I’ve spent goodness knows how many hours watching other people put make-up on, far more than I’ve spent on my own face in the last fifty years.
I tug at my cheeks, getting both hands involved in order to lift the jowls. “A tuck” that’s what they call it. All this skin, safely tucked behind the ears, out of view, where it belongs, heaven forbid saggy skin is visible. When I let go, the skin rushes back, not quite like a twanged elastic band, more like a dribble running down a cheek. There was a time it didn’t do that, although I didn’t notice it then. I notice it now. I’ve grown this skin, this is mine, I made this, I should be proud. No one is going to award me for it.
The video buffers and her voice blares out, startling me as if an intruder has broken into the house. I like this video-girl, @staris. I pronounced it star-ees, to rhyme with ‘car keys’, for a while, until a commenter mentioned that it’s actually ‘Star eyes’.
@staris is the complete opposite of me. Her round face compared to my long one. Her snub nose and almond eyes. She has a ready smile and what she does with makeup is an art form.
@Staris has told me I need some tweezers. I hunt around in the bathroom drawer amongst abandoned cotton wool balls, a few earbuds, and multiple near-empty toothpaste tubes that have found their home amongst the other bathroom detritus.
Aha! I knew they were there somewhere. They haven’t been near my eyebrows since that birthday party at, oh, what was her name? Penny? Vivienne? Nancy? I have a heavy ‘N’ feeling, Annette? I sound like one of those clairvoyants. “It begins with an N!” and they keep going through the alphabet till some unhappy soul pipes up, “That’s my dad, Stephen!” I chuckle, but sadly, for them or for me, I’m not sure which. I stand alone hoisting my newfound tweezers aloft like a trophy.
The tweezers still aren’t going to my eyebrows. I never would have guessed, but they’re clamping the length of my nose. My breathing stiffens and my nostrils make noises like caged horses plotting their escape. My nose is already thin, hooked, pointy at the end. What will this achieve?
“Trust the process,” I whisper. The annoying phrase imprinted on my mind. It’s there whenever I watch a video, whether it’s making spinach soup or learning Spanish.
“Helen!” My hand slips as I remember the name. I grab a tissue and wipe up my mistake, a jag of dark liquid foundation. It’s not the brand @staris has—I almost choked on my hob-nob when she said the price of that one—it’s a generic one. How different can they be?
I pause the video as I clean up. If only life could be so handy, a pause button while mistakes are taken care of. That glass of wine I spilled on the sofa? Everything paused until it gets blotted away.
I’m back. I’m putting some more lines down my cheekbones and forehead. My skin shifts, annoyed as if the wrinkles don’t like being disturbed. @staris moves on, she doesn’t have to wiggle the liquid into crevices.
Aha! We’re blending. This is my favourite part, It’s a miraculous skin alchemy, faces changing shape with a brush.
However, I look like I’ve just come from battling a fire. Smoke and ash clogging my pores. “Persevere,” I mutter and blend like it’s the last thing I’ll do.
“Helen,” I repeat, as we move onto the eyes. I have more baggage under them than a fortnight in Spain. Were they always like this? The skin so thin it looks like purple liquid will burst from it at the slightest tear. @staris swipes some concealer, remarkably liberally. My stomach lurches as I remember how much she said that one cost too. If I’d boug ht it, I’d be using a drop on a special occasion, a very special occasion.
I try my best. My own brand concealer cakes on, a worryingly shade too light. That party was the last time I ever saw Helen. We’d been good friends before that, hadn’t we? Not like the friends I see in films. Not the ‘tell each other everything-finish each other sentences’ type. But she was the sort that always invited me places. We lived nearby. Friends via proximity, and to me, that was a friend.
I tackle the eye makeup next. @staris has made the cat flick eye look as easy as boiling the kettle. No such luck my end, as I clean and repeat.
It was because I moved away, that’s why we didn’t remain friends. A purely coincidental event. After all, it was long before the days of the internet and all this easy communication. We no longer had proximity. But there’s a lump, a heavy one that thumps in my chest when I think of her. That’s why I never do.
It wasn’t that bad, what I did, was it?
I wonder if Helen has as many crow’s feet as I do. I’ve got a murder of them, attacking my eyes. It’s because you smile too much, you’ve been too happy! I heave at the things people say, passing judgment on things they don’t know a jot about.
@staris has layered on some pinks, blues and to top it all off some gold glitter. I look at my lowly shade collection from the pharmacy. Eight colours, nothing fancy. Perfect for people like me.
I know that if I try the blue, I’ll look like I’ve punched myself. The pink will resemble a crying fit. Mixed together, goodness knows what I’ll look like. To top it all off, I have a tawny brown instead of gold.
I wonder if Helen has popped on her rose-tinted nostalgia glasses yet? Then she’ll see that it was quite funny. Which reminds me, I must go to the opticians. Thank goodness for camera phones and zooming in on those tiny ingredient lists. I’d be dead by now if they hadn’t been invented. Perhaps not dead. But I wouldn’t have dared try that sauce that makes everything taste delicious, and quite frankly, that would be a fate worse than.
I imagine her as the head of a riotous family, grandkids everywhere. A belly, grown large from too many birthdays and vast cakes to consume. She always said that’s what she wanted. How many of us get what we dream of when we’re twenty? And is it ever how we imagined?
Lips! I pout at my reflection. That duck face people are so pleased with. They do all kinds of things to make their mouths bigger. I was teased for mine back then, rubber lips is the name I recall, but there are undoubtedly more tucked away for when I’m feeling suitably bad about myself. None of us knew then that I’d be the height of fashion now. Me and my lips were born in the wrong time.
Of course, these days when I pucker up, there are a million lines like rivulets running towards the mighty lake that is my mouth.
The girl on the video buffs her lips, then lines them with a flourish. I wonder if she’s ever been to a party and done something stupid. She doesn’t seem the sort. I doubt she drinks too much or stays out beyond a respectable time, or places her hand on her friend’s boyfriend’s thigh. No, @staris knows how to behave. Under the constant snap of smartphones and all these different social media places, she has to.
My lip liner has clumped at the corners. I attempt to blot it away, scrambling to catch up without pausing. I never was very good at covering mistakes, and I made plenty of them. She’s adding a shine. I’ve always avoided dazzle, preferring to hide in the shadows, or perhaps lurk. That’s the way those sunshine people see us, as lurkers.
Helen. I doubt she stayed with him. She must have found someone else, someone better. @staris unties her hair and swooshes it into a centre-parting perfect bob. My grey hairs stay in place, even with a head toss, they wobble, but don’t move much. I’m not sure if they’re lazy or dead, it’s hard to tell the difference these days.
The video plays in slow motion as I watch the stunning transformation of the girl on the screen. That’s how I remember Helen. I always yearned for what she had. That’s why I did what I did, I suppose. Not meanly, I just wanted to know what it felt like, for a moment. I move my head in much the same, slow way as @staris. My transformation is blotchy, and my eyes resemble crepe paper. The lipstick has pooled, creating a spider web etched on my lips.
We said we’d stay in touch, even after it all. But she walked away. I imagine her now, hair flicking, hips swaying. If only she’d tripped, stumbled, snorted. We could have laughed, cried, spoken. Perhaps we really would have kept in contact.
The video ends, leaving me with my new face. I stare into my reflection. Do I forgive myself? Not only for that but for all the other mistakes along the way. It turned out fine for me. The one who wasn’t so bright. Without the smooth hair and perfect cat-lick eyes. Would I press pause and do it all again, change the unchangeable? I reach for a tissue and begin wiping away the mask.