Six weeks ago, Julia Cosgrove shook the world. In ninety-six seconds, the earth would return the favor.
The first female president would soon sit in the Oval Office. This morning, she reclined in a glove-leather patient chair in Dr. Phillipe Delgado’s Costa Rican medical spa, preparing to be peeled, pulled, and plumped.
"Ready?" inquired Dr. Delgado.
Resigned, perhaps, but not ready. As she’d done for prior procedures, Julia Cosgrove ran the rationalizations through her head. This wasn’t about vanity. It was about political reality. Personally, she didn’t give a flying fig if her skin looked like dragonfly wings. Or if her eyelids sagged. Or if her smile lines were deep enough to germinate soybeans. She didn’t even care if her upper lip ran off to wherever it is that middle-aged lips go.
But voters cared. They claimed to value strength, experience, wisdom, leadership. But to hell with anyone old enough to have it. Gravitas, yes. Gravity, no.
Besides, she told herself as the Valium kicked in, it’s not as if she’s the first president to be filled and spackled. Thomas Jefferson underwent a bit of facial futzing of his own. Granted, it occurred well after his death, and not on his actual face.
The creators of Mount Rushmore, faced with a gaping hole in Jefferson’s lip, filled the old boy with a compound of white lead, linseed oil and granite dust. Geologic collagen. Americans expect their presidents to have lips.
Dr. Delgado tilted the patient chair and pulled the swing-arm lamp in close. He began with Julia Cosgrove's lips.
Thirty-five kilometers away, Arenal erupted with hot fury. Molten rock lit the sky orange; smoke and ash shot from a side vent. Instantly, the news hit the wires, racing along fault lines running beneath the earth’s crust in Alajeula province.
The first jolt jerked Dr. Delgado’s hand upward, jabbing the needle into Julia Cosgrove’s right nostril. Her mighty yelp fractured into panicked squeals. She grabbed at her nose, fingers closing around hard plastic. The second jolt threw Delgado flat across his patient’s face.
More yelps. Much Spanish. Considerable thrashing. And then, it was over. The floor steadied, and Delgado slowly righted himself, retrieving the now empty syringe.
Julia squinted down the right side of her nose, where there appeared to be … a portobello mushroom.
Julia Cosgrove really, really wished she’d listened to Stanfield Mercer.
Stanfield Mercer had been livid about Costa Rica. He didn't know about Dr. Delgado. Like everyone else, her chief strategist and political advisor believed the trip to be an annual romantic getaway.
"There’s no time for this, Julia. Absolutely not. Out of the question." Stanfield Mercer paced the floor at transition headquarters in Washington D.C.
"Stan, we’ve been over it," she said. "Andrew and I have done this ever since the kids left home. It’ll be four years til our next chance."
"Eight," he corrected. "Two terms, Julia. Two terms."
At the end of two terms, she’d look like Lyndon Johnson.
"You’re staying put," he insisted.
Julia laughed. Stanfield was presumptuous, arrogant, and smarter than hell. There were only two people he couldn’t play: his ex-wife and Julia Cosgrove. She fell silent and leveled a look. "Sit down, Stan." He didn’t.
"Okay, then a working vacation," he said, pacing and gesturing. "We pack up the transition team, bug spray, do the 100 day plan, get your cabinet nailed down. Have you given thought to where we’re going to put Licklighter?"
Yes, in fact, Julia had given thought to where she was going to put Licklighter. It involved shipping crates. She’d also given thought to her cabinet. Two years ago. She’d lined up the key people before she’d even hired Stanfield Mercer.
"The issue’s closed, Stan. Bring it up again, and you’re Ambassador to Frickistan. Oh, and tell my Secret Service detail to take the time off. They need a break."
Stanfield Mercer’s glare was half panic, half incredulity. "Have you lost your mind?"
Yes, she thought, maybe I have.
Gawd, sometimes she wanted to smack herself. Why did appearances matter so? Did it matter to Indira Ghandi? Margaret Thatcher? Golda Meir? Julia felt ashamed in their shadow. But then, they served before high-definition TV.
Stanfield Mercer was adamant. "Secret Service goes where you go. Non-negotiable."
"I’m still a private citizen," Julia reminded him. "I cannot be compelled to accept protection. Besides, there’s precedent. Richard Nixon did it in 1985."
Stanfield Mercer slapped a palm to his forehead. "You’re inviting comparisons to Nixon?"
What, Lyndon Johnson’s better?
well, ok, this is going to be a non-starter for me cause I prefer my female heroes to kick ass rather than whine about plastic surgery. The comment trail on the hook kicked up a lot of objections to Costa Rica and I agree with that.
The essence of comic is starting from a known spot, a believable spot and then moving into the unknown/surreal/comic. This starts in the wrong spot. And after Olivia Goldsmith died during "routine, minor" plastic surgery, I'm not much laughing about it anyway.
I always end up with a couple queries where I think "what the heck, let's take a look". This was one of those. They don't work out often, but they can. This one doesn't.