Copyright Maggy Whitehouse 2000.
It is four o’clock and Jennifer has just knocked on the back door.
‘Try not to react,’ she says, warningly. ‘She looks a terrible mess.’
And then the sweet little space alien hovers into view. Robin’s face is a jigsaw puzzle of purple, blue, red and bright, bright pink. Her eyes blink out of clown make-up and the lasered area around her mouth looks like the jowls of a Walt Disney character. Wrapped round her head and under her chin is elastic lint to support the jaw - like Marley’s ghost.
Strangely enough, she looks very pretty. Odd but lovely. Like a pixie. And her ‘please don’t criticise me’ expression only helps with the elfin look.
I laugh. But I am not laughing at her.
‘You look beautiful,’ I say. ‘I’m not joking. You look like a lovely space alien. You should patent it for the next Star Wars movie.’
Robin smiles a little (she cannot laugh because of the pain). She cannot speak much either. Nor eat. It will be soup and purees for days.
We hug and I show her the bedroom where I have put lilies and books for when she cannot sleep in the night. After living in a trailer for a month this is paradise to her although it looks very little to me.
Jennifer is gone swiftly to return to the claims of her five children and Robin and I sit and look at each other.
‘Oh Maggy, it was so awful,’ she says and begins to cry. She is in such pain and can only take a certain amount of painkillers. Obviously not enough.
I dose her with arnica and Didi climbs up on the sofa and leans against her. Robin holds her in her arms, glad for the physical comfort after four days of such agony. Is this the time to mention that if Didi wants stroking she will paw at her face? Probably not.
The surgery took five and a half hours. FIVE AND A HALF HOURS! You can get a heart transplant in that time. You can get a new liver; have your hip replaced; have three or four hysterectomies. You can die.
So, this poor, sweet woman has risked death, disfigurement and spent $9,000 for vanity.
‘You have to suffer to be beautiful’ the Little Mermaid is told in Hans Anderson’s fairytale. Obviously.
I stare doubtfully at my 43-year-old face in the bathroom mirror while I am heating up some smooth chicken soup. It’s a good face for 43. The neck’s getting a bit scraggy and the freezing Montana winter has not helped what is generally a good complexion. But would I spend five and a half hours in surgery to perfect it. Would I spend $100 let alone $9,000. Would I hell!
But this is not to judge. Robin is an actress. She needs a beautiful face. She had the money from selling her business and she was told that 45-50 was the perfect time for a face-lift because the skin still has elasticity and won’t look like it’s been stretched.
What would I do with $9,000? Oh, how many things! Or, right now, would I just throw it into the cafe to cover the debts and give myself breathing space? On second thoughts, perhaps Robin is the most sensible of the two of us.
She drinks her soup through a straw but with obvious relish. The acute sickness she suffered after the anaesthetic has both starved and dehydrated her but even so, she will not rest. Once she has eaten (drunk) enough to feed a gnat, she starts unpacking her bags - two of them; huge. I would need less to circumnavigate the world. One is almost completely filled with beauty and health requirements including a huge package of special lotions she must use on her face, particularly on the lasered part. And which she had to pay for separately. Then she does some washing, impervious to suggestions that she should not.
I run her a bath, puree some fruit and intend to leave her to it. But Robin is a Scorpio and happy to carry on a conversation with the bathroom door open while sitting, stark naked, on the loo and complaining about what the anaesthetic has done to her internal system.
‘Did you have your nose done?’ I ask curiously. This was not on the long list of corrective measures considered at length and run by me for my completely unknowledgeable opinion.
‘Well, you know, I think I did,’ she says with great interest. ‘I didn’t ask for it but it does look different doesn’t it?’
It does. It is now a cute little snub job where it was once somewhat more assertive. I’m not sure what I think but Robin is thrilled. She stares at it in the bathroom mirror and eagerly takes the hand mirror that I offer so that she can see her profile.
I hesitate because if the surgeon has done something she does not like and did not ask for he will have deep and intense litigation on his hands. Robin is an American as well as a Scorpio. She considers the nose as long and hard as the nose itself is not.
‘I like it,’ she says firmly. ‘It’s the nose I used to have?’
‘Sorry?’ I’m not quite up to speed on the regular rearrangement of the noses of beautiful women.
‘I used to have this nose,’ Robin says again. ‘Then I got mugged. I had to have it done then because it was broken but the surgeon gave me another nose and I never liked it.’
My mind boggles at the idea of the surgeon searching boxes for new noses, but I say nothing.
This is not ideal as Robin wants and needs assurance that I think the new nose is lovely too.
Well, I do. It looks like a very pleasant nose.
‘Does it work?’ I ask to fill in any gaps of enthusiasm that I have not encompassed.
It works. It is a good nose; a lovely nose. It must be admired for the rest of the evening and referred to as often as possible. In the end I just say ‘Nice nose’ every time she speaks and this seems to do the trick.
For all the pain and the time-consuming lathering on of potions, Robin is still not ready for bed by 11pm. I retire, exhausted, taking Didi with me as she may get up and try to get into Robin’s bed in the night if I don’t. The beagle is very pleased to have a bed to sleep on and a human being to steam against. She sighs happily, settles down and begins to snore.