Beauty Prep

It was six thirty AM, time for Sharon to start getting ready.  She liked to look good for her surgical oncologist’s morning visits.  She asked her nurse for a bowl of water and washcloth.  Later in the day she would get a proper bath, well, as proper as you could get while lying in bed.  But for now she just wanted to wash away last night’s grime.  She washed her face, neck and armpits.  She followed up with a moisturizing wipe, the kind used to take makeup off, it left her face with an attractive glow she thought.  Then she brushed her teeth, using a styrofoam cup as her sink.  As soon as she finished, a strong wave of nausea overcame her. Fuckety fuck fuck she muttered.  She rode the wave for a few minutes – “nausea surfing” she called it – then thankfully it passed.

She propped up her travel mirror on the table next to her hospital bed.  Looking in the mirror her first instinct was always to burst into tears.  Her face was pale and scarily thin, she looked like a refugee from some godforsaken country.  She had lost twenty-five pounds and her hair was falling out, shedding like a dog all over her pillow.  But her daily beauty ritual of “putting on her face” as her grandmother used to say, (may she rest in peace), was essential to Sharon’s emotional survival. It gave her a sense of normalcy and the tiniest feeling of still having some control over her life and body.  She applied blush to the deflated apples of her cheeks, plucked a few stray hairs, then added a tinted lip balm. Obviously she didn’t do a full red carpet look, if for no other reason than she didn’t have the energy.  She finished primping by putting on scentless hand lotion and wrapping her bright pink Pashmina over her bony chest.

Feeling completely exhausted from the effort she lay back down, but then noticed that her overnight drainage bag was full of urine.  Worried that it might overflow, she buzzed her nurse.  A different nurse appeared this time.  “You’re going to have to start urinating on your own, you’ve had this catheter in for too long, ” the nurse said with a bossy edge to her voice.  “My bladder nerves were damaged during surgery, they’re taking awhile to bounce back.” Sharon said, trying not to reveal any emotion.  The nurse gave her a chastising look, her expression suggesting that it was somehow Sharon’s fault that she wasn’t able to urinate.  Dear God, where was her sweet nurse?

Ten minutes later her surgeon and his team of oncology residents were staring down at her.  They always seemed very tall to her.  It felt like being surrounded by tall, large headed aliens who were staring down at their human specimen restrained on a metal table.  A very handsome resident, Dr. Josh Doukas, pulled her gown aside and inspected her ten inch long abdominal scar.  “Looking good, looking good,” he said.  She felt humiliated.  Her sad little tummy, all mangled and grotesque.  Why did Josh have to be so good-looking?  “Now let’s take a look at your stoma, how has your output been?”  If there is one thing a girl does not want to be asked by a handsome medical resident, it’s “how is the fecal waste matter that is flowing out of the red intestinal stump on your stomach?” Sharon wanted to disappear.  Instead she smiled and patted the hideous bag affixed to her belly, the one that was collecting her waste.  “It’s working well, though I’m still only eating soft foods.”  The surgeon and his team continued to ask her questions and discuss her case amongst themselves.  Sharon was a bit of a Cancer Celebrity, in that she had a very rare type of terminal cancer.  The doctors, though they made a decent effort to hide it, were actually quite excited to have her as a patient – she was a fascinating case.

After lunch the physiotherapist and her assistant came by to help bring Sharon on a walk.  They were both plain looking, lovely young women.  Makeup free, hair pulled back in ponytails.  The types who wore Patagonia jackets and comfortable European made shoes.  Along with Sharon’s bladder, there had also been damage done to the nerves in her left leg.  Apparently it had something to do with being splayed out on the operating table for twelve hours.  So much to Sharon’s surprise, when she had awoken from surgery she’d found that she couldn’t walk, one leg was fucked up.  The three of them walked slowly, Sharon’s urine bag attached to the walker, her giant splinted leg awkwardly inching forward and brutal pain shooting out from her incision area.  She had once read about doctors who performed “vaginal tightening surgery” and for a moment Sharon wondered if her surgeon had tightened her tummy while stitching her up. The pain was enough to bring on another wave of nausea.  She bent her head into the little plastic barf bowl that the assistant always brought on their walks and threw up a little clear liquid.

Sharon succeeded in making it across her room and halfway down the long corridor.  This was considered a victory and for her prize she was offered a pain killer drip and some frozen yogurt.  Sharon passed on the yogurt, but was excited about the painkiller drip.  Maybe this is what it felt like to be a heroin addict – you looked forward to it, it was the highlight of your day.  What if she became a drug addict?  Then again she thought, who cares?  I’m already dying, so why the hell not?  She laughed to herself as the drug hit her body. She felt warm and cozy and happy.  The sweet nurse – Louise was her name – stopped in and put a couple of pillows under Sharon’s legs so that they were angled upwards.  “Sleep well Darlin,” she whispered to her.

 

Balls

“Do you have an extra ball at home?” he asked, his voice tinged with harshness.  “Excuse me?” I answered, confused and annoyed.  I’d been enjoying my daily shot of bliss – hanging out at the dog park – and I didn’t want to chat with a random peacoat wearing hipster boy with facial hair and faux broken-in chinos.  I looked at him sideways, hoping that if I just ignored him he would disappear.  But he crept towards me, one fake workboot at a time.  “Your dog stole my dog’s ball.  I recognize his sweater.”  I stared at him and was about to start laughing when I realized he was dead serious.  His eyes were full of well-seasoned anger, anger that couldn’t possibly have anything to do with balls.

A swoosh of fur went flying by, as a bossy Corgi herded a crew of six dogs, including mine. Surely I possessed enough feminine charms to get Random Hipster Boy to calm the fuck down.  I smiled, flashing what I hoped was a Julia Roberts style warm grin.  “That’s too bad about your dog’s ball, but Leroy didn’t take it, he’s not into balls and never has been.”  I kept my tone light and airy, imagining pink spun sugar swirling out of my mouth.  The spun sugar seemed to work against me, as Random Hipster Boy seethed with a newly enhanced level of anger.  “I saw YOUR dog, in that red sweater, leave the dog park with my dog’s ball in his mouth.”  My smile froze, pink spun sugar stuck to my lips. He was probably the type who would toss poisoned chunks of hot dog into his neighbor’s backyard, killing their pooch in retaliation for a perceived act of aggression, like their Maple Tree’s leaves falling on his deck.  “Well, I’m not sure who stole your dog’s ball and again, I’m very sorry for your loss, but I assure you it wasn’t Leroy.  But, you know, I have a 20% off coupon for PetLand and I’d be happy to buy a few new balls for the park.”  As if on cue his dog ran up to him.  Sweet Jesus it was ugly.  It looked like a caramel dipped ferret.  “Good boy Hashtag, good boy,” he said.  “His name is Hashtag?!!” I cried.  I couldn’t help myself, the words just flew past my lips, I tried grabbing them out of the air but it was too late.  Random Hipster Boy eyeballed me hard, while Hashtag barfed up some kind of pebble-grass mix.  “Next time you come to the park bring Hashtag’s ball with you!”  He was fuming like a cartoon character from a 1940’s comic book drawn with its head exploding.  He turned to leave.  A ragtag pack of two Beagles, a Pitbull, three Chihuahuas and Leroy flew by, the same bossy Corgi herding them from behind.  Sand and dirt filled the air and the Beagles howled.

 

 

Bright Ribbon

“I look like I’ve been pulled through a hedge backwards!” Brenda squawked, adjusting her bouffant hairdo.  She whipped out a coral lipstick and started applying it without a mirror, painting two large half circles.  Clown-Chic, thought Shannon.

“You look fine,” Shannon said, as she un-packed the bags of clothes dropped off by Mrs. Blackwell.  Mrs. Blackwell – one of their best clients – brought in high-end designer clothing almost every week.  Chanel, Valentino, Hermes.  Most of the items had been worn only once or twice, many not at all.  Last week’s haul had included a black Gucci dress with its Saks Fifth Avenue price tag still on, $6500.  A year’s rent for Shannon.

Brenda came around the corner, red stiletto pumps clicking on the floor, each click like an exclamation mark.  “You know about Mrs. Blackwell, don’t you?” asked Brenda leaning in, last night’s scotch masquerading as today’s perfume.  “No,” Shannon said, arranging Mrs. Blackwell’s Louis Vuitton luggage set, one on top of the other.  Shannon thought of her own luggage, a set of black hand-me-down Samsonite from her mom who’d told her to tie bright ribbon on the handles so that she’d be able to easily identify them at the airport.  Shannon had tied bright ribbon on the handles, but then everyone else’s mother had given the same advice and now luggage carousels were overflowing with plain black suitcases tied with bright ribbon.

Brenda took a swig of her coffee, leaving a ridiculous coral outline on the white cup.  “Mr. Blackwell, her husband, never gives her any actual cash because he’s a fucking control freak.  He makes her use credit cards for everything so that he can track her every move.  Bastard.”  Brenda lit the first of endless cigarettes, blowing smoke out the open window.  Shannon continued to hang clothes, admiring the fabrics.  Silk satin, wool crepe, cashmere.  To pass the time she often played a game with herself called “Name that Fabric.”  For every correct answer she won a quarter, which she took from the cash register.  Shannon was getting pretty good at the game and she wondered when Brenda would ask why they were always out of quarters.  Thankfully bookkeeping was not Brenda’s forte, though gossiping was.

“The funny thing is he doesn’t give a rat’s ass about how much she puts on her Saks or Neiman’s credit cards, she can charge up a storm and he doesn’t care.  But he never gives her spending money, she never has even one damn dollar in her purse.  He wants to keep her powerless because he’s an evil prick.”  Brenda sucked deeply on her cigarette, which was encased in a 1950’s style cigarette holder.

“So Gilda, that’s Mrs. Blackwell’s first name, Gilda buys tons of expensive clothing and then she sells it here.  She squirrels away the money she makes selling her clothes into a secret bank account.  Can you believe it?”  Looking satisfied with her storytelling, Brenda stamped out her cigarette and pulled a red pen from her bouffant.  She started writing out price tags and barking at Shannon.  “Dior floral dress, $785.  Missoni red sweater, $350.”  Shannon tagged the items as they went along, struggling to keep up with Brenda’s caffeinated pace.

Shannon looked at Brenda’s reflection in the gold vintage wall mirror.  Back in the day, the 1970’s Shannon guessed, Brenda had probably been one of those cute, button nosed, petite yet improbably busty blue-eyed blondes.  Most likely she had been a cheerleader, or maybe a baton twirler for the marching band.  Yes, definitely a twirler, thought Shannon.  Brenda was still petite with great legs.  “I’ve got killer stems,” is what Brenda always said as she pranced around in her high heels and short skirts.  But now Brenda’s cute button nose was overshadowed by her puffy eyes, which looked like two mini puffed pastries sitting high on her face.  Her petite twirler body now accented by a swollen booze belly.  Brenda was a well-seasoned alcoholic, destroying her good looks one drink at a time.

Brenda grabbed the ringing phone “Uptown Consignment, Brenda speaking,” she answered in her smoker’s gravelly voice.  “We DON’T do vintage, that’s for those young, trendy, Instagram-selfie girls,” groused Brenda.  “We only accept clothes that are 1-2 years old and in perfect condition.  And don’t bring me any mall crap, we are a high-end designer’s resale shop.”  With that Brenda slammed down the phone.  Well, that’s one way to approach customer service thought Shannon.

As Brenda stilettoed back to her office to refill her cigarette holder, Shannon took Mrs. Blackwell’s new Dolce & Gabbana strappy heels and put them in her tote bag.  She would add them to her eBay shop later tonight when she got home.  She could probably get $225 for them.  Shannon’s dream was to go to Paris next spring and she had already raised $925 towards her trip.  Although stealing was not the most legitimate way to raise funds, Shannon was surprised at how little she cared.  Plus, she only stole from ridiculously rich ladies like Mrs. Blackwell, ladies who would never know the difference.  In fact, now that Shannon knew about Mrs. Blackwell’s scheming, she felt a certain camaraderie with her.  They were both essentially doing the same thing and Shannon thought that Mrs. Blackwell would probably approve of her fundraising efforts.  The fact that Shannon was also stealing from Brenda didn’t faze her either.  Brenda’s father had made a fortune in the steel industry, leaving her a massive inheritance.  So why Brenda even bothered with this stupid resale business was beyond Shannon.

As Shannon waited for Brenda, she patted the Louis Vuitton luggage set like it was silky cat.  Sadly she wouldn’t be able to steal luggage from the store.  Brenda was clueless, but not that clueless.  Yet Shannon would not fly to Paris with her crappy hand-me-down Samsonite – I mean God, how ghetto would that be? – she would have to figure something out.  Shannon’s luggage thoughts were cut short by Brenda’s bellowing.  “I need you to go out and pick up some party supplies.”  Party supplies was code for Brenda’s weekend bingeing supplies.  “I need two bottles of Glenlivet 12, three bottles of Veuve and an assortment of cheese, crackers, grapes and olives.  And don’t get me that hideous blue cheese, that stuff looks grim.”  As Brenda went to find her car keys and get cash, Shannon stashed her incriminating tote bag in the back cupboard.  “We’ll do Mrs. Blackwell’s inventory when you get back” yelled Brenda from her office.

Just then two of their regular customers came in, both were secretaries at a big law firm.  They were always dressed impeccably.  In fact they looked almost as good as the female lawyers they worked for.  This pleased them greatly and irked their bosses.  How could they afford such style on their measly secretary salaries the lawyers wondered.  “Uptown Consignment” was their secret and they made a point of telling only the firm’s support staff about the shop.  Let the lawyers pay retail.

As Brenda chatted them up, Shannon went out the back entrance and slid onto the luxurious leather seats of Brenda’s Mercedes convertible.  Shannon didn’t have a car.  She took the bus to work, along with all the cleaning ladies and day laborers.  Growing up, her mother’s car had always had those grimy fabric seats that stuck to your clothes.  Shannon hated those fabric seats.  One time, her friend Lacy, who came from a well-to-do family, had commented on the seats.  “Oh weird, I’ve never sat on fabric seats before,” she’d said with surprise.  Shannon had felt humiliated.

Shannon put the top down and rooted around in her purse until she found her new Oliver People’s sunglasses.  Mrs. Stein had accidentally left them at the store last week.  When Mrs. Stein had called asking if anyone had found her sunglasses, Shannon had told her “no, but I’ll let you know if they turn up,” and then put them in her purse.  The thing was, they really looked better on Shannon, they just didn’t suit Mrs. Stein’s heart-shaped face.

Shannon drove so that she hit every red light.  That way the other drivers, especially the men, had plenty of time to admire her.  Her long wavy blond hair blowing in the breeze, oversized sunglasses, sexy car.  She was dazzling and she knew it.  Just then her phone beeped, it was a text from Brenda: “add to list: box of Parliaments, DARK chocolate – NOT milk!  NO blue cheese!!!”

At the next light a handsome young man leaned out of his convertible Porsche, “You need to go to lunch with me NOW.  Four Seasons Patio.  Meet you there in five.”  The light changed.  Shannon thought about it.  She WAS a little hungry.  I mean it was almost noon and all she’d eaten for breakfast was a Pop-Tart and a cup of coffee.  The Four Seasons was just a couple blocks away, she’d seen it before but never been.

She pulled up to the valet, smiling and taking her ticket like it was the most normal thing to do.  Like she always pulled up to 5 star hotels in her Mercedes.  Like the Oliver Peoples sunglasses now perched on her head truly belonged to her.  Like the blond streaks in her hair didn’t come out of a drugstore box.  She applied some lip-gloss, muted her phone and walked towards the patio.  Porsche-man was just being seated at a corner table.  Shannon breathed deeply, tossed her hair and smiled widely.

The Power of Sparkle

Yesterday I felt like the color beige: joyless.  I was feeling sorry for myself.  I was mad that I had cancer, a terminal cancer which no one had even heard of: Peritoneal Mesothelioma.  WTF?!  I was feeling depressed about how the cancer had affected my body.  And I was feeling pressurized by the Positive Thinking Cancer Crew: “Live life to the fullest!” “Make the most of each day!” “Live in gratitude!” F*ck off!

image

Then I looked over at my vintage dresser, (painted fuchsia – my poor boyfriend, lol!), and I saw my Sparkle filled vintage tea cup.  It made me happy, it really did.  So I took a picture.  The sparkle zapped the wretched Beige out of my system & suddenly I did feel grateful for everything: my life, my partner, my dog, my family & friends…All I needed was a little Sparkle!