Beauty From Ashes

Entry by: Seaside Scribbler

14th October 2016
Becky hates her nose. At school her nickname had been 'Beaky', or sometimes, 'Pinocchio'. She's felt it sitting there on her face like an alien for the whole of her life. She's tried to accept it as part of herself, listened to all those inspirational sayings about loving yourself no matter what, been to therapy, tried everything. But it just hasn't worked so she's saved and begged borrowed and yes, stolen (but only a little bit and she will pay it back), to get to this day. The day she can start saying goodbye to Beaky forever.

The door is heavy, and it seems like one last obstruction in this long path that's got her here. But she shoves against it as hard as she can and it opens, to the place she's been heading for months: Dr Forbes' Clinic, on Harley Street. Her mum had been horrified. But it was her mum's large-nosed family that Beaky had come from, so she didn't listen.

The door - every inch of heavy wood screaming 'money' - opens into a plush hallway with a door at the end saying Reception. It seems to say 'Here you are, Becky, the answer to your dreams' and she feels tears coming to her eyes as she rushes to it and bursts in, unable to help herself.

A woman behind a huge desk startles and her heavily made up face takes in Becky, eager and smiling, in a second.

'Rebecca Wright,' she says. 'Quite an entrance.' There's disapproval in her tone and Becky rubs her nose, self conscious, awkward Beaky once again.

'I'm sorry,' she says. 'I tripped.'

'Take a seat,' says the woman, sofetning her tone a little.

Becky looks around the room. there are two other people in there and, despite herself, she draws a sharp breath at one of them.

It's a girl, or, Becky presumes it's a girl judging by her clothes. By her face, you can't tell.

Her face is a child's drawing of a face, the features all a bit wrong. It's a Picasso, the eyes wonky, the skin in folds. Becky realises she's staring and mutters, 'Sorry,' before dragging her eyes away.

'I'm used to it, don't you worry,' says the ?girl. 'My name's Laura. Burned in the July attacks, getting put back together slowly.' She gives a giggle, which sounds like a drain clearing itself.

Becky tries to smile, she really does, but her face seems stuck. She drags her eyes to the man with Laura, who she guesses is her father. He gives her a brief nod before going back to his newspaper.

'Nice to meet you,' she manages and takes a seat as far away as she can. What's wrong with her? She thinks. This is Beaky behaviour, getting it wrong, being the outsider, being awkward. That's what her mum used to call her, awkward.

She looks for a magazine but the waiting room is polished wood from floor to ceiling and there's nothing to read.

'So what are you here for?' Laura asks.

Becky looks at her, horrified. She touches her nose. 'I want to have rhinoplasty,' she says aware of every awful piece of irony.

Laura looks at her, tilts her head, takes in every bit of her until Becky feels uncomfortable. Finally, she nods. 'I can see why,' she says.

'You can?'

'Yeah, it's huge. I'd probably be the same.'

Becky feels tears come to her eyes. In all her years of life, all her trying to fit in, all her shame and self hate, she's never heard anyone say that. Accept how she feels. Just like that. Not trying to persuade her she was beautiful, just saying it.

'Thank you,' she whispers.

Laura's dad is shaking his head. 'I wish you'd at least try to be a little more subtle, darling.' To Becky he says, 'I'm sorry. Since the attacks she's been quite direct. She nearly died, you see. Put us all through hell, didn't you, Sweetheart?'

'Do you mean the attacks on the tube? In - what was it, 2009?'

'2005. July 7th. Yup, the very same. I was on my way to meet friends.' Laura shakes her head. 'You never know what's around the corner,' she says.

'God, was it that long? Eleven years... You've been like that... I can't imagine.'

'It's been a hell of a time,' Laura says. That laugh again. 'But, I've got some of my face back. This doc's awesome.'

'I feel awful, now,' says Becky. 'I shouldn't be here.'

'Why not? It's your choice. If you hate your nose so much, why not chop it off? It's your face. Hurts, mind. Hurts like a bastard, afterwards.'

Laura's father tuts. 'Sorry, Dad.' To Becky she says, 'He hates me swearing. I swear a lot. Gets me through. Gets me through this shitty, hard, fucking insane life.'


'Sorry, Dad. You'd never think I was thirty, would you? He treats me like his little girl, still.'

Of the thousand things Becky wants to ask, she manages, 'How have you got through?'

'I've learned to love myself, all that crap. I help other victims. Many lost limbs, faces, like me, their sight, their boyfriends. We meet and talk. That helps, especially when most of my mates ran a mile, afterwards. Some didn't. At least I can still walk. I dunno, really. I laugh in the face of crap, I suppose. I'm still alive, I can still enjoy life, I'm always the centre of attention. Not bad, really.'

A door opens. In walks a handsome man who Becky recognises as Dr Forbes.

'Laura. My beautiful, favourite patient. In you come.'

'Hi Doc,' says Laura and gets up. She walks to the door, slowly. Becky notices her breathing, it's laboured and loud, a bit how it sounded when she laughed.

As soon as the door closes, Laura's dad exhales. He takes out his phone and taps at the screen, tuts, puts it away again.

'Look,' he says. 'I can see why you might be here. But really, look at my daughter. She's understanding of everyone she meets, but I take a more dry view of life. You should make the best of what God gave you.'

Here we go, thinks Becky.

'Laura won't tell anyone this, but I'm going to tell you. We're here today because scar tissue has begun to grow in her throat. Turns out that she survived the bombs and the fires, she survived the weeks in intensive care, afterwards, she survived the stares, and still does, every day. But she's got some weird scarring reaction, like Keloid but worse. Her scar tissue just keeps on growing. Dr Forbes has cut tons of it away on the outside, but it's growing on the inside, now. She is struggling to breathe. She can still talk, Heaven help us,' - he smiles - 'and she can eat, but only soups and things. Soft stuff. Even then, she chokes. We're here today to see if the doctor can help her. Because if he can't...' he brushes at his eyes. 'My advice, young lady, is to go home and save your money, and learn to love yourself.'

Becky has her own tears blurring the room, now. For Laura, for herself. Quietly, she says, 'Do you think I've not tried?'

She hears a discreet cough, and realises the woman behind the desk is listening to all of this.

The phone rings. The woman answers. 'Where? What time? How many? All right. Yes, yes.' She sounds flustered at these last two words. She ruffles some papers on the desk, and gets up. She takes a coat from a rail and walks to the doctor's door. She knocks and pokes her head around. She speaks, quietly and then withdraws, to stand by the door.

'I'm sorry, Miss Wright, but the doctor's been called to an emergency. He won't be able to see you today. I will call to reschedule,' she says to Becky.


'I'd take that as a sign,' says Laura's father. He stands, too, and picks up Laura's coat from the seat. He looks exhausted, beyond sad.

Becky sits, staring at the wall. To have come this far, she thinks. I am so close. She touches her nose.

Just then the door opens, with a barely audible click. Laura walks out, with the handsome doctor beside her. He's supporting her, ever so subtely, by touching her elbow. She looks at her father and shakes her head, once, just a fraction. Becky looks from one to the other. She sees the father's face crumple, sees him purse his lips, sees him try to keep looking at his daughter. It's bad news, Becky has time to think, before she sees the father's tears begin to fall. Laura walks over to him and buries herself into his arms. The doctor nods at Becky, puts on his coat and he leaves, without saying anything to anyone.

Laura is making a strange snuffling sound. She pulls away from her father and turns to Becky. 'He cries for me, ' she explains. 'I lost the ability to cry in the fire. My tear ducts stopped working.'

'Was it... was it... bad news?' Becky can't help herself.

'On a scale of one to ten, it was a bloody fucking wanking ten of awfulness,' says Laura.

Her father tuts at her, holds her at arms length and smiles, wiping his eyes. 'I have to fucking agree,' he says, and they both laugh the saddest, strangest laughs Becky has ever heard.

'Guess your nose gets to live another day?' Laura says.

'Guess it does.'

'I'm off for a coffee. Then I've got a survivors' meeting. Why don't you come?' There's a ferocious glint in her eyes, inside the folds of flesh, that draws Becky in. It's a desire to live, the strongest, burning desire to live she's ever seen.

She stands up, and nods. 'Okay,' she says. She takes a deep breath and holds out her hand. 'My name's Rebecca,' she says, 'but you can call me Beaky.'