As with all the female members of her family on her mother’s side, the mole was present at birth, a tiny red splotch.
“The hand of a fairy dipped in cranberry,” the delivering OB had quipped.
It had not grown in area or height until she turned twelve, but after that it thickened noticeably. Her pediatrician had related it to the onset of her menses. It was probably hormonal, nothing to worry about, he told the girl and privately offered the name of a plastic surgeon to Georgie’s mother, Allie. Allie took the card with a tight-lipped smile. It was beginning, she knew.
Georgie did indeed have the mole removed by her 13th birthday. It had grown exponentially by that time and her father, her pediatrician, and the surgeon himself, all feared cancer. Allie seemed unfazed by that horror. She took on preparing Georgie for the procedure with such a blasé attitude that the teenager herself was less afraid of undergoing biopsy and surgery than enthused to be rid of the mole. In 13-year-old Georgie’s mind that was the way of the world. Problems arose and with her parents’ help they were dealt with, resolved by love, support, wisdom, and money. Her mother, a former model now retired from the fashion industry, had taste, beauty, and her own money. Georgie’s father was a successful copyright lawyer and a handsome triathlete. Things did not stand in their way. Georgie was otherwise in perfect health and there was no family history of cancer. In her world, physical defects surrendered to science and physical effort.
When the mole grew back after the first surgery, Georgie was devastated. It was slightly larger than before and seemed to be growing faster. In six months, the surgeon performed a second operation and uncomfortably suggested chemotherapy, even though there were no clear bio-chemical markers for cancer. While Georgie and her parents said a firm “No!” to the chemo, over the next years she was exposed to more surgeries, light therapy, massive doses of vitamins, and a brief stint of acupuncture. Her chi was not the problem. The problem was the big ugly mole that grew back regardless of the surgeon’s knife, or laser, or cryogenic freezing, or acid.
By 17 Georgie was considering suicide and her mother knew it. They had visited plastic surgeons and dermatologists in the double digits, Georgie’s passport had some unusual stamps, and still she had skipped her graduation, as well as the last two months of her senior year of High School. The mole’s growth following removal had indeed accelerated and by now, the first black granules had begun to appear shortly after the stitches were removed during Christmas break. By June the mass again hung from her face, it’s weight beginning to distort the shape of her left eye as the skin morphed to accommodate the mole’s weight. Allie sensed her daughter’s emotional state was desperate.
Yes, Georgie’s mom knew. She intimately understood, of course, having gone through feelings much the same herself, at about the same age. So, in mid-June of Georgie’s post-graduation summer, Allie took Georgie on a mother/daughter vacation to Florida. Officially, it was the stand-in for the spring break and all the post-graduation parties that Georgie had missed. Practically, it was time for Allie to give her daughter some background on her legacy and share the dark hope that went with it.
“What if there was a way to lose it for a year or two?” Allie began.
Georgie looked daggers at her mother in the dim light. “I can’t do it anymore, Mom” she sobbed, “The last time, the acid, it hurt so much and look!” Georgie presented her face to her mother, the growth hanging pendulously from her jaw. Even in the muted starlight, its shadow crawled down her neck. Georgie was crying softly and while Allie’s heart went out to her, she could not afford to be soft right now.
“Great beauty comes at great cost,” she told her daughter. “But you do not have to bear all the pain,” Allie began, and then faltered, “Beauty has always required sacrifice. . .”
Georgie laughed and sobbed simultaneously, “This isn’t about beauty, I feel like I’m in prison, I feel like I am dying. What does it want?”
“What does it want?” Georgie repeated as Allie’s arm went around her and the girl sobbed into her mother’s shoulder.
“Shhhhh” Allie murmured, comforting her daughter. Then, “It wants blood,” she said quietly, and began the explanation that she herself had received thirty years ago.
“It feeds on your beauty, and then it grows until you feed it something else, something that will stop it.” Allie looked away, “Or slow it way down. Dramatically down. Think of a remission for 18-24 months. Your face, clear with no surgery, no acid, do diamond tipped files ripping at your skin.” She brushed a curl from Georgie’s face and tucked it behind her ear, quintessential Mom.
Georgie’s face went from disbelief to excitement, to anger. “Mom, I want this so bad, but if you had something that would fix it. Stop it for a year? I could have had my senior year like a normal person!”
“I waited until I thought you were ready,” her mother said, without apology. “This will be hard. Hard to do, hard on you.” Allie’s voice caught, “Hard on me to see you go through all of this.” “Sacrifice changes you. . .” she began. They sat on the beach and Allie explained.
The next day they went to Orlando, but not to Disney or Universal Studios. The theme parks have cameras, but the little playground at the cheap motel off Route 4 did not. There was an offer of candy and a spiked cup of juice. In a few hours they were on the ferry to the island. A thin bedspread covering the sleeping form in the backseat rose and fell gently. It was full dark by the time Allie parked the car by the side of the beach house.
“Stay here,” she told Georgie, pointing her chin toward the back seat of the rental car. A few minutes later Allie was back with the wheelbarrow they used for gardening. It still had traces of humus in the bottom. Georgie remembered using it to collect sea shells when she was a child. Allie parked it next to the car’s rear door and nodded to Georgie, it was time.
“It is done like this . . .,” Allie had said the night before. Georgie had asked why, and her mother had just shaken her head, “I have no answers, only what your Grandmother told me, what her grandmother told her, as far back as we can remember.”
“For this to work, it must be a boy child, no older than six,” her mother had paused, “Older doesn’t work. I know that from experience,” she sighed. “You must hold the knife yourself, you must. . .cut him deep and when his lifeblood flows, dab it on the mole. Get a handful, rub it in like moisturizer. Then taste the blood. Lick your hand or kiss the wound. . .or. . .you don’t need much, but it has to be an external and internal application”.
Allie stood by Georgie as Allie’s mother had stood by her the first few times. As all the Almer women had, for generations. Georgie sobbed as she cradled the boy’s pulsing, slit neck, catching a handful of blood and raising it to her face. She was rough, slapping it on the mole, bruising her check, until her mother caught her hand and shook her head, no. Allie nodded at Georgie’s bloody hand. Georgie gagged when she licked her palm.
Allie’s hand braced Georgie’s shoulders as the girl bent over, heaving.
“Did you swallow some of the blood?” She asked. Georgie nodded, her body shaking. Somewhere in the process Georgie had dropped the knife and Allie retrieved it. “I’ll take care of this,” she told Georgie, the knife tucked through a loop in the waistband of her cargo shorts. Had Georgie been watching she would have seen the knife used on the boy again, forcefully hacking this time. Then Allie walked out on the private pier. There were several small splashes. But Georgie was numb as she turned toward the beach house, vaguely aware that the water at the end of the pier had started to roil. After a few minutes her mother joined her, gathered her into a hug and they went inside for showers and laundry and hopefully dreamless sleep.
In the morning, Georgie’s mole fell off as she brushed her hair off her face. She came awake suddenly and reached to feel the skin of her cheek, unmarked. She looked down at the coarse black crumbs on her pillowcase. There was no blood. In the mirror, her cheek was as vibrant and rosy as the rest of her face, but her eyes had changed, and she looked away from them.
Her sacrifice lasted 17 months, then a small black speck appeared during the fall of her sophomore year at Vassar. It looked like a bit of coffee grounds the first week. It was the size of a pencil eraser the second week. She booked a flight to meet her mother at the beach house for the long Thanksgiving weekend. Her father had a marathon and would not be able to join them until Sunday.
“You need to drink more” her mother quietly told her, walking through the Orlando airport, as they headed for the rental car.
“No one ever tells college students that!” an old man said, overhearing Allie and laughing as he walked into the parking lot. What beautiful women, he thought. Almost flawless. Shame about that birthmark on the young one.
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