Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Kick in the Face

Dulcie Weeks was born beautiful. Blonde, blue-eyed, rosy cheeked, even her disposition was beautiful.
Her parents were so proud and happy with their beautiful, well-mannered baby, they couldn't show her off enough.
At two, she won a local Beautiful Baby contest; at three, she was on the cover of a magazine with nation-wide circulation; at four, she was in a movie; at five, she fell in love with horses when her Grandaddy Murdock bought her a pony; at six, her mother was showing dogs and Dulcie at National Dog shows; at seven, she was in another movie, one in which she really had to act; by her eighth birthday, she was winning horse shows on her Grandaddy's Arabians; at nine, she entered a posh girl's school where she won honors for her grades; at ten, it was piano recitals; eleven, voice lessons and cute little songs at Mommy's parties during vacation.
At twelve, well, at twelve, Dulcie proved to be a self-centered, just-plain-spoiled brat. And at a posh girls' Academy, Dulcie was just another spoiled rich teenager, one among a whole bevy of spoiled, rich teenagers. But her I.Q. allowed her to skip a grade and she left the academy.
She was a talented, intelligent, well-mannered sixteen - really a spoiled bitch, wise beyond her years and wanting every-thing no matter what it cost to get it.
She was indulged, invited everywhere, and older men loved being photographed with the beautiful, talented Dulcie Weeks.
Her mother was busy preparing for her coming-out party; she believed the sooner Dulcie was launched into society, the sooner she could be courted, married off, and Mother could get on to bigger and better things. She and Dulcie no longer had a good rapport.
Two days after her seventeenth birthday, after riding at her Grandaddy's horse farm, Dulcie stepped behind a pregnant mare and was kicked in the face.
The doctors worked for days trying to save her life. They succeeded, but no one could save her face.
Dulcie was well on her way to recovery before the doctors mentioned, while in her room, she would never be beautiful again, and she heard.
She screamed, yelled and hollered, used language the doctors had never heard before, referred to them and their antecedents, told where they could go and what they could do, until finally, her shots took over. The doctor's wired her jaws shut.
Dulcie finally realized that all the anger in the world would never get her back the flawless beautiful features she lost several days after her seventeenth birthday.
After her bones reknit, Dulcie would need further reconstructive surgery for fill-in. It might take five or six operations to restore and replace the damage to make her look normal. The skin itself was no problem - her scars would all be well-hidden. The best surgeon in the country was flown in for the reconstructive surgery she underwent. Cosmetic surgery would continue until the doctors were certain there was nothing more they could do.
Meanwhile, everything was done for her comfort.
One morning, when leaving her room, the resident patted Dulcie's shoulder. "A little more power in that kick, my dear, and you would have had brain damage, so count your blessings."
Dulcie seethed through further visits from her doctors. She silently cursed them, the horse, the hospital, the whole of Creation, - her wrath knew no bounds. With jaws wired together, she could voice none of this, but her eyes got her message across, no one met her gaze head-on, the venom in them was not pleasant.
Dulcie was on the verge of tears one afternoon when her Grandaddy arrived, but Dulcie did not cry. She never cried. She never had had to cry, life was always Dulcie's way, wherever, whenever, however. She resolved it would be like that again.
They served her dinner, which was all liquid. Her lower jaw had to be rebuilt, thus the wiring. If she hadn't been ravenously hungry, she'd have thrown it all on the floor. It tasted so good, she finished everything, pleasing her Grandaddy, who was genuinely glad to see her with a good appetite.
The elderly gentleman held his granddaughter in high esteem; he knew he helped make her the spoiled brat she was. Her high spirits and escapades gave him enjoyment. Her scholastic ability made him proud and he had gloried in her beauty.
Her accident put a great burden on the old gentleman. It was his prize mare that delivered the kick. She had since given birth to a fine filly. But Dulcie knew better than to walk behind a horse without first announcing she was there, especially a tempermental pregnant mare.
Immediately after the birthing, both mare and filly were shipped out, the mare to be re-bred to the stallion who helped produce the flawless filly.
When Dulcie, in a note to her Grandaddy, asked what he had done with the mare, he replied with an innocent countenance: "Why, she's gone, child, of course, she's gone."
As her Grandaddy never referred to death in any other manner than to say a person, a dog or a horse was gone, Dulcie took it to mean the mare was destroyed. That brightened her day.
Dulcie couldn't talk, but her Grandaddy stayed awhile, to repeat all the gossip Dulcie was missing, and he excused himself as soon as one of Dulcie's young friends came in.
"Your Grandaddy looks awfully gray, Dulcie, he all right?" her friend asked.
Dulcie nodded her head. Yeah, she thought, the old geezer will probably live to be a hundred and leave all his money to charity.
She was wrong again. Grandaddy Murdock died of a massive heart attack at eleven that evening.
Dulcie knew her Grandaddy was paying for all her medical bills. He maintained, as it was his grandchild who was kicked by his horse, it was only fitting he should pay her medical bills.
The day of the funeral, her folks brought in appropriate funeral attire, Dulcie's mother dressed her, a beautician did her hair, a wheelchair took her to the limousine - all properly photographed - and she was whisked to the funeral home and then to the cemetery.
Dulcie got more attention and publicity than did her Grandaddy's funeral.
All these pictures were re-published the next week when his will was read. He left everything - his country estate, his horses, his dogs - all to his beloved granddaughter, Dulcie Weeks.
After the will was read, the lawyer asked to see Dulcie in his office. As she was underage, her parents were invited to accompany her.
What her Grandaddy really left Dulcie was a heavily-mortgaged estate with a stable of horses and a kennel of dogs, eating her ever-deeper into debt.
Dulcie looked askance at her parents. She was never privy to their finances, her Grandaddy was the one who always indulged her. Her father looked back at Dulcie in all her bandages, advising:
"I would suggest you sell it all, Dulcie. That way you can pay for the operations you've had. You see, your Grandfather agreed in writing to pay all your medical expenses. His estate is liable, and you are the heir to that estate. You will have to sell to meet those debts. With what is left, perhaps you can have the other operations when they are scheduled."
"Do you have any idea how much they are now?" she wrote to the lawyer, realizing there would be no help from her parents.
"The hospital gave an estimate of $l50,000. That is a lot of money." the lawyer answered.
"What is the estate worth, approximately?" she wrote.
"A million, maybe more."
"Everything there is mine? The horses, dogs, house and its contents?" she wrote.
"Also the cars, furniture, saddles, bridles, everything." he answered.
"How soon do I inherit?" she wrote.
"Just sign here."
"Good, I can have most of this (she pointed to her face as she wrote) taken off tomorrow. The wire in the jaw, I'm not so sure. It won't be soon enough. Take care of everything until then." to the lawyer. She had opinions to voice, lots of them.
Dulcie's mother and father hovered over her all the way back to the hospital.
She was advised to stay where it was clean and sterile. No barns, horses or dogs, she should stay at the hospital until she thoroughly healed.
Dulcie proved good at waiting. And while she waited, she remembered spending a good deal of time with her Grandaddy while he went to auctions, horse and dog races, listening to his employees, trainers, stable manager, his friends, over many years advising Grandfather on ways to save money. He shrugged off all the advice and suggestions, walking away with Dulcie hanging on his arm.
All this led her to believe Grandaddy's wealth was inexhaustible, not that he was living on the edge.
For years, Dulcie imagined herself as Lady of the Grand Manor, living at the Dulcie Week's Horse Farm. Now she would be, but only up until the time the doctor's bills came due.
When the head surgeon came into her room, trailed by a foreign doctor, Dulcie took a closer look. She remembered him from somewhere before - with his wife and young son. He and his companion examined Dulcie's bandages - to what avail she could not comprehend (until she got her bill, she found his 'visit' cost her $l750, then she understood).
Dulcie managed to get a commitment of ten days until wire removal. Swell, she'd just sit back and rest and heal, fast!
Then Dulcie remembered seeing the doctor in a box at the race track, discussing a horse. Oh, my God, no! He wanted a foal by the mare delivering her kick, and his famous stallion, and one hundred fifty thousand was mentioned for a prime foal.
"And I insisted, like a fool, that Grandaddy destroy her!" She actually did shed a few tears for herself then. The stable boy warned her he was always dodging that mare's kicks. Dulcie hadn't listened, no horse would dare kick out at her! No? She was living proof that she was wrong!
That was a first! Dulcie wrong? Yeah, Dulcie was wrong! It was really going to cost her - looks, money, Lady of the Manor, the easy life she was so fond of, everything actually.
And an ugly duckling doesn't nab a prime marital prospect!
Dulcie took a long inner look at herself and her prospects in the ten days needed for her jaws to finish healing. The bandages would come off at the time the wire was removed. She knew her looks would be completely changed and it really worried her.
Dulcie was able to leave the hospital to visit a little hat shop around the corner. The owner promised to put veils on a hat or two Dulcie owned and liked, if she would bring them in to her. If the results from the kick were too awful, well, she would need more than one small hat!
Why wasn't the woman more reassuring? She told Dulcie over and over that although her looks would be changed, her doctors were the best, and no way should she expect to be ugly, just different. It would take time to get used to her new appearance, though.
She's snowing me, Dulcie thought. But her hopes rose. She dropped in at the shop often and stayed longer and longer during those ten days.
It was a pleasant shop, the work room was comfortable and the owner warm in her greeting and very unsympathetic to Dulcie's fears. Very unlike her mother, who fawned, wept and decried her circumstances. Mrs. Breen was optimistic, pointing out how fortunate Dulcie was to be full-grown when this happened. Had she been younger, she'd need operations for years as she grew. Now, if there were to be problems with her looks, they could be repaired.
"Don't be so down, Dulcie. I've heard a lot about that spoiled brat, Dulcie Weeks. You've come a long way to living down your image. Think how much easier it will be for people to forgive when you have a different face.
"If what you tell me is correct, your grandfather owed everyone. That spoiled brat Dulcie would have been cut off at the knees. Everybody would swarm in to collect their due. Now, well, maybe, if you visit each and every one and personally ask for time to pay, with a plan worked out, they just might hold back. People like to be assured of getting paid eventually, instead of never.
"Sit down there, and in black and white, make a list your assets now, another of your debts, put your estate on a budget if there are any earnings, cut down on everything, sell anything you don't need. If something were financed, send it back. Start right now." She handed Dulcie paper and pen.
Mrs. Breen was very surprised when Dulcie wrote these words on the first sheet:
"Would you be with me tomorrow when the wires come out and most of the bandages are taken off? I don't want my mother, I want someone who will see me for the first time, and I'll want an honest opinion."
"Now you sound like my kind of person." Lillian Breen smiled affectionately. "I'd be proud to be there, Dulcie, and we'll take this along."
It was a cute little hat. In itself, it would catch the eye, and the veil was one that would hide enough, but still not look like it was meant to hide.
"Great," Dulcie wrote. "Eight o'clock tomorrow morning, Mrs. Breen."
"Call me Lillian, or Lil, or anything you wish. Forget the Mrs. Breen."
Dulcie grinned. What came from between her lips no way resembled Lil, but she tried. She got a hug for her effort, and that hug did more for Dulcie than the receipt of her fancy gifts in the past. She had a friend! No matter how she looked, nor how poor she was, she had a friend!
Back at the hospital, Dulcie informed the nurse that her mother and father were not to be at the hospital for the unveiling. Oddly enough, the nurse understood.
Dulcie was up early. Lillian came at quarter-after seven, helped Dulcie dress and did her hair, warning her that when the bandages came off, her hair would again be a mess.
"Bring a comb and brush when they remove the bandages, then. And I'll make an appointment for a 'do' to fit the hat!"
This seventeen-year-old really had matured, Lillian thought. Let's hope she isn't too ugly under those bandages.
The doctors teased Dulcie - they were going to take the bandages off while her jaw was still wired and if she were too disappointed, they'd leave her wired. It'd be easier on their ears.
Lillian couldn't hold Dulcie's hand as the bandages were unwound, she would have been in the way. They snipped with care, soon patches of skin were exposed. Fine surgical lines were still pink and a few stitches evident.
When the last bandage fell, Dulcie's eyes were on Lillian, who had never seen the beautiful Dulcie. Her view of this face was what most people would see for the first time. Dulcie got little from Lillian's face.
"I don't know what you're going to think, Dulcie. I suggest," she turned to the Doctor, "that I do her hair, and let her see herself for the first time in this," she held up the cute little hat.
"I think it's a fine idea." the surgeon said. "We have pictures of the old Dulcie, she was warned she would look different, but considering her age and all, perhaps this would be easier on her." They left the room.
Dulcie's eyes were on Lillian as they left. There was a pleading look in them that Lillian longed to fulfill.
"Did you have a determined chin?" she grinned at Dulcie. "A little tilt to your nose? An almost flawless complexion? A kissable (but I wouldn't know about that) pair of lips?"
Lillian was busy with Dulcie's hair as she fed out this information. It was long and naturally curly. Her bangs were too long, Lillian swept them gently to one side. She took the hat and sat it on Dulcie's head, first one way, then another. She arranged the veil, brushed some hair this way and some that, all the time chattering.
Dulcie's heart sank into a lump in her stomach. It's bad, she thought. Worse than what Lillian hoped for?
She whined through her teeth, louder and louder. Finally, Lillian put her hand gently over Dulcie's mouth.
"Shut up," she warned, "or I won't let you see just how pretty you are!"
Dulcie quieted, was handed the mirror and studied the picture. The veil was arranged to hide the pink scars, and Lillian held Dulcie's other hand to keep her from snatching off the hat.
"Look closely, Dulcie. This is the first time I've ever seen you. When your scars fade, you can hold your own anywhere. Study your face as you see it now." She pulled the mirror out to the end of Dulcie's arm. "Look!"
Dulcie looked. After two minutes, Lillian lifted the veil, still holding the mirror away. "No one will get any closer until you're better healed. Your face is symmetrical, you nose has no lump, your chin is great. Take a feature at a time, then all together. And take that set look of dismay off your face. Try to smile."
With wired jaws, the effort at a smile was a grimace.
Lillian laughed. "Pretend you don't know this girl. What's your first impression? Stuck up princess? Uh, uh! Someone you'd like to know? Someone a little innocent, maybe, if you don't look her in the eye? I like what I see, Dulcie. A young girl who could have had the world by a string, but somehow it all slipped away. A girl whose grandaddy left her a beautiful estate, but it's mortgaged to the hilt. A girl who has to use her training and upbringing and common sense to realize life is no longer going to be Easy Street. If you want something now, dear, be prepared to work for it.
"Someday, after you're married, you may give birth to another beautiful Dulcie. Remember what it was like to wake up one morning to reality, and raise her to know the difference between heartless snobbery and an outgoing, friendly nature.
"Now go get your jaws unwired, and thank those doctors for what you now have. No more snobbery, Dulcie, try gratitude." Lillian gathered her combs and brushes. "I'll be at the shop."
Dulcie sat looking at herself for a long time. She was changed outwardly. Lillian seemed to like her, and was her only friend. If she changed inwardly, could she make more friends? Could she change? She'd try.
The unwiring took several shots of novacaine, and Dulcie refrained from looking directly at either of the doctors before, during and after the process.
"Try moving your jaw up and down slowly," one said, after taking his fingers from her mouth. As she did, he held fingers against both sides of her jawbone, frowning first, but as Dulcie moved her jaw up and down, he started to smile a little.
"Trying saying something." he suggested.
Dulcie took a deep breath. "Thank you," she said. it was totally unexpected, "Thank you both.' she said slowly. "It isn't the old me, but it's a face I can live with."
"You're welcome, my dear." the surgeon answered.
Abruptly, Dulcie walked close and hugged him, then reached out to grasp the younger doctor's hand.
"I'd build a new wing on the hospital for you, but I found out yesterday my grandfather left me only debts. I will pay my bill, though. I'll just have to figure out how."
"Why don't we talk in my office after I check you out?" he suggested.
"All right." Dulcie answered. "I'd be glad to."
A half hour later, having gathered her things in a plastic bag the nurse gave her, Dulcie refused a ride in a wheel chair, telling the eager gray lady that she had been kicked in the head, there was nothing wrong with her feet. She inquired into Dr. Rothman's office location and presented herself at his door.
"I am proud of my work, young lady. May I show you why?"
Dulcie nodded, and he put several x-ray pictures on a large screen. They were horrible, Dulcie could plainly see.
"Are those mine?" she gasped.
"They are."
There was a mirrored cabinet across the room. Dulcie went to it, and looked closely. She was amazed.
"I guess I'm going to have a lot of facial pain, eye trouble and problems with my teeth, aren't I? God, I was a mess! Maybe you'd better tell me the worst while I'm here, please?"
Dr. Rothman waved to a chair. Dulcie sat.
"You were lucky the horse's foot caught you squarely. The bones split here and here." He held up an x-ray of someone else's face, "It pushed back everything in one piece, not your nose nor your chin though. If everything would have been shattered, we could never have gotten it back in place in one twelve-hour operation.
"You were close to death for a while, Dulcie. We fought to keep you alive before we could do any of the restoration work. But we learned several new techniques while doing all this. We call it research surgery. If you will allow us to monitor your progress for one year, maybe put you under so we can be absolutely certain those techniques are working, we can label your operation as just that, research surgery. I will not give you a bill. The x-rays, ambulatory fees, anesthesiology will come under your hospitalization policy carried by your grandfather. You will, however, have my colleague's fees, special nursing, a few other odds and ends left on your bill.
"Since all of these will be submitted as a matter of course to your insuror, while they, in turn, decide what they will and won't pay, it will be about six month's before you know how much this actually cost, but I believe it will be somewhere between fifteen and twenty thousand."
"Then I'd better start looking for a way to pay it. Six month's isn't very long a time to earn that much money, on top of what I already owe."
"I still want that foal, Dulcie."
"I'm sorry, I begged Grandfather to destroy the mare and he promised he would."
"And then he saw the x-rays, Dulcie. He knew he had no ready cash to put up for my services. He pledged the mare's foal, and he left the mare with me. You can put them both down, or let me have them. I'll go $200,000. Its a beautiful little filly, and the mare was re-bred. But they're yours, with the board bill if you don't sell."
"I don't hate the mare, Doctor, but I don't want a horse around that kicks people. She might kick you or one of your grooms."
"I'm willing to chance it."
"Then I'll sign a bill of sale at the lawyer's office tomorrow."
"I'll have your certified check ready," He stood up, Dulcie shook his hand across the desk, and he came around to open the door for her.
"Remember, Dulcie, we'll have to schedule those tests."
"Have your office call me. You know where I'll be." Dulcie took her things to Lillian's, who was overjoyed at the news.
"You've solved three problems this morning. Your first look at your new face, your hospital and doctor bills settled and now you are going to get out of debt.
"I'll take you to see your folks. I know you don't have a driver's license, or I'd let you go alone." Lillian continued.
"Thank you, Lillian, I don't want to go alone. This is the hardest part. My Mother had great plans for her beautiful daughter, and I'm now a big disappointment to her."
"I wonder," Lillian replied as she went for her car keys.
Dulcie took off the cute little hat with the concealing veil. At Lillian's look of askance, Dulcie told her:
"My mother and I haven't been very close," she explained. "When I was old enough to get into trouble, she retired to her room with 'the vapors'. Dad took care of everything and meted out the punishment. It was her idea I be sent off to 'finishing' school, probably hoping it would be my finish.
"When she came to see me at the hospital, she never came alone. She always brought some talkative crony from one of her clubs. No, I want her reaction to hit me here," she patted her heart. "Right now, I can take it, especially with you around."
"Why thank you, Dulcie. But maybe you have your mother all wrong. Keep an open mind and see."
Dulcie did, however, put the hat on the back seat of the car.
Lillian followed Dulcie to the front door of her home. The maid answered the door, but Dulcie's mother was standing near her.
"Morning, Stella," Dulcie pushed her way in. "Good morning, Mother."
Mrs. Weeks' reaction: "What do you mean - mother? Young lady, I'll have you know..." she slowed the word to a stop, took a step forward and looked closely at Dulcie. "No, no, what have they done.... you can't be my beautiful Dulcie!" and fainted.
"Stella," Dulcie lowered her mother to the floor. "I think mother has the vapors again. Get someone to help you take her to bed, and then come up to my room. Well, don't stand there just staring, girl, move it!"
Stella gasped, "Yes, Miss Dulcie," and ran down the hall, leaving Mrs. Weeks on the floor.
"Lillian, come see my room. I'm moving to Grandfather's immediately after I call my lawyer. Its a shrine to a beautiful Dulcie," she exclaimed as she threw open the door.
"Wow!" was Lillian's only comment. A decorator's dream for the bed-sitting room of a beautiful blonde! Pictures, trophys, mirrors, mirrors, closets of beautiful clothes, mirrors, large windows with velvet draperies, sand colored carpets, blue velvet upholstered chair and couch, bedspread.
"I'm going to love living in Grandaddy's house. No, my house. Everything is at least a hundred years' old. It's a bit dark, but I'm not going to hide there."
Stella knocked lightly on the open door.
"Mother recover yet, Stella?" Dulcie asked, amused.
"No, Miss, I doubt she ever will."
"Oh, she will. There's bridge club tomorrow. Stella, will you pack my things? And that one picture of Grandaddy, Father and me? The rest of this stuff, put in a nice big box in the attic. Is Dad around? I'd like his reaction to my new face before I go."
"He's in town with Mr. Grimes, his lawyer, I understand," Stella answered.
"Then I'll talk to him and Howard Grimes at the same time," Dulcie dialed, motioning Lillian to a chair.
"Mr. Grimes, please, Harriet. This is Dulcie Weeks."
"Hello, Mr. Grimes, I understand my Dad is with you. I don't need to talk to him right this minute, I want to talk to you first."
"All right, Dulcie (she heard her father's voice in the background, but Grimes shushed him), what is it?"
"First, tell Daddy I am not suing the doctor nor the hospital, but Dr. Rothman will be in tomorrow with a certified check made out to me. Find the papers on the mare, the one that kicked me, and her filly. He's buying both. The check is for $200,000.
"I'll want a complete listing of the farm's indebtedness when I endorse the check. Some of those bills I'll pay in person so the check goes into my personal account, not the one with Dad's name on it, the other one at Bank One. I'll have a deposit slip made out."
"Dulcie, this is excellent news. It will put your estate out of debt, but it won't cover your doctor and hospital bills."
"I've already taken care of those, sir. Now let me talk to Dad."
"Here he is, and I look forward to seeing you tomorrow, Dulcie."
Grimes must have covered the phone, because there was a minute before her Dad answered.
"Dulcie, are you all right. Why didn't you tell us your jaw was being unwired and your bandages, are they off, too? And what's this about all this money and your hospital bills being paid?"
"Well, hush, Daddy, and I'll tell you." Dulcie said in her best southern accent, and then regretted it and reversed to the new Dulcie.
"You'd better get on home, Daddy, I've given Mother the vapors again. The bandages came off, you now have an ugly duckling, and when I presented myself at the doorstep, Mother promptly fainted. I'm moving to Grandaddy's tonight. Stella's packing my things, and I'll send one of the grooms for them.
"Dulcie, you can't go to that dark, old house by yourself."
"Daddy, that dark old house is now my home, nobody fired any of the servants, did they? If they didn't quit because they weren't being paid, I'll pay them all tomorrow. Don't worry, I'm a big girl with a new face and a new personality. Business comes before pleasure now, sir.
"When mother gets through telling you horror stories about my new look, put some garlic around your neck and come see me. Love you!"
Lillian was shaking her head at Dulcie when she hung up. "That was brutal, kiddo, worthy of the old Dulcie."
"Well, if I was brutal, maybe he won't boo-hoo on me when I see him. Come on, let's pack up some things and get out of here, to where the real Dulcie will develop and grow.
"By the way, I'm adopting you. Don't you need a vacation from your hat shoppe? I'm going to need a chaperone, I am only seventeen, you know." Dulcie declared.
"Young lady, you will never be seventeen nor eighteen again as far as the world goes. But you're all right, Dulcie."
They went down the wide staircase, arm in arm. When they reached the bottom, the door flew open.
Dulcie's father must have broken all speed records to have made it there that fast.
He looked from brunette Lillian to blonde Dulcie, back to Lillian and then Dulcie.
"My daughter is a blonde and seventeen," he grinned at Lillian, "so you ain't her! No offense, ma'am!"
He grabbed Dulcie and hugged her close. "I've always wanted another daughter," he said. "You will do just fine, child, just fine."