Long ago, before my grandmother was born, people's lives were short and often sad. People could live their whole lives never meeting their soulmate. The world was too big, there was too much to do, and too few years. People married young, when they hadn't travelled the globe even once.
Then, one day, a scientist made a miraculous discovery. We finally had a way to combat aging, and even death! Life wouldn't pass us by anymore. We could stretch out a single biological year for education, hard work, promotion, making money, finding the perfect partner... and then finally allow ourselves to grow old gently, enjoying the best years of our lives with our soulmate. Doesn't that sound wonderful?
We prepare for our eighteenth birthday for months. Or at least, girls do. It's a rite of passage for us. Most are excited about it. I think. It signals that you've become a young woman.
Mine was much like any other, I suppose, but I couldn't relate to that excitement at all. I painted a smile on my face, and tried to make the right noises at the right times. Do we all do that, I wonder?
In the months leading up to it, my mother had me on a strict diet and chased me to the gym every day. You need to be in the best shape, she told me. My ears were pierced, and so was my navel. She took me to the dentist, and then to the doctor for a thorough medical. Every part of me was stripped and scrutinised, and judged for its health, functionality and aesthetic value. If I needed any kind of operation, now was the time.
Minors can get cosmetic surgery these days. A girl over sixteen with the blessing of her parent or guardian can get "work done" so she can fully heal before she comes of age.
As the day loomed closer, a wardrobe of high quality clothes were tailor-made for me. On the eve of the big day, mother took me for an extravagant lunch. There was a celebratory air, but it felt like a final meal.
Next morning, she took me for my haircut. It would be the first real cut, beyond a trim, since I was very small. It was also the last I'd have for a long time. She'd pressed me for weeks - months even - to choose a style that I was happy with, and urged me not to pick anything outlandish which might look dated in a few brief years. "Don't go too short!" she begged. "Long is classic and feminine." I'd been dreading it. I didn't want to look like another carefully packaged clone. In the end, I let her choose. A small, rebellious part of me whispered, I can cut it all off any time I like. Buy a wig, like so many others do. Who cares?
Then, to the beauty clinic, where every inch of my body was exfoliated, waxed, buffed, and moisturised to within an inch of my life. Like being prepared for my coffin. I chose, blushing, another haircut, knowing that my mother would flatly refuse this time. She turned away primly while it was done, and I gritted my teeth, staring at a spot on the ceiling.
Finally, to the doctor, for one last medical. Once they'd grilled me about the date of my last period, determined that I was in good health, not pregnant and requiring no procedures... I could get my implant.
Mother told me that when she was younger, she used to have to take a pill every morning, and if she forgot, it didn't work as it should. This was very frowned on for young women at the time, and my generation were considered lucky to have a better solution.
"Just a little scratch, and it will be over!" Her voice was bright and bland. Her hand flitted out to tuck a strand of my long hair behind my ear. There was something furtive about the gesture. It was as if I was a china curios in a shop window. Something she longed to hold, but was not allowed to touch.
She was right. It was barely a scratch. And then it really was over.
That sounds melodramatic, I know.
The manufacturers sold it as a miracle anti-aging product that enhanced human regenerative abilities... But that was a lie. It doesn't enhance them; it suspends them. Our bodies cannot change at all, so long as we take it. So we don't age... but we don't heal either. I left the clinic that day, and it was like time stopped, and I've been in limbo ever since.
My brother's eighteenth birthday went quite differently. Danny is younger than me by four years - although these days he looks much older - so I remember it well. No clinic on his birthday for him. Instead, he had a huge party and got wildly drunk. Being a young man, he could just take the tablet if he wanted, and he could begin taking it in his twenties, or even later. Boys take so much longer to mature, you see. He could slow his aging, but still enjoy all his body's usual functions for the most part. He lives, and I do not.
I watched him take it some mornings with his breakfast, but other mornings he didn't. He stopped taking it for a while each time he got a tattoo, or went skiing, or wanted to grow out his beard. Sometimes I suspected he only took it so he could avoid shaving. It was alarming to me see the crow's feet appear almost as quickly as the stubble, but no one else seemed to care. As long as my face remained porcelain smooth and babysoft.
I've never been skiing. I'm not even allowed to drive, until my implant is removed.
I wish I could have a tattoo. I haven't aged a day since that birthday, and I feel more like a cadaverous clone than ever. A tattoo would be a fresh breath of rebellion, something to mark me out from the herd of jaded, ancient-but-perfectly-manicured mannequins.
That first year, mother told me to keep my standards high, there was no rush to find a partner. I had all the time in the world. She's right, of course. I cannot age, and I cannot die from old age. I am perfectly preserved in the state of health I was in on the 14th April 2197. Until one day I meet my soulmate, and we will have our implants removed and grow old together. Our wedding will be a minor surgical procedure. Everyone will wear white.
My dad started looking at me differently. It made me uncomfortable, so I avoided him. Eventually, he left my mother for a woman who was still implanted. My mother vented furiously about the sacrifice of her youth, dieted furiously, then sped back to the doctor for another pause button. She wears a red wig, like Queen Elizabeth I, and hangs on grimly for grandchildren.
A year later, we saw her, radiant, belly swollen, my father's arm around her waist. Another year and my mother spotted her again. She told me, with glowing vengeful spite, that she looked fat and tired and sad, and serve her right. Perhaps that woman regrets her choices. Perhaps she'd like to be implanted again. But the doctor will defer, as always, to the husband's wishes.
The last time my implant expired, I ignored the doctor's letter. A week later, I woke up in the clinic with a cheery nurse assuring me that it'd been taken care of.
No one really argues about abortion anymore. The implant prevents pregnancy completely. It prevents lots of things. Cancer is a distant nightmare. It is impossible for anything to grow in this body. Babies are rare.
You might think this has caused a sexual revolution, but most women avoid casual sex with men. We cannot change, you see. So we cannot experience arousal, we cannot open and soften and welcome a man into us. When he stabs us, it hurts. It wounds us, and we cannot heal from it. Wound layers upon wound, and those who have a choice don't spend wounds on brief partnerships.
A devoutly religious conservative person might consider this a kind of utopia. We wait, primly, for the one. While we wait, we are the perfect product.
But you know what some men are like. You've experienced it, or your mother has told you. A young girl here was rushed to hospital when a cut wouldn't stop bleeding. She was found to be implanted. She whispered that she'd been working at the pink shop - the brothel on Morning Street. Doing what, I don't know. There was a brief scandal, the shop closed for six months, and then it all went quiet and it re-opened as if nothing had happened.
A famous actor and a doctor were in the newspapers for conspiring to keep a woman implanted without her knowledge. His body was perhaps forty-five, although I've no idea how long it had been forty-five for. His supermodel girlfriend was pristine, mint-in-box, hadn't aged a single day since her first and only implant. The actor wanted his trophy to stay shiny, so, when they joined, he'd paid the doctor who performed the ceremony for a little sleight of hand. Later, she went to a different doctor, to address her "sexual dysfunction" and "infertility", and it all came out, how her captor had tricked her.
Not many people seem to pair off anymore. Why would they, when to fall in love means to age, to get sick, to die?
There are old men with young women. There are predators. There are suspicious people. Everyone has a pre-nup. Where can a woman find a soulmate amongst all that?
Perhaps I'm a selfish person, incapable of love. Maybe I'd find the love of my life on a skiing holiday. Maybe I cannot love somebody, in all the ways a person can love another, while I remain in this arrested state.
These are the things I think about when I lift up the floorboard in my bedroom and look at it at the sterile scalpel hidden there in its little sealed packet. I know if I use it, I will be an outcast. That is, if I even survive the attempt. I've heard stories about women bleeding out trying to free themselves, like a jackal in a trap.
I've forgotten what it's like to bleed.
But I've heard rumours about some women succeeding. I wonder if they're true. Where do those women go? Could I find them? Would they accept me? I imagine them, all different ages and sizes, doing as they please. Running. In FLAT shoes. Boxing. Taking risks. Bleeding. Healing. I think of them, gorgeously mammalian and organic, and I actually feel something.
Some still see the implant as a blessing. My grandmother used to say she wished she'd access to it while she was still young. Youth is wasted on you, she'd say. But in her day, only the very richest could afford it.
Now, youth really is wasted. We go from maiden to crone in a single day, and surely we miss so much in between. I am sure it would be messy and painful, but it might be delicious as well.
I look at that scalpel, and I wonder what it would be like to grow, to be in a constant state of flux. To love. Ah, to be fat! To be old! To grow hair under my arms and on my toes!
I hesitate. Danny aged quickly when he stopped taking his pill. Maybe this leap requires that I first achieve personal growth that I'm not currently capable of.
In my mind's eye, the outcasts dance, as only outcasts can. Unplucked and unmanicured, jiggling freely with fuzz on their legs. Wait for me, I whisper, but I know they won't. They laugh recklessly as Time sweeps them away.
If you have enjoyed this, please do leave me some feedback in the comments. What stood out to you? What did you find relatable? Would you like to learn more about this character, her childhood, her relationship with her mother, the world she lives in?
Normally I also welcome critical feedback, but I'm afraid this is my baby, so please do be gentle!
Thank you for reading and engaging.
Edit: I finally wrote a follow on to this story.
Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!
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