I wrote this about buying a lipstick to wear at my wedding to read out at Writers. It’s a bit “Creative Writing” but it’s also a true tale.
Normally I reserve the high-risk mission of purchasing makeup for weekday lunchtimes. It’s quiet, thus perfect for attack. The main obstacles are pram-pushing mothers and stick-clutching pensioners. With the right approach this usually works to my advantage, offering cover in the advance toward the Enemy – those Orange Assistants. They lurk behind each makeup counter like lone snipers. They view makeup sales with steely-eyed, battle-ready determination. But through former reconnaissance trips I have learned that they too must eat lunch, and with their numbers depleted I have a sporting chance of survival. I steal in like Special-Ops, strike before the Orange Assistants can retaliate with the promise of free gifts (at the cost of £50 or more), and scatter to base, my single purchase safely in hand.
On this day, however, normality is not at the helm. The all-consuming power that is my wedding day has taken over and I am being steered into the stormy sea of Saturday shoppers, a clipper ship at the mercy of pirates, only to drop anchor next to a wall of highly expensive-looking lipsticks. Could the only way to navigate these unchartered waters be to surrender to the help of a trained professional? An Orange Assistant? The thought of fraternising with the enemy enters my mind like an unwelcome guest and I shudder inwardly.
Buying a lipstick is not a major event, I think to myself. There is no need for professional help. I falter. Buying a lipstick to wear on my wedding day when accompanied by my mother whilst riding the crest of a wave of Saturday shoppers, in a department store might be a major event.
Keen to avoid the inevitable I select a couple of options and begin scrawling on the back of my hand. I ignore the Orange Assistant whose attention has been caught by my blatant inexperience, mentally commanding my mother to do the same. Holding the stripes of colour to my face, my untrained eye fails to see the difference.
I sense movement and a flickering glance to left shows it’s too late. Barreling towards me, insisting upon her involvement, is the Orange Assistant. I freeze, and frantically hope it’s some other shopper, alone and weak and separated from the pack, that’s in her sights. But no. In an instant, she stands before me. She eyes my lipstick-covered hand with a look of disgust, her own mask of makeup failing to cover the road-map of wrinkles that belie a lifetime on the fags. The harsh department store lighting enhances this carnivalesque. I am transfixed.
My mother’s enthusiasm, the hypnotic, predatory gaze of the Orange Assistant and the absence of an escape route render me without choice when she offers to apply the lipstick “properly”. I take a seat and silently pray for mercy. She scoops out half the stick and begins pasting it on as though plastering cracks in a wall. This is not merciful.
In a bid to distract her I embark upon the type of chit-chat that usually arises when two strangers invade one another’s personal space in the name of vanity. This is a little awkward given that she’s shellacking my mouth with gusto. Undeterred, I press on with the exchange.
“Sooooo, busy today?” A ludicrous question. She’s not a taxi driver.
The foolishness of my enquiry is confirmed when she answers with a question of her own.
“Is this lipstick for anything special?”
Again the unbridled enthusiasm of Mother-of-the-Bride bursts forth and she answers for me.
“It’s for her Wedding!” She says it just like that, as though with a capital W.
As soon as the “W” word leaves her lips the Orange Assistant goes into overdrive. Eyes burst, sparks fly, the orange mask flushes with excitement. Clearly this her moment, her time to shine. This was what all those nights at beauty school were for, what made it all worthwhile. Wedding make-up.
“Shall I just put a little eye-make up on so you can get a better idea?”she says, hauling out the eye-shadow tray before even my mother can respond. The thought of my entire face being painted up like a cheap, garish Easter egg makes me want to scream No! But part of me is enthralled by her momentum, her dedication to this project that I have become. How could I stop this unstoppable force?
So I sit there awkwardly, allowing this painted lady to trowel on extremely expensive makeup with unashamed gusto and answering her wedding-based queries as though it’s the Big Day itself. Whilst I hope to the good Lord above no one I know walks by to see me being painted up for Mardi Gras, I begin to quite enjoy this New Experience.
When it’s over I open my eyes, certain an alien viscosity is covering my face. I feel like I’m off to a Liz Taylor convention. Or worse, to work behind a makeup counter.
My Orange Assistant looks proudly down at me as though I’m some sort of progeny. I peer back at her through eyelashes so thick with mascara I can barely lift my lids. I’m lost for words. For once, so is my mother. But perhaps if I weren’t wearing makeup designed for 60-year-olds it wouldn’t look half bad? Bewitched, I find myself saying, “ That’s great. I’ll take the lipstick.”
Orange Assistant beams like the sun to have her efforts actively contributing to my wedding. I glow under my own tangerine mask, glad to have survived this experience, gladder still that it won’t be repeated, and silently promising that next time I have a lipstick to purchase it will once again be under the cover of pensioners and my own battle-ready resolve.