She says one day you’ll be famous.
More lies bubble to her lips as Sheila leads you onto the smooth sidewalks of Hollywood. It’s scorching hot and you imagine yourself as a popsicle. Drip by drip, melting.
Inhaling, you smell cigarettes and selfish dreams. This isn’t where you want to be, but she pulls you along. Using your free hand to whip tears of sweat off your forehead, you finally notice the people. They appear different, but they are all the same.
Stumbling along the neon streets, your head starts to spin. She shouts something about a makeover, but you can’t understand it. Usually looking at the sky calms you, but right now, it’s cloudless and smirking. Betrayal.
There’s something about being nude in front of another woman while she submerges your body with (probably) illegal chemicals.
She calls it a spray tan.
You call it cancer.
The chemicals burn, and you squirm helplessly while the woman tells you in her monotone to stay still. You can feel the liquid soaking in, and changing your skin to an unlikely shade of orange. You want to cover all your lady parts with your tanned hands, but Sheila gives you a look.
This is a look of persistence and warning and memories. She remembers loving you, but she doesn’t now. Her thoughts are foggy and all she can see is fame and fortune. All she’s ever wanted is to be proud of you.
You wonder if she’s been doing drugs while you were away. Doubt clouds your judgement because you know she’d never do that to you. Would she?
Slamming back into reality, you notice Sheila and the woman whispering to each other. Their secrets are something about plastic surgery and no time these days. You can hear all this because of what she calls your “saucer ears.” The woman’s eyes flick nervously over to you laying on the uncomfortable bed. You stare straight back at her. The secrets disappear into the pink afternoon haze.
You recall her forcing a razor down your legs just a few hours before and insisting it would smooth out your skin. Instead, you have little cuts running up and down your legs from all the shuddering. Now it might be an even ratio of scars on your face and legs.
The woman with the black chemical gun glides towards you. You think she demands you stay still and fall asleep or something. You ignore her and promise yourself you’ll stay awake.
You should’ve known that promises are faulty things. They exist only to assure you that someone’s watching your back. Everyone knows they’ve got to watch their own back in Hollywood. Especially if it’s being poisoned by toxic chemicals.
Unfortunately, you drift out of consciousness and in every nightmare you play behind your eyelids, you see her. Sheila is your worst fear but currently the only person you’ve got.
She appears in the screening showcasing her five-inch heels, clicking on the tiled floors of your childhood home. She announces beautiful is the only thing you’ve got left.
Even though you can control everything in the scene, you don’t argue.
You taste fake fruit and salty desperate tears. She’s puffing something up and down your arms. For a moment you tense, unsure if it’s more chemicals. Sheila crosses her arms and commands you relax through grit teeth. It’s just perfume to make the tan smell evaporate from your body. You frown but allow her to keep spraying the mixture.
It’s right then that you realize that your head is under some sort of cup. Sheila reminds you it’s called a hair dryer. You sigh and scratch your neck. The hairs are tickling it and distracting you from what’s important.
You see you and Sheila both as children, she digging her pointer finger into your ribs and you losing all self control. Focusing back on the present Sheila, you notice they look nothing alike. Being aware of her Botox and unfamiliar nightly pills, you rebelliously click off your depressing-memories-hair-drying-doohickey and instruct Sheila to take you away from this horrible place.
Her strangely full lips curl back revealing whitened teeth. Sheila pleads for you to stay, saying that it’ll all be good in the end. You throw your head back and laugh, making all the other ladies in the room glance up, annoyed. You both know that these days things aren’t good in the end.
With some unheard force, she pushes you back into the chair and bangs the cup back onto your head. Pressing the ‘on’ button, the childish tickling begins again.
You tell her you’ve had enough hair drying for a century. She exhales and turns it back off, calling another large woman to her side. Sheila mutters something about combing and straightening, something you don’t and never will appreciate.
The new woman is suddenly pulling a comb through your hair. It stings and your eyes fade into wet and red. She continues doing it, though, at Sheila’s orders. Hacking at your knots, tearing huge clumps of hair from your scalp. You yelp, clawing at the arms of the chair.
Sheila watches with satisfaction. Even when you were kids, she loved it when you got hurt. In fact, she loved breaking all the boys’ hearts while you watched on the sidelines. You’re surprised she hasn’t mentioned a love interest already.
And as if on cue, Sheila yanks her phone from her pocket and smiles dreamily as her fingernails tap against the screen.
Even as the hairdresser rips your hair out, you manage to choke out ‘What’s their name?’
Her head snaps up, finally acknowledging you and your opinions. Lola is what she murmurs. You smile to yourself and try to ignore the sharp pain.
Without your permission, the straightening iron is out, and with every strand of hair it’s getting closer to blistering your shoulders. The woman is sliding it down your hair carelessly, bouncing her tongue on the roof of her mouth.
Sheila is back on her phone, obviously texting the mysterious Lola. You’re grateful she isn’t watching you like a hawk. It gives you a chance to bite off all your fingernails without her noticing and plastering cheap fake ones back one.
It all happens in slow motion. The large woman with the dangerous straightening iron loses her grip. It slips out of her grasp and slashes down your back.
Your scream echoes against the thin walls of the salon. Sheila’s grinning head pops up. Pain violently spreads throughout your spine and you close your eyes to return to the time when you were children.
Powder is creeping down your throat. You cough. Two unknown women surround you, each wielding a brush and pallet. You wonder thoughtlessly if they are planning to paint you like a painting.
Sheila is nowhere to be seen.
You cough again, rougher, as one of the women dusts her brush over your face. More of the white concoction enters your mouth. It tastes dry and resembles cornflour. The other one says something about leaving the face white and the body tan.
You unconsciously touch your hand to your back. You can feel a nasty red scar forming on it. There are an uncountable amount of blisters that are waiting for you to itch them.
You recall one time when Sheila came to visit you. You had blisters all over your hands from cooking and sitting by the fire. She gasped and smothered some cream all over them. You let her do it, and in the morning, they were all gone. Proud of herself for saving you from scarred hands, she stayed a few days longer. These few days absolutely changed your life. She replaced all your furniture and appliances, directing you how to use them and to call her straight away if anything broke. The next day when she had left, you smashed the cabinets and sink and oven and cut the legs off of all the furniture. Sheila would never know.
Lipstick is what the second woman announces. You bite your lips to keep them from painting on them. The first woman looks frustrated and mutters something about being paid double. The second woman sighs and offers you a pallet, inquiring what color you would like.
Disgustedly but excitedly, you soundlessly point at the most exotic shade of blue. It tells a story of a fairy tale sky with colorful birds and fluffy clouds. Both women shake their head. You poke your finger towards the sea green. They make their eyes wide. No way. You are about to touch the wildflower yellow when the second woman accidentally knocks the pallet so it appears you’re pointing at a boring hue of baby pink. Both women smile and clap twice. You frown deeply.
The art of painting on lips isn’t as simple as it looks. The women must measure it and see how big of lips you can have without noticing it’s totally false. Your lips are small, but they brush the tip over them several times, and suddenly they look big and swelling. You can already feel the bruises. Like you’ve got a bee sting.
The women don’t pause to marvel their work. They move on, simply and quickly. The first one demands that you have mascara, but the second one is unsure. They ask if you’ve ever had mascara on before, and you shake your head. Both of them inhale and wink at each other. Mascara it is.
As they role the brush against your eyelashes, some of them fall out. You remember when you and Sheila were children, hearing that if you blew on an eyelash and made a wish, it’d come true. You and Sheila picked out your eyelashes, blowing them away and spreading them throughout your room. You know now that it doesn’t work like that. That’s probably why none of your dreams came true.
Sheila bursts through the door, shining like a disco ball with her new sparkly outfit. It’s like a rainy day with a million diamonds instead of water droplets.
The first woman, who’s doing your mascara, jumps a little and black flakes fall into your eye. You clench your hands into fists to keep from screeching. Your eye fills with water as it stings. You don’t want to give Sheila the satisfaction of seeing you injured, but she notices, and grins innocently.
We’re done! is what you think Sheila exclaims after the first woman does your other eye. The woman passes her what you know is the biggest hand mirror ever. She shoves it in your face, and you examine their handiwork.
The mascara is done absentmindedly, but is still good enough. Your face is white as snow, although your skin is not fair. Your lips are huge and resemble a duck. You purse them, but it looks like you’re puckering up for a kiss. Your hair is knotless and straight, like a still autumn river running down your head.
You hate it wholeheartedly. But there’s one thing stopping you from washing it off and screaming. Of course, it’s that you don’t want to lose your best friend.
Expectedly, you can’t breathe. All the chemicals and perfumes and makeup and scars dig into your skin. You don’t want to become one of them, but when you hear Sheila laugh, you join. It’s gone in the next moment, dissolving into the past.
Sheila says that one day you’ll be famous. Today is not that day.