anything under the microscope would make me throw up. That would be like making fun of someone’s house when they invite you over. Looking at things so close up, that’s a modern privilege, and you owe what you see some respect.
“Now you just relax,” Cherylanne says in her makeup lady voice, “and I’ll be right back.” It’s a too-slow voice, like she’s talking to someone stupid, or a dog. She puts her robe over her yellow pedal pushers and matching blouse, ties it tight and efficient. Now she will go into the bathroom and make her selections for transforming me. I will be turned away from the mirror. I can’t look until she’s all done, and then I’m supposed to nearly pass out with pleasure. I have figured out the number of compliments I have to say to keep her from being mad:four. Of course, more are always welcome. She likes best when I ask for tips on doing it myself. Then she can rattle off some prepared beauty speech like the Gettysburg Address.
Well, I don’t mind any of this so much, especially since at the end I get to have my hair done, and Cherylanne does it so gentle. She makes me a French twist with two spit curls, and I am happy it takes a long time for her to get it right. It is so relaxing to have someone do your hair. It is near to a tickle, without the torture. You close your eyes, and all in the world you hear is a blurry voice asking you for a bobby pin every now and then. Your brain is near asleep. You lean into those slow, fixing hands and you feel so good you could be Doris Day on the French Riviera, wearing your one-thousand-dollar white bikini, Rock Hudson leaping up to get you lemonade. “How’s this, darling?” “Oh, fine, Rock.” “Well, good, darling.”
When Cherylanne is done, I have to sit up straight while she takes my picture. She always takes pictures of her work. She keeps them in a special scrapbook decorated with pictures of makeup products: compacts and lipsticks and creams andblush and brushes and pencils float across the cover. So far I am her only customer. I wonder who she will do when I move, and the question is like a pin in the balloon.
“Okay, you can turn around and look,” she says. Well, I have on two-tone green eyeshadow and bright-red lipstick. My eyebrows are black and long as the Mississippi. My blusher looks like a twin slap. Obviously, Cherylanne is having an off day.
“Well,” I say. “It’s good.” One. “I really like the dark-green color.” Two. “I could pass for twenty.” Three. And then, I can’t help it, I say, “But I sort of look like a stop-and-go light.”
“Well,” she says, “you don’t know fashion at all. This is the English look, and it’s very popular.” She begins untying her robe, the flush of her displeasure moving into her cheeks. “Whether you can appreciate it or not,” she says, a little under her breath like she is having a conversation with herself, “I have a real gift. I can bring out the best in everyone. I do my mother’s makeup every time she needs to look good.”
“I didn’t say you don’t,” I say. “I know you’re good. Just, sometimes I have to get used to it.”
She is on her bed, looking away from me. Then, turning back, she says, “I mean, look at those spit curls. Exactly alike.”
“I know,” I say. “That’s what I mean. I know you’re good.”
She is silent, staring now at her feet. White sneakers, yellow pom-poms on them. Then she looks up and asks me, “Do you think you’ll ever come back here?”
I wait a while, then tell her what I know is the truth. No. We don’t do that ever, go back. You remember a place for a while, and then it fades like you’re going blind, and then you start making it up. You know you’re getting things wrong, but you make it up to not lose it all. And it’s like the places want to try, too. They jump into your head, a scene every now and then, like the too-bright light of a camera: your hallway, here, flash: don’t forget.
Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels