, isn’t it? To give them a human form. But today is different. Today I see artists flowing into my face, nanosculptors of the flesh. My mouth twitches left side, right side, testing muscle response. I’m done.
“Smile Update complete. Congratulations, honey,” rolls the male voice of my phone. It’s set to talk in Dollar’s tones: upbeat, reassuring and sexy. A perfect match to the movie star himself.
I peel the mask off and room temperature floods in, all gorgeousness. I pull my face into a rictus grin and relax. Wrinkle my nose and relax. Feel that raw glow. Dollar’s got another purpose now- he’s got a message to deliver. I got the message idea off Dollar’s CelebSite; you can get an image of the man himself to lift his head and shoulders out of your phone and say literally, anything. He will deliver any message, no controls. Dollar’s going to wolf-whistle at Seven, point and tell her she’s perfect, then remind her of her loyal best friend, her oldest friend. The idea of Dollar in action brings a smile rising fast to surface, but I’m careful not to catch my reflection in the screen of my phone. Not yet.
Seven is back. I watch her massage her face with vigour, turning little circles with her fingertips around the nose.
“Damn face is so tight...what do you think?”
swivels to model the new profile of her nose. It’s called the ‘Merlot nose: twenty-three,’ designed by Ultiface, of course. From the way she’s holding her head, we’re on safe ground. (I notice these things, admittedly with Seven it’s easier than most.)
obvious is it, on a scale of one to ten?” she says
“Two, maybe three. Cute.”
“It’s not supposed to be cute!” Seven runs a finger down the bridge of her nose. “Look.”
lean in to her image, jutting.
“Why are you squinting
?” she says, “I thought it was a three?”
It’s definitely more of a two and
I’m conjuring up my former reflection to play spot-the-difference, fast. If that sounds like I’m a bad friend, I’m not. Merlot is known for the subtlety of her range of Enhancement Products; lots of tiny Updates, mix and match, more to invest in. Seven’s new nose dips as she snatches up the packaging.
it’s ‘a timeless twist on the button nose, channelling the WOW! Instant-Impact factor of a ‘Merlot SexyFace,’ and blending it effortlessly into the timeless lines of ‘Merlot ClassicFace.’”
, you know it is.” My smile of reassurance catches. It’s the weirdest sensation, a tiny locking. I take it off my face and keep talking. “Listen, didn’t you get a message just now from somebody,
, not just any man, whose opinion is worth far more than mine?”
“Are you trying to smile?
” Seven’s voice has changed.
r been accused of that before. My fingers fly to my mouth, feeling for the evidence.
“Smile again,” Seven orders.
Oh my god
you’ve done a
I leave Seven’s face doing
something paranoia-inducing and rush out of the room, heading for the bathroom mirror. My brown eyes are fired up with their usual sparks of green but I’m not interested in the bigger picture. I begin to create a smile in slow motion: my lips widen but they don’t get far. It catches down in the corners. The easy smile I see in my head is blocked by the muscles of my new face. The corners of my mouth twitch, but they can’t rise. My face is stuck.
Seven actually shudders.
Her trademark scowl drops. “You lost your look. It’s put your whole face out of whack. I mean, you can’t even smile at me right now, can you?” There’s triumph in her tone.
“I have still got a smile somewhere! But it ha
s to be
, to be released. Not a fake. Not a people-pleaser.”
I try again and it sticks, because there’s no pretending I’m enjoying this. Seven does a kind of snort that catches in her new nose.
“Check your messages. I s
ent you one from Dollar.” I say.
“Don’t be cross with me! This
whole Maverick thing, it’s ridiculous. It messes with the laws of attraction. You value my opinion, right? As the friend who loves you most in the world?”
She does an adoration face which kind of requires a response. Gratitude, but I don’t know what my face is doing anymore.
We’re interrupted by a beeping coming from both of our phones, the overlapping call to school. It is the end of our lunch hour. Seven’s perfect face of pity tilts downwards to locate hers and switch it off. I do the same. Seven parts her lips to speak, pausing to weigh the impact of her next words:
“That Update makes you look like a Natural.
A swift jab at my pho
ne speeds her exit from my room. Seven was always going to over-react; I look absolutely nothing like a Natural. I swipe up the phone, carry it to my desk and sit. Shove aside my study stuff, slide it open to full screen and prepare to log on for school. Try to force a relaxed face over the tight, angry one. It aches. Eventually a tiny smile flutters free at the corners because against all advice, I finally did it: I am now a Maverick. I feel my mouth slacken and my smile escape, and when I try to summon it back I get the wretched Smile Blocker again. Reason being, this Maverick face is about to be tested in front of everyone in my class. I rest my chin on the palm of my hand, and my fingers curl back, making a fist that conceals my Update.
I log on
to St Luke’s Virtual Secondary School; my avatar appears onscreen at my classroom desk with her fist curled over her new mouth. I move my hand away, and onscreen, my avatar does the same. So here I am, back at school, in all my Maverick glory! Mrs Singh doesn’t need to turn around.
Leisurely lunch hour?”
“Sorry Miss. My alarm
has been playing up.” My liar’s smile sticks. I let my face drop fast.
n’s avatar has beaten mine back to the virtual classroom. Next to her, Story mimes an exaggerated grin, raises her eyebrows: your turn now. But I can’t smile to order anymore. Mrs Singh is still watching, so I make a show of reading the lesson title she has created above her:
The History of Molecular Manufacturing.
Module One: Early Molecular Machines.
If wacky text is
a bad sign, this lot is multi-coloured desperation. The letters start to swim if you stare too long. I suffer an inward collapse of spirit.