An olive mug sits on the narrow bench. It’s the kind of mug that would fit nicely in a staffroom amongst the branded cups and glasses. However, this mug sits on the bench at home. It’s the last dirty dish, and has been for twenty-six weeks. There’s a fuchsia stencil of lips. A partial smudge of Flirt. The coffee was tipped out already, but not before it laid boundary lines. You watch him stare at the mug. His arms are damp from the sink, but the warm water doesn’t slick down his goose bumps. You wonder if he’s thinking about those times you kissed him with that shade. How you thumbed the transfer, tempted to print more. The shadow of leaves flicker across his eyes, but there is no reflection. You pretend the tree is waving to him for you. Like a howl, he pulls the mug into the sink. Metallic clunks and plastic scrapings churn out then stop as fast as they started. The mug joins the other drying dishes with a bark. Bubbles from the drying stack of silver and ceramics scatter and pop. He turns his head as if he can see you. If he could, he would see you translucent and then gone.
The conference flows through the motions with slowness and ease. The team at Public Relations back and forth over problematic areas of company representation. You haven’t yawned at all this meeting. The glass of water you brought in has been empty for the majority of the time, and it leads you to believe that it is the reason why you haven’t yawned yet. Hydration does wonders.
“We believe that our staff should dress more respectively in the office. Our clients have expressed… distaste of the appearance of some staff members.”
The man droning on about personal appearances studies you as he speaks.
“I think it best we request supervisors to address the issues their team might have.”
Your mind wanders, taking you to the restaurant with the red velvet curtains and the candle-lit booths. There hasn’t been a time there that you sat at a table you didn’t like.
“…starting with a ban on boldly coloured make up, specifically lipstick…”
Your eyes spark at the words. Most of the people were staring your way, some openly raising eyebrows and puffing their cheeks in disapproval. Of course, you had decided to wear your orange lipstick today.
You divert your eyes down. The minutes of the meeting lay on the table and you slide them aimlessly for a moment. Your head flicks through the pages of questions. People still stare.
“I don’t see how bold lipstick is relevant to poor professional appearances, Andy,” a woman says.
She, too, is wearing vibrance on her lips. The shade resembles the purple of pomegranate shells.
“Our client believes it makes the women look like, ahem, hookers.”
She scoffs. It’s a sound caught between shoes scraping concrete and cardboard tearing.
“And if I found the men’s hair product use to remind me of a seventies soft porn model, would you order them to restyle?”
The man, unfortunately styled with slicked hair and sideburns, blanched at the question. You stifle a chuckle.
After a continued debate, the woman defending the right to wear lipstick, bold or bland, leaves triumphantly – there’s a swishing of hips that only confidence can invoke. The men in the conference shuffle in their seats. The matter has left them bruised in places they don’t have names for. You make a note to yourself to never let anyone tell you that you can’t wear bright colours on your lips if you want to be professional.
Keys knocking on the doorknob give way to the scrap, click. He walks in, all light rain and street lamp glow. Boots, coat, and scarf are tossed on the couch. There’s a feeling you get from the way he scuffs to the kitchen. It makes your skin itch on the cushions. Your right elbow scrounges for crumbs. The weaved threads pull. He’s gasping water down. Under the nicotine tinge of the kitchen bulb, a blood stain the shape of pursing lips bob on the current of his swallows.
Leon glances at you, biting his inner cheeks. The dress he is wearing hangs from his shoulders. He’s still wearing leggings despite shaving his legs. You wonder if leg hair gives much warmth.
You’re both standing in front of his vanity and the mirror seems to absorb more light than your skin. Despite that, the foundation you taught him to apply has a bumpy shine. Today was just for the basics. Somehow, he got the medium beige liquid on the basin. It made the squeak you feel in your toes when you rubbed a wet finger over it. You’ll have to use Spray ‘n’ Wipe on it later.
His laptop balances on the corner of the vanity. It’s playing classical pieces – Albéniz or something – and the guitar strokes hit the bathroom walls jaggedly.
“Last but not least, we have lipstick,” you say.
Leon bought three shades. They were still in the bag, and you learn he had to hide them under the bed all week.
You peel the plastic from the tubes with him. He selects the middle shade, a delicate rose colour with accents of gold. You demonstrate the motion needed, like the wiping of a napkin at a five star restaurant. He colours outside the line, smudging the colour over the Cupid’s bow. Before upset creeps in, you hand him a wet wipe and guide the correction process.
The colour is subtle with his olive skin. It glitters slightly as he tilts his head.
“Welcome to the world of make-up, Leon.”
You arrive with Amber after all the winter’s day warmth has climbed through the clouds. A girl with black hair, ironed to a shining curtain, let’s you in, introducing herself as Nicole. Amber’s friends have already started drinking. There are sticky gummy bears seeping their colours around a white bowl. When Nicole offers you one, your nose tenses at the acidic tang. You try one anyway. Gluey globs of alcoholic gummy bear sink into your molars and it takes a while to eventually suck all the sweetness from your teeth and inner cheeks.
A large bed takes up most of the bedroom. One friend – the one you wish you knew the name of, but cannot remember for the bouncing curls of her blonde hair – has staked claim on the entire bed. Mascara tubes, foundation compacts, eyeshadow pots and palettes swim on the blankets.
As you crouch between the wall and the bed, you twist the lid off your bottle of wine. Following Amber’s lead, you don’t ask for a glass. The wine slips down your throat. By the time Nicole is applying bronzer, you only have three fingers of drink left.
“Oi. Do you ‘av your lipstick on you?” Nicole asks.
At first you don’t connect her talking to the fact that she’s looking at you.
“Holly, Do you?” Amber nudges.
You blink at both girls. Like a stop-motion picture, you begin to fumble through your clutch for the lipstick. You find it and toss it over the bed to her.
“Do you mind if I use it on my cheeks? I’ll clean it after.”
On her cheeks? A flash of the club comes to mind: your little group grinding the air alongside a black and white clown. Monochromatic save for the red circled on her cheeks.
You say you don’t mind. Your brows raised and a dimple poking the corner of your smirk.
The doorframe is cold on your cheek and nose and ear. You watch Stace unlid the black stick. She twists the outside. Pink comes out, spinning like a ballerina. You tap your hip on the wood, making an empty noise. You’re about to ask what is that when she puts the pink stuff on her lips. It stops you moving.
“Can I try that?”
Stace looks at mirror to you. She smiles and turns round and reaches to bring you closer. The stick made her lips like the colour of Barbie’s wet hair. The one where it goes from yellow to the same pink as Barbie’s car.
“Hold still so I can put the lipstick on you, okay? It’s a bit cold, so get ready.”
Stace touches the lipstick on your face. It feels like playdough. She swipes it from right to left, or right to right, and it goes really far to each cheek.
“Nooo, you’re getting it all over my face!”
You go grab the stick, but Stace holds it too high for you to get.
“Calm down it’s just on your lips. Nowhere else, okay?”
You’re still mad ‘cause the lip stuff is slimy now it feels like wet playdough or mud. Stace places the lipstick on the sink table, and picks you up.
“Look! It’s on your lips. You’re so pretty, Holly,” Stace says.
She’s smiling big and you are too now. You have the same lips!
You enjoy driving. Sometimes you blow your budget on petrol just so you can get in more ks. There’s a road that goes eastwards out of town. It has expansive fields framed by ranges. The green clouds of summer trees are better than any spearmint. The puffs of sheep are like freckles on the cheeks of hills. There are quaint farmhouses along this road – the villas with ornate trimmings lining the overhangs. Your grandfather had an olive green villa. One of the last on his street. He lived on the beach front and his neighbours had upgraded to weatherboard walls and electronic verandas.
You find deeper breaths when driving. The grip of the steering wheel turns your heartbeat on idle, just ticking over.
Today, you’re driving to clear the smoke in your forehead. Snide comments built up over the day, causing a fence of traps and spikes. A bundle of possibilities has your brain in overdrive, forcing you to leave work with incomplete emails and reports. There were two other instances of this happening: When your grandfather died, and when you first went back to work after getting married.
The way to the idyllic road is on the opposite end of town. You tap your fingertips against the rubbery wheel despite the radio being all talk. The hosts jest about winter woes, such as showering without heater lights or a heater, period. You wonder if they’re being premature in their discussion. It was only February.
The colour shining in the developing blue of the evening reminds you that your lippie has probably worn off. You rustle through your bag, finding the tube under your diary.
You trace your lips, dabbing where the colour doesn’t stick completely. Today’s shade is that of a peach soaked overnight in raspberry juice.
The light flips to green. The trail to where you want to be is a stuttering process. By the time you’re on your road - Macfarlane Street – the grey cloud in your head ought to be dribbling from your nose and ears.
The summery evening clings to the sunlight stealing away to the other side of the world. It makes the trees shadows long and tangled. As you drive, the stars begin to peek out from the sheet of the night. Two of the villas have bonfires spotlighting in the fields. People are gathered, probably roasting an array of sweets and spilling beer on their shoes.
The drive you take offers you a warm hand on your aching shoulders. As you turn the car around, you sigh a smile.
The road is the same the second time, save for the spot where the livestock huddle, and the strength of the fires. You catch up to the group of party-goers. Their driving varies from over the speed limit, and brushing half the limit. You let your car slow, adding a distance between you and the group.
Your stomach has begun begging for substance by the time you reach the intersection to get back to your home street. The group of erratic drivers have dispersed, leaving you and two other drivers on the road. You turn into the lane to take you home, but as you do, the lights outside drain into lines, and your car flings you inside it. It’s paired with the crunching, glittering, and scratching of the metal and glass encasing you.
You feel cold as the machine cage settles in its new form.
The tinkling of glass lulls you away into a sleep you never wake from.