While working on her Green Man, Alice pondered the issue of photosynthesis. It seemed rather unfair that plants could make their own food using sunshine, whereas any lengthy time out in the sun just gave her freckles. What evolutionary use were freckles? They certainly didn’t mottle the skin enough to create good camouflage.
She could understand why a furry animal would be unable to use photosynthesis. Hairs were basically dead, and would be unable to transfer any benefits if the hair was green with chlorophyll. (Alice didn’t know about the special transparent hairs of polar bears, which transfer sunlight to the skin of the bear; she was a botanist, not a zoologist.) But the bare skin of a human being would be perfect for such a process.
Think of how mankind would benefit from such an adaptation. No person need ever suffer from starvation, due to poverty or a crop failure. And even the wildlife and the wild plants would benefit, because there wouldn’t need to be so much clearing of forest for fields. Animals like pigs could be converted over to photosynthetic feeding, and how happy would the farmers be when they could fatten their baconers simply by taking them for a walk in the sunshine?
If you wanted to lose weight, you would simply wear more clothes and a hat and carry a parasol!
If you were feeling peaky, you would go for a sun bath. You wouldn’t need chicken soup; which would make the chickens much happier.
Of course, people would still eat for pleasure, and they would still need to drink just as much. As well, the human digestive system would still need a certain amount of daily roughage to keep things moving along, as it were.
With all this to consider, Alice was still intrigued by the idea of having the ability to photosynthesise. So she experimented on a few lizards and naked mole rats until she was certain she had got her methodology under control. And then she tried it out.
Alice developed a process that converted the melatonin in your skin to chlorophyll, and turned it onto a symbiote, in the same way that lichen was a symbiotic life form created from fungi and algae. However, where the fungis couldn’t live without the algae and visa versa, Alice was quite capable of living without her symbiote if the experiment wasn’t a success.
Alice went to bed wondering if her experiment was going to work. She expected to wake up in the morning a pale shade of green, too pale for anyone to notice. Things didn’t go quite to plan. When she woke up in the morning, her smattering of freckles had turned a rich shade of blue-tinged green, while her skin remained cream.
“Oh dear,” said Alice, when she caught sight of her image in her bathroom mirror. The effect wasn’t unattractive, but it was startling. Her skin looked like moss quartz or milk opal.
Her godmother dropped her spoon with a clatter when Alice sat across from her at breakfast.
“Mon Dieu! Have you caught the green measles?” Amélie exclaimed. “Are you contagious? Should I send for a doctor?”
“No. I am afraid I did this to myself,” said Alice. “I was attempting to give myself the ability to photosynthesise, like plants.”
“Oh Alice! How could you be so foolish? You have a hard enough time gaining acceptance in society as it is, without green freckles.” Then another thought struck. “Is this permanent?” asked her godmother, with growing horror.
“I’m not certain,” said Alice. “Though I theorise that if I refrain from going out into the sun, I imagine the chlorophyll organelles with perish, or at least atrophy.”
“Do you have any idea how long that might take?”
“No. But it is such a pretty green. It goes nicely with my eyes and hair. Can’t we pretend it is some new French fashion? After all, there was a fashion for beauty marks for a time.”
Amélie looked thoughtful. “We can try. The only other option is for you to become a recluse and hope the green fades away enough to be unnoticeable.”
One of the side effects that Alice hadn’t counted on was that photosynthesis creates oxygen and uses up carbon dioxide. It meant that she tired less, and she wasn’t as easily winded. And for a time, it did become fashionable to have green skin or green freckles. Fashionable women dyed their skins or painted themselves with green dots. It looked fine on the redheads and the brunettes, but the blonde girls had to keep the green pale so as not to look rather strange.
Even fashionable men took up the practice. Several dandies went so far as to dye their beards and moustaches green, since they didn’t have enough facial skin showing. It started quite the Green Man fashion movement.
Felix was one of those who took to painting green freckles on his face. He didn’t go overboard. He just dabbed a light scattering of freckles over his nose, and made sure he always wore a matching handkerchief in the exact same colour. Sometime he wore a green matching carnation in his lapel as well. He started a fad among the Aesthetic Movement for wearing a boutonnière.
Alice was relieved to find that the green freckles did die off over time, even if they weren’t starved of sunlight. She liked the idea that she could have green freckles, but she didn’t enjoy the thought of having them forever, like a tattoo. It was fun to look a little different when you wanted to, but there were times when you just wanted to fit in.
Being tall and a redhead made that hard enough. And there were times when you wanted to wear something other than green…