Makeup

Blue eye shadow.

It was my mother’s signature color. Deep smoky blue, heavy below the crease of her lids. For her, the weekend started on Wednesday, the night when the local tavern served two for one pints of watery yellow beer, and bands that practiced a few times a week in a basement or garage took the stage.

I knew what beer tasted like because I would always open the can for her when she asked me to fetch it from the fridge. I’d pop the tab and tip the lid against my mouth for a quick, cold sip. She never noticed, or if she did, she never said.

After my mother had delivered our dinner, a quick mac and cheese with hotdogs and ketchup, a creamy hamburger helper or sticky tuna noodle casserole that tasted of peas and garlic salt, she would drag her small clock radio with its broken antenna into the bathroom, tune it to the classic rock station, light a Basic menthol light 100, and start to sing in her raspy, soulful voice.

I’d sometimes sit on the toilet and watch her get ready. My mother had such confidence in the application of makeup, in the way her body moved, in the songs she sang:

Roxanne, you don’t have to turn on the red light…You don’t have to wear that dress tonight, She would stare into the mirror, her chin up, with the half smile of a woman who was up to no good. Roxanne…

Her cigarette smoldered in the ashtray; the bathroom smelled of liquid foundation, Aquanet, and tobacco smoke. She wore three thin silver bracelets on her right arm; they tinkled like Christmas bells when she combed her hair.

My mother would open her mouth up wide like a fish gasping for water; she would widen her eyes like someone surprised by a clown in the woods. She would apply black mascara in between long draws off her cigarette, sips of beer, the notes of the song. She knew all the words, and I knew them, too.

Sometimes I would try to sing with her, but she shushed me. Sometimes she laughed.

Don’t quit your day job, Pumpkin, she would say.

I knew I wasn’t a very good singer, not like her.

My mother had been to finishing school when she was a teenager. There she had learned how to walk and talk and apply makeup like an expert. She wrapped her lips around the lipstick and rolled it back and forth between them. Then she rubbed her lips together until they were uniform and bright as fresh blood. She told me, in a pinch, a woman could use a little lipstick for blush, if she had no powder.

My mother caught me once with her makeup.

I was fascinated by the way her lipstick looked like an hourglass, thin in the middle and wide on either side and how her eye shadow had a divot in the center where she had worn it down with the applicator. I used my finger tips to brush a little of the blue against my eyelids. I had to stand on tiptoe and lean forward over the sink to see how they looked in the mirror.

I hummed an off key version of Roxanne and fixed my mouth in a half smile.

That’s for grownups who want to look young, she scolded me. You don’t need make up. You never will.

She handed me a piece of toilet paper, and I wiped the color off.

Sarah R. Rodlund

Sarah is a writer and traveler.

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