A short tale for the Grinches and Scrooges out there
‘How many kids you got, love?’ says the man in the multi-level car park. He’s wearing a knock-off Nirvana t-shirt — you’ve seen them for five dollars in Big W.
‘Three.’ You open the boot of the Tarago.
‘Same here. Good car?’
‘Yes. I’ve had two of them.’ Second-hand, of course. You drove the first one until it rattled so much your insides were milkshake. ‘The universal joint goes on them eventually, but no other problems.’
‘Been looking at the Taragos for a while now,’ he says. ‘What do you do for a living?’
‘I’m a writer, but here I am to sell make-up, because there’s no money in writing.’
And everything and everybody is fucked, especially all the fucking fuckers who wouldn’t give you a fucking arts grant so you could just finish writing your book instead of doing meaningless fucking jobs.
‘No money in anything these days, love,’ says Nirvana man, whose teen spirit dried up at least twenty years ago. ‘Have a good one anyway.’
You hoist out the massive, soul-black suitcase full of products and the canvas bag holding the demonstrating table, and wheel and lug them towards the shopping centre entrance. You take photos on your phone of landmarks along the way — breadcrumbs to help you find your way back. Think of this as preparation for hell: 35 degrees outside and at least a hundred more trapped in here, charcoal grey, the smell of exhaust fumes. Sweat trickles down inside your polyester uniform. Car tyres squeal and horns beep — crazed Christmas shoppers competing for parking spaces, desperate to max out their credit cards on shit nobody needs.
You have to weave and negotiate a speed hump because a car, adorned with reindeer antlers and red nose, is poking out too far. If the CCTV camera wasn’t watching you’d rip those stupid, fucking decorations off and stomp on them. They anger you inexplicably, almost as much as the stick-figure-family bumper stickers — Dad barbequing, Mum shopping, the kids skiing and playing tennis and violin. They live in nice stick-figure houses with air-conditioning, FoxTel and Thermomixes. Houses that don’t have leaking pipes, holes in the floor and rats living inside the walls. Santa will be bringing iPhones, PlayStations and Nike shoes for Christmas. Stick-figure Mum is not a writer.
Walking in a winter wonderland ... The anaemic lighting inside would be enough to trigger a panic attack if you hadn’t taken your meds. It has all the ambience of, well, a suburban shopping-centre food court. People are eating fried dim sims at 10a.m.
The pharmacy looms on the far side of the food court. Your back hurts. Keep going. Don’t fuck up. You promised you’d be good this time. That you wouldn’t quit after three days (like the last job), or antagonise the customers, or argue with the manager. Things are tougher now. But simpler — finish the manuscript, or make the mortgage payments. So turn that frown upside down!
Joy to the world …
‘You got lash primer?’ asks the young mother with spider-leg eyelashes.
‘I hope not. It sounds painful.’
‘It prepares your lashes for mascara.’
‘No, but I can give you a one-minute make-over.’
‘Haven’t got time.’
‘It’ll only take a minute.’
‘Where’s the kids’ lipsticks?’
‘Lipstick for children?’ An annoying blip-blip sound emanates from her pram. You peek at the little cherub inside playing a game on an iPhone. With her other hand she shovels, from a large tub, into her chubby face what appears to be a melting, rainbow-coloured ice-cream-and-lolly concoction.
‘Cheyenne loves the Tutti Frutties,’ says the mother.
I’m dreaming of a white Christmas …
The old woman with the pixie haircut teeters at the line where the faux-timber floor meets the shiny white tiles.
‘Free colour matching today.’ You flourish your make-up palette at her.
‘I’m scared,’ she says, ‘of slipping over when I come to get my prescriptions filled. I bought extra-grippy shoes especially for here.’ Still, she remains rooted to the spot, staring at the treacherous surface.
You put down the palette, offer your arm and guide her to the prescriptions counter. She tells you how she and her husband used to go dancing at the Flinders Street station ballroom. He was a good dancer, her Eddie. And handsome too. A bit like Jimmy Dean back in the day. Cheeky devil always said her eyes sparkled so much they put the stars to shame. She can’t remember what happened to her blue dress with the beading on the bodice.
Silent night …
‘Have you tried our number one best-selling foundation?’ You smile at the middle-aged woman with grey regrowth and crumpled shirt. She returns a cold, empty gaze; you sigh inwardly — you’re not going to make your target today. ‘Let me give you a quick make-over.’ Bigger smile.
She surrenders and you apply the stuff to one side of her face with the fabulous blending brush. ‘Wow! Your skin looks amazing.’ You hold up a mirror to show her. She doesn’t look amazed. ‘Now I’ll do the other side for you. Can’t have you going out half-done, can we?’
She closes her eyes and her shoulders relax. You stop yakking about the features and benefits of the mineral and botanical ingredients, and she tells you it feels nice. Her son is in critical care at the hospital. She hasn’t slept for a long time. The hint of a smile tugs at the sad corners of her mouth as you sweep bronzing powder across her cheeks. She can’t remember the last time she did anything for herself. She thanks you, and asks if you’ll be here next week. She buys the make-up.
And so this is Christmas …
On the way out, you smile and nod at the soda-machine demonstrator struggling with a trolley full of equipment and his own oddly shaped bag on wheels. ‘Have a good Christmas, love,’ he says.
Your suitcase feels a little lighter as you lift it back into the car.