Jared Lipof
| Fiction

That same fall, my mother began nursing school. The local community college offered a two-year RN program and she’d spent the summer reading anatomy and physiology textbooks in the same way my father read true crime and Stephen King in the living room recliner. Naturally, Benny considered her a medical expert worthy of consultation.

After she rubber-stamped Benny’s extra place setting for dinner, we began our homework at the kitchen table. With half of our math problems completed, Benny locked eyes with me and jerked his head toward my mother, preparing food at the counter. This, evidently, was my cue.

“So, um, how does plastic surgery work?” I asked her.

“What?” she said.

All Benny required was an opening. “What Ollie means is reconstructive surgery.”

I decided that I’d slap him in the mouth if he corrected me again.

She cocked an eyebrow. “Why?”

Though we hadn’t discussed it, Benny was prepared. “You know Mark Hamill?” he said.

My mother spun around and put a hand on her hip. “I’ve heard the name once or twice.”

“Well, between filming Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back, Mark Hamill got in a car accident and needed reconstructive surgery. Hence, his altered appearance in Empire.”

“And this is why you’re interested in plastic surgery?”

“In a manner of speaking,” said Benny.

“Sorry boys, but we’re still on the respiratory system. Trachea to bronchi to lungs, then on to matters of the heart. Tell me what you want to know and I’ll see if I can find it out.”

I pretended to pull the question out of my ass. “How long, say, would someone have to wear bandages after having plastic surgery on their face?”

The sliding glass door flew open. “Smells good in here!”

My father worked at an electroplating shop. The chemical process, he explained to me, was a galvanic cell––in other words, a battery––in reverse, where the cathode of the circuit was the part to be plated and the anode was the metal to be plated upon it. Through the door he carried with him the odor of thousand- gallon vats of acid lining the plating shop floor beneath clouds of vapor that threatened all passersby with a fatal sickness. He crossed the kitchen and kissed my mother and opened the refrigerator to fetch a beer. Over a greedy first sip he surveyed Benny and I sitting there, pencils and graph paper and math textbooks scattered on the table. Which was when he noticed the fourth place setting.

“Whoa, hold on. Master Silver will be dining with us? You do realize,” he said in his best old-money accent, “that we will be serving a mere chicken this evening. A most pedestrian bird, I’m afraid, but the butcher was plum out of pheasant, duck, and partridge.”

One of my father’s chief enjoyments in life was mocking Benny’s improbably sophisticated adolescent palate, loudly and at great length. Over at the Silver’s apartment, Benny reveled in a paradise of exotic foods: cheeses pungent as gym socks; spicy brown mustards full of cracked seeds that stung your sinuses; venison and goose and even mutton on special occasions. My father threw a dishtowel over his forearm and pranced around in parody of a fancy restaurant’s bow-tied waiter. “Mayhaps the master would like to see a dessert menu?”

“Moving on,” said Benny, “the reason we’re curious about facelift recovery periods is that Shoemaker’s is selling a picture of Mark Hamill with his head wrapped in gauze, taken, they claim, in August of 1977, even though the accident occurred way back in January. If I can call the photo’s date into dispute I might be able to haggle them down on the price.”

Jared Lipof is a sound engineer for documentary television programs. His work has appeared in The Los Angeles Review. He lives in Tallahassee, where he is at work on a novel.

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