We’re so pleased to conclude our October Issue with a story by Julia Elliott. Elliott’s novel, The New and Improved Romie Futch, debuted earlier this month through Tin House, and follows a drunk, recently divorced, Internet-porn surfing taxidermist who decides — in hopes of improving his life — to enroll as a research subject at the Center for Cybernetic Neuroscience. We fell in love with Elliott’s stories through her collection The Wilds, a body of work filled with gothic tales and strange transformations. Here in “The Restorative Unit,” an aging actress travels to an exclusive medical spa for treatments via a metal box the pumps restorative liquid into her veins. It’s the perfect story to wrap up October, and a wonderful showcase from one of our favorite writers. Enjoy!
The actress gazes out at an ocean the color of Berry Blue Kool-Aid. The sea is thirty yards away, beyond the sprawl of a sugar-white beach. Everything looks cartoonish, saturated with artificial color—clouds, sky, sea, sand. Is it the procedure, she wonders, filling her with vibrancy already, restoring her eyesight, making her hardened lenses flexible again, strengthening her iris muscles? Will her eyes glint with beautiful fury again? Will they tear up with passion as a beautiful rogue sweeps her into a savage embrace?
This morning, she felt strong enough to rise from bed, and her nurse wheeled her out to the veranda—a slab of modernist concrete tricked out with cable rails. The female nurses wear 1950s uniforms, a retro touch that matches the architecture: starched white dresses with Peter Pan collars, ivory patent-leather T-strap shoes, old-fashioned crown-like hats emblazoned with blood-red crosses. The male assistants, handsome with delicious tans, wear ecru chinos and snowy polos. The building is white-washed. Though the staff represents an array of ethnicities and skin colors, the doctor has flawless alabaster skin.
The actress inspects the long veranda, counting patients: seven this morning—three men, four women, including herself, each one in a wheelchair equipped with a side car containing what the doctor and staff refer to as the “restorative unit,” a two-foot-long contraption connected to each patient by a thick, supple black tube. The unit, sheathed in a ribbed aluminum shell, half robotic, half bioengineered, filters the blood and slowly restores youth, taking five-to-seven years off per session, or so they claim. Each session lasts a month, so the actress has time for just one, and then she must begin her stint as a matriarch on a second-rate history mini-series. Or perhaps she’ll be fired for looking too young? Perhaps they’ll recast her, not as an ingénue, but as a ripe sexy woman with power and pawns, a queenly sort with a harem of young studs.
The actress is skeptical—she’s always skeptical—but that didn’t stop her from taking a pamphlet from her cosmetic dermatologist after yet another round of injectable dermal fillers.
“I’ll Google them immediately,” the actress had said.
“They’re not on the internet,” whispered her dermatologist. “They’re that exclusive. Please be discreet.”
So the actress called the number. She spoke with an agent, who answered all of her medical questions in an aloof, scholarly voice. The agent did not push her to purchase a “spa-cation” package. The agent sat in silence as the actress studied her iPhone calendar. After the actress read out her Visa number, the agent explained that they would book her flight to the San Juan International Airport and email the details. A small plane would fetch her from the airport. She should wait in Concourse C and listen for her name to be called. The flight to the island would not be listed on her official itinerary.
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