The Makeup Artist

Lucy Suitor Holt

Poppy opened her bag and set out little pots of powder, assorted brushes, tubes of colors, and prepared to do her best for Carol Gordon, recently deceased wife of Andrew Gordon, mother of Jennifer and Bryan.

The body was neatly wrapped in a sheet that the undertaker had folded down over Carol's emerald green blouse. Poppy spread a plastic cape over Carol, tucking the edge carefully over the collar. Pale gray poodles, all clipped with furry balls on their ankles and tails, like topiary puppies, frolicked on the rosy pink plastic.

Poppy put her hand on Carol's shoulder. "Carol, I'm here to help you look your best. I hope you don't mind too much but I have to cover up those gorgeous freckles."

Poppy looked close at Carol's face, turned and picked up a selection of bottles and tubes from her assortment. She lined them up on a stainless steel tray.

"Okay, a bit of Beach Wind foundation. Like that name? I get a kick out of the names. They don't want to call it what it is, just brown paint with a touch of pink that blends the black and blue away. I think a dusting of Fair Rose powder will be the perfect touch over that. First, I'll put on just a bit of this Cherry Blossom blusher to add a bit of oomph to your cheeks. Guess you've been a bit sad. I can see the worry lines there between your eyes. You're black and blue and green from your eye to your jaw line. Ran into something, I bet. Like a fist, maybe?

"Now, don't you mind me. I get pretty outspoken sometimes and I tell it like I see it. I do now anyway. Took me a long time to get so blunt about things, but here I am, mouthy as all get out.

"I think we should go with dark brown eyebrow pencil. Here's one called Sable. You could use just a light touch of mascara so we can see those long lashes. None of that blue eye shadow, right? Don't want you to look like some floozy all made up for the bar.

"Did you know I have my own little shop? Poppy's Curl Shoppe. Well, it's only one chair in the corner of my living room. I always dreamed of having my own beauty salon. I went to cosmetology school right after high school. At that time I loved the little local playhouse, but didn't think I had the talent to do any acting myself. So after I finished school, I volunteered to do the makeup for the actors. I'd make them up so they could be transformed into someone else. Then I got married and my new husband thought I was crazy to volunteer like that. He said he wanted me right there when he got home so he could see something beautiful after a hard day at the mill. Wasn't that sweet? He said if I quit volunteering at the theater, I could keep Poppy's Curl Shoppe. The way he explained it to me, I didn't realize I was giving up anything at all.

"Here I am running off about me. What did you want, Carol? Did you ever have a dream? Did you get it? You had two babies in the seven years you were married to Andy so I suppose you had something good in your life. Guess you can take a lot of misuse when you have cubs to protect, huh? But things aren't bad all the time are they? The times that leave welts and cause tears don't come every day.

"I don't know if you ever wore lipstick, Carol, but I think you need some today. Not too dark, though. Not that lavender shade. No, that one would point up that violet scar on your lip. Raspberry Wine, that's the one. I'll have to line your mouth first with a little brush so that the contour goes even.

"How did you try to prevent those scars from happening, Carol? Did you tell Andy you'd never do it again, whatever it was he accused you of failing at? Ever tell him to pull the shades so the neighbors wouldn't see? I did that once, ashamed to say. That's the time I lost the one baby I would have had. In the hospital, he said it was my fault for making him so mad. Give me a second, will you? Sorry, even after all this time that memory still gets me a little weepy.

"We do what we have to do. We make up with them and try to make it all better. We're real artists at making up. Hurts either way.

"You washed your hair right before, didn't you? I can still smell strawberry shampoo. I don't want to wash that out, so how about I just brush your hair and put it down over your shoulders? I just love auburn hair, and yours is so thick and heavy. Oh, my. There's a patch missing right here over your ear. Grabbed you by the hair, huh? Been there. Hurts like hell. Don't let that bother none. I have a way to fluff it out and no one will ever know that bald spot is there.

"Hate to say that fluffing thing I just did to your hair comes from practice, but it does. I took to keeping mine short. Self defense, if you know what I mean. I used to love putting my hands through my hair when the sunlight had warmed it. But after I had it pulled a few times, I cut it. One day they bring you carnations, the next day they pull your hair out. When I cut mine short, he took to hitting instead of pulling, so I guess it wasn't such an excellent tradeoff after all.

"Speaking of self-defense, there are all kinds you know. Pull the shades, keep your dignity. Give up your job so you don't compete. Give up your dreams to put all the attention on him and his needs. Cut your hair, don't chew so loud, keep track of every cent you spend on the kids so he knows you're not getting anything for yourself. I didn't have any kids to raise, but I can imagine. I did those things, too. Guess all my adaptations to make him happy didn't mean squat when you get right down to it, because I found out he was seeing someone else.

"Your mother sent these earrings over. Says she and your little girl picked them out because you like emeralds. These little green stones remind them of you. They're small, but I'll fix your hair so your family will know you have them on. I'll make it so you'll look like it was your birthday instead of your funeral when you're nestled in your casket.

"I didn't have family to share things with. I lost contact with my best friends after I stopped working at the theater. Separation from everyone else, that's part of the deal with men like that. I enjoyed the company of the women who came to get their hair done. One of the ladies hinted to me that there might be another woman, but sometimes they just like gossiping for shock value. I learned to ignore lots of their talk.

"Pretty soon my husband said the little business I had was embarrassing him. That was when he got laid off and I made all the money we had. That didn't bother me, but it made him feel less manly to live off a woman's work. He knew I had to keep doing hair so we could pay the bills. I guess we shared some pain his injured pride and my jealous heartache. He was so embarrassed he had to take some of the money I made and stay out all night. That way he wouldn't have to see his wife working on women's heads like a plodding drudge. Besides, the stink of the hair spray just drove him away, he said.

"Most of the hitting stopped then. He wasn't home to dish it out as often. I had some time to think about things. I can thank the other woman for a reprieve, you could say. I thought about him and his girlfriend and wondered if I wasn't better off alone. It was his life to do with as he wanted, he said, driving it home in that way of his. I don't blame anyone anymore. I don't think she really knew what she was getting, you know? And what on earth was I thinking when I thought about fighting for my rights as his wife? The right to get beat up? That would be funny if it weren't so sad.

"Fighting back gets you sore and all broken up. You've got a couple cracked ribs, too. No one will see that, Carol. They won't hurt anymore. Hiram tells me he had to glue a couple of your fingers together to make them even again after getting all busted up. You and I both got a bump on the bridge of our nose. That's what happens when you fight back.

"Know what I did when I stopped fighting and started thinking? I screwed up my courage and started saving a bit of money here and there. I put it in an empty hair dye box and hid it on the shelf with the rest of the boxes. When I had enough saved up, I rented a house trailer and filed for divorce all in the same day. I moved out in the middle of the night when he was with his girlfriend. I'm no real prize, but I had expectations and had once had some pride. I remembered those and decided they were worth resurrecting, if you know what I mean.

"I have at least part of my dream back. I work at the theater again, and Hiram Funeral Home says I am the best makeup artist they know. I do all the ladies that come in.

"Okay, almost finished here. I need to take off this cape so I can touch up those bruises on your throat. We need a deeper shade to cover those up. Now your kids can see you all peaceful. Probably the first time you don't look frightened or worried. Too bad they lost both parents. Andy won't ever get out of prison. But you have a smart little girl and your boy is still just a baby, so they should be all right. Your mother will take good care of them.

"I brought this pretty scarf, green with gold flowers, for you. I'll tie it like a jabot to cover up that little twist in your neck. I made Andy awful mad when I found it in the car and I asked him about it. That's the day I lost the baby I told you about. You can have the scarf back now, Carol. Pretty. You really are, you know. Were."

© Lucy Suitor Holt

Lucy Suitor Holt was born and raised in Maine and now lives happily in New Hampshire with her husband, Robert, and cat Whimsy. She is a member of the Monadnock Writer's Group of Peterborough, New Hampshire. Recent publishing credits include Whispers From the Shattered Forum and the poetry journal Concrete Wolf

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