It was only a figure of speech with Janice, until her ex- saw a way to make it true!
|"Oh, I can fix that up for you, easy," Paul assured Janice. Gently he examined the wobbling head of the stuffed hippopotamus she cradled. Only a few loose threads kept it attached to the neck. "There's plenty of fabric to work with."
"Sorry about that, folks," the booth man said. "That's the last hippo I had in stock, but I can give you—"
"Oh, no! Please!" Janice protested. "He's just so adowable that I have to have him!" She smooched the side of the hippo's head, and the flap of loose fabric frayed another inch. "He's wuvwy! And my honey-bunch here"—she squeezed up close to Paul—"is a doctor! He's a whiz with the sutures and the ring toss!"
Music from the merry-go-round blared nearby, and the strings of decorative lights danced in the sultry September evening. Paul and Janice held hands as they strolled down the midway. They had not gone far, though, when Janice glared back at the booth where Paul had won her the stuffed hippo.
"Lousy grifter," she snarled in an undertone. "He should be arrested for selling broken prizes!"
Paul blanched. "I can go back and get you the giraffe instead," he said. "The man—"
"That's not the point! I wanted the hippo, and— And how do we know the rest of them aren't defective as well? They probably got them cheap, you know the kind of people carnies are!"
Carnies aren't supposed to let you win, Paul thought. The man running the ring toss had struck him as shockingly honest.
"Besides," Janice sniffed, "you said you could fix it. You can fix anything, can't you?" She pressed deeper into his shoulder.
"Anything that takes a needle, suture, and scalpel." Paul was a plastic surgeon.
Janice giggled. "So you could fix anything wrong with me?"
Paul stiffened. "Yes," he said, and stiffened more as he waited for the inevitable sequel.
Fortunately, by the time it came ("And what would you fix about me?") he had spotted a distraction. "Hey, I wanna stop in here." He pointed to the sign.
Janice cringed. "What for?" she demanded. "It's disgusting!"
"Professional interest. I wanna see how they—"
"Ewwww! If you go in there, I'm staying out here!"
Paul hesitated. "Well—"
"Oh, but if you really want to see, go on," Janice said.
"Oh, but you want to!" Janice gushed, and she prodded him toward the tent entrance. "Go on! I want to hear all about it! I just don't want to see it is all!"
Paul scrutinized her beaming face. This is a bad idea, he thought, for he recognized the glint of unforgiving iron behind the sugar.
"I'll buy you another cotton candy when I get out," he promised her. "Two minutes, I'll be back."
It was more like twenty, and a glacier of dry ice would have been warmer company when he rejoined her. "It was just a come-on," he reported. "She had her second head inside a box. Wax."
"But the point is that you got to satisfy your 'professional interest'!" Janice's eyes twinkled like shards of ice.
The February wind followed Susan into the hotel lobby. "I'm not too late, am I?" she gasped at her mother.
"Oh, but she's in a temper," Mrs. Harper moaned.
"Well, it's the day before her wedding," Susan said. But still she flinched from the doors to the ballroom where Janice's practice reception was being held.
"The caterer is in the bathroom, crying."
"Oh." Susan's heart sank further.
"Where's Paul? Is he coming?"
Susan snorted. "Are you kidding? I don't know why she invited him, except to rub his nose in it." She sucked in a deep breath, and marched through the double doors.
"Susie!" Tears sprang into Janice's eyes as her best friend entered. "I was starting to panic you weren't coming!" She swept Susan into a tight hug.
Susan felt all the air being crushed from her lungs. It'll be a year before I'm forgiven, she thought.
"Ten minutes late!" Janice hurled the menu and away and turned to glare at the restaurant entrance. The July sun broiled the parking lot outside. "I told Richard to meet us at two o'clock, and—"
"I thought you sent him to get the car vacuumed," Diana said.
Janice frowned. "So?"
"Well, those things take time, and—"
"He should have taken that into account! I'll say this for Paul, he—"
"Oh, here he comes now," said Rachel. She pointed out the window.
"Sorry I'm late," Richard said as he slid into the booth next to his wife.
She beamed at him. "Were you? Gosh, isn't it sweet of him to apologize?" she asked her friends. "Especially when I didn't even notice!"
"Speaking of Paul," Diana asked Rachel an hour later, after they had left Janice, "have you heard from him?"
"He checked himself into a clinic last month."
"That bad? Wow. Janice really dodged a bullet there, didn't she?"
"He didn't start drinking until after she dumped him."
"So what's he's doing with his practice?"
"The lawyers are wrangling over it. Personal bankruptcy. It wasn't just vodka, he started taking opiates when he found out she'd been sleeping with Richard since college."
"Weren't they all friends back then?"
"Paul and Richard were roommates."
Janice groaned as she regained consciousness. She raised her chin from her breast, despite the pounding headache. But not until she tried standing did she realize she was tied to a chair.
The room was dark, and it smelled of piss and sawdust. A red glow flashed off and on through a window.
Where was she? She struggled to remember. Richard was in New York, so she and some of her friends had come out to the fairgrounds on a lark. She had gone to the port-a-potty, and when she came out—
"Good night, sweetheart," sang a slurred voice from behind her, "till we meet tomorrow! Good night, sweetheart—"
"Hello?" Janice called. "Can someone help me out here?"
"—sleep will banish sorrow! Tears and parting—!"
A figure staggered out from behind her. "H'llo, Janice!"
It took her a moment to recognize behind the blurred and puffy features the face of— "Paul?" she gasped.
"In't that sweet!" he exclaimed. "You remember me!"
"Paul." She twisted inside the knots. "I seem to be—"
"You seem t'be what?" He staggered a step closer. "Oh, the restraints! Don' worry, tha's just to keep you from squirming during the procedure."
"Paul," Janice said in a very steady voice. She was not the type to believe that the kind of thing that could happen to other people could ever happen to her. "What's going on?"
"Whaddayu mean?" He wobbled on his feet. "Oh! Well, it's a funny thing! You once as't me wha' I'd fix abou' you! An' I said— Nussing!" Paul almost threw himself off his feet as he lurched over to the wall. "Bu' now!"
He threw a switch and a light blazed on, illuminating a faded sign: AGNES THE TWO-FACED WOMAN. Beneath it, still lurid, was a crudely painted picture of a woman with two heads nestled side-by-side on her shoulders. It vaguely came back to Janice that she had seen it before, at a carnival sideshow. Much like this one.
Beneath the sign was a table, on which sat a scalpel and a box. Paul snatched up the one, and opened the other. From within he drew out a misshapen lump. It took Janice a moment to recognize in its squashed features a not very creditable model of a human face.
Paul tried clucking his tongue over it, but it came out as a sloppy slurp.
"Poor Agnes," he said. "When it was her had the job, she hadd'a keep'er other head in a box. An' then she retired. But I tol' Melvin—"
Paul almost took his own nose off with the scalpel as he laid a knowing finger alongside it.
"I to'l Melvin, 'Oh, I can fix tha' up for you, easy,' I tol' him. 'Jus' gimme a girl with plen'y o' skin to work with'." He dropped the head in Janice's lap and pinched the side of her neck. "Richard's been feeding you good!"
"Paul," Janice said after a long minute during which she put one and one together and got something that looked like the picture on the sign. "You're not serious. I'll scream both heads off."
He picked a needle up off the table. It was four inches long. "Not af'er I sew yer mouth shut. You know whatta whiz I am with the sutures!
"Of course," he added in a giggle as Janice's eyes finally began to widen in horror, "we'll haf'a change the name o' the act. But tha's okay. You and your name are bet'er fits for it anyway!"
Submitted for "SCREAMS!!!" for 3-8-21
Prompt: A plastic surgeon goes too far.