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Mistaken Identity

posted 18 May 2015, 15:22 by Fran Brady   [ updated 8 Jun 2015, 11:22 ]

Writing group today. Challenge was to write minimum of 1000 words in 3 hours starting with 'The face gazing back at me was not my own'. Here's what I wrote (in 2 hours - I was late):

The face gazing back at me was not my own – of course. My rationale mind had not expected it to be, indeed would have been disappointed and frightened if it had resembled the person I had been for the past sixty years. Very frightened, in fact. That person needed to disappear forever, starting today. Well, yesterday really, since the Sunday papers all over Europe, in a dozen languages, had trumpeted the news of my death.
But it was still a shock to see how my familiar facial movements and expressions, which were registering in my mind the same as always, appeared on this alien face. It was like opening my mouth and hearing someone else’s voice come out, like miming a song to a record, perhaps.
My voice! That had been altered as well, I remembered now, as the last tendrils of the anaesthetic unfurled and drifted away from my brain. Had to be done. My voice was as famous – maybe even more famous – than my face. I cleared my throat tentatively and tried a ‘Hello’ to the stranger in the mirror. The image framed the word with its long, thin lips.
‘They’re going to be useless for holding a cigar,’ I thought sadly, then remembered that there would be no question of that. Too much a part of my old image. They had been weaning me on to a pipe before the operation. A pipe! Might as well expect me to wear a flat cap. The thought triggered an expression of horror from the man in the mirror.
We stared at each other, appalled, bonded for a moment in mutual revulsion. I had agreed to a complete personality change – it had been that or certain and probably unpleasant death at the hands of our conquerors – but I realised that we had never discussed the kind of person I would become. New face, new voice, altered height and weight. But new social class? I baulked at that. There are some prices that may never seem worth paying.

The door of my cell-like room opened. Two men in white coats, one dark, one fair, both with stethoscopes dangling round their necks, walked in uninvited. Clearly, I had no rights to privacy. They came to stand, one on either side of me, looking into the mirror.
‘Good job,’ said Dark and Curly. ‘Brilliant result with the nose.’
‘Mmm. It was touch and go,’ replied Fair and Wispy. ‘The colour and texture of the flesh had been so damaged by his drinking.’
‘Yes. Well done. Ground-breaking stuff.’
‘Excuse me!’ I was livid. How dare they simply talk to each other and ignore me? How dare they discuss me and my nose in this clinical fashion? How dare they speak about me as if I was an alcoholic?
But both men were now staring at me directly and positively beaming, like proud parents looking upon their newborn. Fair and Wispy took my chin in his hand and turned my face this way and that, nodding in a self-satisfied way. ‘Good, good,’ he murmured. ‘The scar is fading well. And that voice!’ He turned to Dark and Curly. ‘Perfect. No one would ever imagine him speaking like that in a million years. I know I was doubtful when you proposed that new procedure, going into the larynx through the back of the neck, but I must say . . .’
He jerked my chin upwards so that, from his considerable height, he could look into my eyes. ‘Speak again,’ he ordered. ‘Say something else.’
‘How dare you!’ I exploded. At least, in my head that is what I said, in my old autocratic voice, brooking no doubt of my power and importance. But what came out was a miserable, wheedling ‘Ow dire yoo?’ in - dear God, could it possibly be? – an unmistakable cockney accent. I sounded like an East End barrow-boy.
‘Wonderful,’ said Dark and Curly. ‘Even better than I hoped. What a coup! I must write this up for The Lancet.’
I was about to remonstrate again at this cavalier treatment, as if I was no better than an exhibit in a medical science museum. They would be proposing to pickle me in formaldehyde next. But there came a bleeping noise from Fair and Wispy’s coat pocket.
‘Got to dash,’ he said cheerfully. He patted me on the shoulder. ‘Keep up the good work. You’re doing splendidly. We’ll have you back on the road in no time.’ And he strode out of the room, whistling.
Back on the road! What was I? An old banger in need of new sparking plugs? I turned to Dark and Curly. ‘Look ’ere,’ I began.
‘Sorry, can’t stop now. Duty calls.’ He made to follow his colleague but turned at the door to survey me critically. ‘You’re going to have trouble with that stretched spine, I’m afraid. No way round that. But leaving you squat and fat just wasn’t an option, I’m afraid. As soon as you put your soft hat on, they would have recognised you. Even without the cigar.’ And he was off, humming the same tune that Fair and Wispy had been whistling. A German thing, ‘Lili Marlene’ I think it was called.
Squat and fat! I fulminated over his insulting adjectives. I had had the figure of a statesman, my darling wife had always told me. Stature and gravitas, the figurehead that a beleaguered nation depended upon and had trusted to save them. Not that I had in the end.. So many dead and injured, so many homeless and starving. And for what? In the end, it had proved impossible to defend our vulnerable little island with its hundreds of miles of coastline and a thousand places to land an invading force. We had been overrun by the monster’s crack troops. Weakened by years of bombing attacks and blockaded food supply ships, we had been no match for them. We had scorned the Dutch and the French for falling too easily but in the end had done no better ourselves.
Now I was that most ignominious of things, a man on the run. How the Gerries hated me! It was my rhetoric that had persuaded our people to keep standing after the disaster at Dunkirk. They had crowded round their wireless sets, like moths round a candle, hanging on my every, sonorous word. Even as London fell and the Eagle marched north and west towards Manchester and Wales, I had continued to broadcast, finding new frequencies every time they closed the last one down. Crouching in cellars, huddling over crackling crystal sets, I had continued to exhort my fellow-Brits to ‘never surrender’. And many had not, dying with their swords in their hands, as it were. That was something to be proud of, at least.
But my days had always been numbered. I had been preparing to meet my maker, when a top secret research unit, based in the Highlands of Scotland, had sought me out and offered me a new identity. I needed to disappear. They needed a guinea pig for some tentative, highly risky research on identity-transplant procedures. They had had some spectacular failures, they confided to me, without mercifully going into details. But they had made advances, they were feeling hopeful.
What choice did I have? I looked again into the mirror. ‘Well,
old boy. Meet yer new face. Now, wot shall we call ourself?’

How quickly did you realise who was speaking?