FICTION: Lipstick

My mother calls me from her bathroom with her knuckles. She knocks twice on our shared wall. I am in my bedroom. It is two o’clock; the time we’re not ourselves. We do not knock on walls. I love her from afar. We are both naked because it is two o’clock. I knock two times back. I don’t know what she wants from me or what I have done wrong. We do not see each other naked because it’s two o’clock.

In the bathroom, I see my mother. Potato naked, she is strong. She has a mole on her butt. I think that must be what she loves the most about herself. I feel so naked when I see my mother. I don’t like to feel that I have skin. But still I do it. Become naked because it’s two o’clock.

My mother is looking at her face in the pill cabinet mirror. She hears my feet sticking to the tile. I walk up to her and smell her skin. She twists the wall light on. Her body squeezes the light like a moon. Her hand holds a red pencil. It’s not the one she has for school. She traces the outer edge of her lips. She looks like a painter and the paper all at once. I want to watch her, here, forever.

She turns to me when she’s finished, a red ring around her lips. I want her to kiss me, even though her lips look a little sick.

“Lipstick makes you somebody else,” she says, taking the cap off a lipstick tube.

I want to be somebody, I think.

One of the hairs on my mom’s wig has landed on her chest, lassoing like a lip around her nipple. I grab the hair and flick it to the floor. My fingers graze her scarred boob on the way down. We laugh. Look at this girl, no longer a babe, still grasping for her mama.

“Don’t take your eyes off me,” she says, serious again.

I don’t want to bleed to death, but I want to rip my eyeballs out and sew them on my mother’s skin. See, Mama, my eyes will never come off.

Sometimes I worry that I’ll make her mad or sad, and she might snatch me and stuff me up the chimney between her legs and pray that a different child comes back out. This has never happened before, but everything has a first time.

Now she is coloring her face, spreading outward from her lips like spilled juice. She is not red and then she is. Red, everything red. Except her lips, which are no longer red and look like winter. I do not look away. She presses down so hard; the lipstick flattens on her chin, loses its little mountain shape. My mother is so red. Her redness is shiny, like she’s lost all her skin. But there are her lips. I do not look away. I don’t want to go back up the chimney, but I want to feel her warmth. She smacks her lips, even though they are naked like me. This is how I know my mother. I see her naked through the red.

She lets me stand on a stool so I can look at my face, too. The mirror frames our faces, her face red and my face mine.

She hands me her lipstick tube. It is heavy in my hand and smells like metal. My little sword. I feel its power. It burns my fingers. The red is sweating on her face. She itches her cheek, forgetting. The red cakes like crayon dust under her nails. She combs her nails through my hair. She hums something like love. I can’t remember the last time she touched me.

In the mirror, my face is making its own kind of red. I raise the lipstick to my mouth. “What will you do?” my mother says. The nails in my hair chant like clocks: “What will you do? What will you do?”

Cameron Finch's writing has appeared in Entropy, Glass, and Queen Mob's Tea House, among others. Her interviews with authors, artists, and indie presses can be found in The Adroit Journal, Michigan Quarterly Review, The Rumpus, and Electric Literature. Find her online at or on Twitter @_ccfinch_.

Image: 1928 lipstick ad from Vogue (adapted) from Flickr: "in pastel"

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