by Chloe Timms
It’s my job to bring the girls through from the waiting room into the alteration booth. I try to meet their eyes when I smile and say, ‘Follow me, please.’ It’s reassuring.
The procedure is much more efficient these days. It’s amazing how fast frequency reduction has become after the latest compression advancements; I’m told my modification took three traditional hours. Now the girls are out in minutes. Dizzied and slurring, but they’re all warned about it. It’s better than the blackouts us first-wave girls experienced when the alteration regulations began.
When I lead them into the booth there’s a fold out bench set up ready and beside it, a small cup of cloudy liquid. My father says it’s easier when they’re drowsy – it hurts less. I don’t tell them about the pain, I just tell them the solution tastes sweeter than they’d imagine, and that they might prefer to close their eyes while their body clocks are being altered. It can make your retinas fizz otherwise.
My father says none of his patients have struggled as they’re being wired up to the machines. He says that’s down to me. But we’ve all heard stories about other girls in other horology departments who had.
Girls are prepared for the arrival of this day. From the moment we learn why our ageless mothers don’t have the lines and the grey hairs men have, to the day we’re given the pamphlets, signed by the president himself, that remind us when and how and why. Sixteen is the optimal age for womankind. It offers so much. It’s the peak of our beauty, fertility, innocence. Youth is a precious thing, we’re told to remember. We’re the lucky ones.
A man approaches my desk, older than my father and a thatch of moustache under his nose. His gaze hovers around my lips, and lower, when he speaks. ‘My girl is a tad nervous, perhaps you can come over.’
I follow him back to his seat when he is bookended by two almost identical girls, one with bobble ties in her plaits and the other clutching her elbows.
‘Sweetheart,’ the man says, fingering the ends of the girl’s plaits. ‘It’ll be fine.’
‘It’s quite straightforward. You won’t feel much discomfort at all,’ I say, leaning close to her, looking at the candy-coloured bobbles instead of her blotchy eyes.
‘No no, dear,’ he says to me, his mouth puckering with amusement. ‘This is my wife. I wanted her to reassure our little girl but she seems to have the butterflies! She can barely remember her alteration.’ She must be first-wave, like me.
He tweaks her chin, waiting for the smile.
I look between mother and daughter, then back again. The optimal age. Mirrored. I lift up the corners of my mouth and try to meet their eyes.
‘There’s nothing to worry about,’ I say. ‘Remember, we are the lucky ones.’