I know things about this man. I first met him seventeen years ago when he removed a BCC from the right side of my forehead. That time I had staples in my head, a row of them under my hair glinting in the light. Then I met him again five years later when he excised a skin cancer spot from under one of my eyes. Two years ago, he cut another from the bottom of my cheek. Today these scars are hardly noticeable. My plastic surgeon is very good at what he does, which is why I keep going back to him.
I ask him how he’s been and he tells me he’s just returned from two weeks’ holiday on Stradbroke Island. I know he has school-going children, and starts work at 6:30AM so that he can leave early and see them at the end of the day. Tick, right there.
Did you put moisturiser on this morning? he asks.
Got to take that off, he says. I can’t draw on you otherwise. I like going to Straddie, he tells me as he wipes my forehead with a cold swab. It is overseas, you know. Look in the mirror, he instructs, passing me one.
It’s oval with a powder blue handle, like something from my mother’s dressing table. Now he holds a marker pen above my forehead. and I watch him sketch a circle around the small red area near my hairline.
Hmm, he says. This is bigger than I thought.
I think about escaping. Overseas. Straddie’s not far enough. Rising from the bed and declaring I’m not doing this. It is my forehead. My face. And it’s been with me for a number of years and I am rather fond of it. It is the only one I have. Clichés, all of them. But I can’t think creatively right now. I am preoccupied.
He pinches the skin on my forehead together with two fingers. Then he squeezes it vertically, while I squint. And all the time he holds the pen delicately like an artist’s brush. He has beautiful hands. Is slightly-built. Has a kind and gentle voice. I can’t imagine him ever getting angry.
This isn’t going to work, he says. I’m going to have to make a different cut. A different cut to the one I suggested the other day. Raise your eyebrows, he instructs.
I do and my wide-eyed face stares back at me. This isn’t happening floats above my head in a cartoon bubble. He draws. A horizontal line on the left side of my forehead, touching the circle at its top, another line on the right, meeting the circle at its bottom.
I’m going to do this—he squeezes and pushes my skin around—and this. See? Because you don’t have enough skin.
I don’t have enough skin. Why didn’t my mother make sure I had enough skin? She always made sure I had a handkerchief. And she always made me wear sun screen and a hat, and kept me off the beach at midday. All to no avail, it seems.
I text my daughter while I am waiting for the local anaesthetic to kick in. What’s a BCC? she messaged before I left for the surgery. A Benign something something? A Basal Cell Carcinoma, I write. Skin cancer. I’m going to have a scar like Harry Potter, I joke. It seems important to appear brave.
On the trolley under the bright white lights, my forehead is sleeping to avoid the trauma. I am covered with a warm blanket, neck to toe. Over my face is a blue sheet. It’s light and airy, letting me breathe. And talk. What would happen, I ask, if we didn’t…? You’d die eventually, he says. It would grow bigger and start to eat away your face, burrow down into your brain. Nibble on your nerves. It isn’t called a rodent ulcer for nothing.
Too much information, I think, but it does dispel any doubts I have left. The skin on my forehead feels weird. I know something’s happening up there. Is it being pummelled into submission, or is a troupe of ants wearing gumboots tap-dancing on my frown lines?
At home in the mirror I see my forehead bears two horizontal strips of flesh-coloured plaster. I touch my skin and it’s numb, tight and bulging. White from the anaesthetic. Blood weeps from under one of the plasters, and I dab it with a tissue. I’m to rest. Use ice-packs on the swelling. Keep my upper body elevated. I tilt my head and my face stares back at me. Familiar—I still have green eyes—and yet strangely different. I think of the hundreds of women whose skin is stretched and tightened. Cut into. Lifted. For vanity. And I notice that in the bathroom mirror one of my eyebrows is raised way above the other in a state of permanent surprise.
K W George is a Brisbane-based writer who, as a fair-haired child, spent all her summers on the beach. She has won the Hal Porter Short Story Award, been short-listed for a number of competitions, and been published in Meanjin, Tincture, Going Down Swinging, Field of Words, and Award Winning Australian Writing.