The Will to Overcome, by Quim Monzó
Dorotea is sitting in front of her dressing table. She runs the brush through her hair, slowly, while watching in the mirror as Tintin listlessly pulls off his sweater, listlessly tosses it on the sofa, listlessly runs his hand through his beard, against the direction of the hair, and goes to take a shower. Dorotea gets up, takes off her gown, leaves it on the stool, gets into bed and listens to the running water. She considers the possibility of picking up the book she was reading yesterday and reading for a while, but in fact she’s not in the mood. It’s better to leave it were it was, on the bedside table, and wait for her husband to get out of the shower. They could talk for a while, Tintin and her. When Tintin comes back, still drying himself, he looks so tired to Dorotea that she’s sure he won’t want to talk. She asks him if he’s tired. Tintin says he is, gets into bed, says good night, turns out the light, and, seven seconds later (as Dorotea contemplates him, unsure whether to turn out her light too, or to go back to her old idea, to read for a while), begins to snore.
It’s been a long time since things have changed. When did they stop fucking? Dorotea streches the skin of her arm taut. It’s sagging. She strokes her breasts. They hang down. They were never large breasts, but at least before they were perky. Maybe that’s why. Her friend Carlota said these things happen all the time. She takes off the sheet, gets up, turns out the light on the bedside table and goes to the living room. She lights a cigarette and, blowing smoke rings from her mouth (she learned it from her first boyfriend, at seventeen), looks at herself in the glass of the balcony, which reflects her pyjama’d image. She passes her hand over her face. She’s never thought herself pretty. Those thin lips… Those thick eyebrows… That pointy nose… How could Tintin possibly be attracted to her? When you’re young, an unremarkable face is made up for by the softness of the skin, the heat of the flesh. When you pass forty, things change.
That’s why she decides to go to the esthetician. She goes the very next day. She gets her eyebrows redone. It takes all morning and she comes out delighted. She gazes at herself in the glass of a shoe store window. As soon as she sees her, her friend Carlota tells her: with the eyebrows thinner, and, above all, separate, her face is much improved. She arrives at home with a mix of excitement and fear. Excitement in case Tintin sees her, finds her amazingly beautiful and they fall in love all over again. And fear in case he sees her, he doesn’t like the change and scorns her as frivolous and banal. Or, even worse, if he laughs at it.
But Tintin comes home and doesn’t even notice. A week later, Dorotea goes to a plastic surgeon. She says she doesn’t like the lips she has: thin, cold, unappealing. She gets silicone injected. Now she has thick, sensual, avid lips. Carlota says it’s an outstanding change and asks her if she’s going to make any more. Despite the friend’s approval, what happened with the eyebrows makes Dorotea go home with low expectations. She’s mistaken: this time Tintin notices right away. For the first time in months, they copulate.
Comforted by her success, Dorotea returns to the surgeon. She gets silicone cushions implanted in her breasts. They look wonderful. Upright, perky, the perfect size. This time, Carlota wrinkles her nose. She asks her if she’s sure she’s not taking it too far, if all this, in a way, wouldn’t transform her from herself into a plastic woman, like the ones in movies and magazines that men buy. Would she still be herself, despite the eyebrows, the inflated lips and the silicone breasts? Doesn’t she feel a little like an android?
Dorotea gets offended; of course she’s still herself. Who else, if not? She decides that maybe Carlota is getting envious of her upgrades. Dorotea returns to the surgeon. At this level of their professional relationship, there is already what one could call trust. That’s why it’s the same surgeon who tells her the next step has to be the nose. Dorotea considers getting irritated at that way of his telling her she has a dreadful nose; but she weighs it; it would be idiotic to get offended. The doctor is right; she knows it, and knows that if he says it, it’s to help (her, that is). She trims her nose. The shortened little nose once again savagely awakens Tintin’s libido.
Just after copulation he looks at her with distrust.
“Who are you getting yourself redone for? Who are you trying to please by redoing your lips, your breasts, your nose? Don’t fool me, Dorotea.”
Dorotea lays her head down on the marital biceps. She’s not getting herself redone for anyone, she tells him. Just for him, although it sounds like a lie. And after she’s said it she starts to daydream. Maybe now, with her new face and inflated breasts, she could blind any man she wanted. But is that what she wants?
She doesn’t want that. What she wants is to please her husband more and more. That’s why the next thing she did was get a facelift. And after that a hip replacement. The surgeon recommended it. It’s a new technique, unthinkable just a few years ago, that allows her to swap her old, wide hips for a new pair, made out of a semiorganic material. She can forget about cellulitis and liposuction now. Before that, though, she has her legs changed (they give her a very svelte pair instead), her arms changed, her arteries changed, her neck changed. The fact that one day, while she was coming out of the clinic, she saw Carlota enter, go up to the reception and ask for the time, confirms the success of all these changes. Despite all her efforts not to, she’s ended up going to the surgeon too! At point, Dorotea has changed so much that she permits herself the luxury of observing Carlota without being recognized.
The next day Dorotea returns to the clinic. To give her cheekbones svelteness they change her skull, and that takes her a while to get used to. Especially the circuit board which, implanted between the two hemispheres of her brain, allows her to scan her surroundings, see in the dark, analyze people’s insides with x-rays. When they remove the bandages she takes a walk down the hallway. Doctors, patients and visitors stare her up and down. If they knew the legs were premade, the hips semiorganic and the eyebrows and cheekbones modified, if they knew they she even has a little circuit board implanted thanks to which she can read the obscenities they think when they see her on the screens that are her eyes. Tintin doesn’t know it either; that’s why, when he visits the clinic that evening (later than he said) and gives a banal excuse to justify his delay, on the screens that are her eyes, Dorotea discovers that Tintin has been reluctant to act, but that that evening (hence the delay) he had finally told Carlota they wouldn’t see each other any more. Dorotea hugs her husband and weeps with joy.