ORANGE LIPSTICK

BY CICELY DREW

I went to buy the pill from a pharmacy that looked trustworthy. The pharmacy was mint green on the outside, strips of mint green wood around the glass, and then the word ‘pharmacy’ in white letters. Inside there were revolving stands filled with boxes and bottles. They moved slowly, which unnerved me. I wished they would be obvious with their moving, less secretive. You could almost miss it.

The counter was very polished, a sweeping arc of lacquered white. Behind it there were white shelves, like those lining the shop walls. Most of the boxes filling them were white, too.

The brightness of the light made me uncomfortable. The skin of my arm, when I looked at it, was unhealthy and dry under the daylight bulbs.

“Can I help you?” asked the pharmacist.

She had appeared behind the counter, in her white lab coat. Her hair was long and black and shiny, and her skin gleamed in the right way. I try to make my skin look like that but as soon as I think I’ve got it I realise that I just look greasy. The dullness won’t seem to disappear, nor the spots.

“I’ve got a prescription for a new contraceptive pill from my doctor, for my acne,” I told her. The pharmacist smiled at me. Her hands were long and fine on the counter.

I thought maybe she was taking this pill, too, but some people are just born with good genes and don’t need pills to help them.

I still feel like I am being assaulted when I glimpse myself in any reflective surface. If it worked so that I could press a little harder with my razor and just shave off those few extra centimetres of fat and muscle around my ankles, I would.

Summer is always difficult.

The days, hot and long and spectacular, and I am sweating and burning.

My shaving bumps will sting with salt and my cheeks will shine like two apples. I tried to remind myself that Cézanne had painted apples again and again because he thought they were so beautiful, but then I decided that the apples that inspired my cheeks were the wrong kind – the overly red ones that you find in newsagents. They look plastic and do not taste sweet at all.

I would enjoy being a ghost or a spirit, to be detached from this shell that is punishing me.

It would feel good to float, and that is why I like swimming. It is always wonderful, whether you are in the sea or a pool, because water will never be persuaded to disguise its own beauty. In the sea or in a river I feel like Ophelia, because there are murky secrets and my hands which are never neat and feel big and useless, are suddenly fishes, and my body which also usually feels big and useless, is like an electric eel twisting as freely as it likes. I stop caring about anything then.

The last time I swam in the sea I stood up and walked a long way because it was high tide so it was up to my mid thigh for a long time.

The sea pushed against my legs, as if it cared that I was walking slowly towards danger – the wall of slippery seaweed meaning the start of the ocean.

In the pharmacy the woman was smiling at me and I did not feel like Ophelia, but prickly and as if none of my clothes wanted to fit right. I could feel my thighs pressing against the inside of my jeans and the hot strip of sunshine on the back of my neck.

The other day the man at my local corner shop said to me, “I can see that you’ve been sunbathing because you have burnt your face,” and I didn’t know what to say.

Now the back of my neck will be burnt, too, heating up like a fly under a cruel boy’s magnifying glass.

I asked my doctor whether my new contraceptive pill would make me fatter. He looked at me evenly, as if he didn’t see that I was already fat, and told me that it depended on the woman.  

I left the pharmacy with my paper bag. The street was hot, the heat prickling in my hair. Beads of sweat, I could feel them under my collar. An aeroplane droned overhead and it seemed like the only noise that could ever be, filling the sky with its strange wavering sound.

The street smelled like kebabs and hot tarmac, and the orangey perfume of the blonde woman walking just ahead of me. It smelled of summer and it was odd to think that it was going in and out of my lungs, making it possible for me to move and think.

I had an urge to run, so I started running. My chest was hurting and my boobs were jiggling in my bra, but I kept running. I could feel the impact of my feet against the concrete make vibrations that rippled across the flesh of my legs, but I kept running. I almost ran into a woman pushing her baby in a buggy.

“Careful,” she shouted after me. I didn’t stop running. Then I actually bumped into someone I knew, so I had to stop running. My mouth tasted sour and there were huge patches of sweat underneath my armpits.

“Why you running for, Stace?” he said.

“Sorry, got to get my bus,” I shouted as I started running again.

I caught a glimpse of his confused face screwed up against the sun as I lumbered on.

On the bus I called my nan up. I had several tabs open on my iPhone, all shopping sites with full baskets of clothes, skin creams, nice socks, and a new phone case. I had driven myself into a frenzy, clicking and clicking. I felt that they would fix me. I couldn’t tell anyone, but I needed to have these things to feel whole again.

All to be paid for with money that wasn’t mine, and asked for with lies. Looking at them now I felt wrong and guilty, and so I called her.

“Thanks for saying you’d lend me that money nan, but I think I’ll be alright actually. Mark said I could be two weeks late on my rent.”

“Eee, if you’re sure pet,” she said.

“It warrant a problem, like, but now I’ll be able to goo a bit crazy at bingo with Sheila!”

She laughed, the sound travelling down miles of wire into my ear. I could see her sitting on the leather couch, blue-haired head thrown back as she giggled.

In the background her Jack Russell Patrick started barking. Looking round at the people, I saw one woman who looked like she was staring into the eye of the sun. It didn’t seem like anything could hurt her. The whites of her eyes were very white and the irises were a pale amber. I realised then that pupils aren’t really black at all but a mixture of lots of shades that bleed into the coloured bit rather than ending. She was glaring out of the window and her lips looked like two ignited poppies. Yes, it seemed like nothing could hurt her.

As soon as I got home, I looked through my makeup bag and found an old tube of orange red lipstick. I painted it thickly onto my lips. I stared at myself for a while, a face surrounded by hair, with an orange exclamation mark in the middle.

I put my face close to the glass, looking, looking at my skin, which was a mountain range, a whole planet in its intricacy. I was surprised how powerful it made me feel, the orange lipstick. I wondered, could it fix me?

Malise RosbechComment