Unmasked

In winter, she applies makeup to match the weather – thick mascara, dark eyeliner and bold lips.Foundation is smoothed on in an attempt to conceal a winter’s complexion, and a pocket mirror is never far from reach. Sometimes, she draws a few disapproving looks when people register how many products are layered on her face.

She’s settled into a rhythm of brushstrokes and pencils, having gone from scrabbling through drawers and makeup bags to laying everything out. Now she knows how to sweep and swipe, dabbing colour into place, and doesn’t feel like a child learning to keep within the lines of a colouring-in page.

They say the natural look is the trend, that she should just use a bit of mascara and lip gloss, but this is comfortable.

It’s called war paint for a reason though. With it she feels like taking on the world.

It stays routine through winter, through mornings of sacrificed sleep and heaters at the vanity in hopes of staying warm even as her hand trembles with her pencils and potions.

Spring yields summer. The days draw out. She arises to sun and comes home ten hours later in sunlight. It remains bright as she prepares dinner and finishes up random little chores.

The disapproving frowns stop when she’s outside. Instead, people are amused or astonished.

She doesn’t get it.

In a variety of reflecting surfaces, she verifies that she looks fine – her clothes coordinate with accessories and nothing is badly out-of-date.

One day at the beach, she overhears a tiny throwaway comment. “She looks like a clown” is the simple opinion, and she can’t pretend it’s meant about someone else because the beach is nearly deserted.

The ever-faithful mirror is drawn to her face, assessing herself with an expert eye.

The sunlight is harsh, it paints her foundation paler and her lips sickly-pink. Her lined eyes look ridiculous compared to the other girls, who only wear a smudge of mascara, a swipe of lip-balm.

They catch her eye and look away, but that doesn’t hide the sound of giggles.

She races home, rushes to wash her face clean. The washcloth stains black and pink and she flings it at the bin without troubling to rinse it out.

She is paler for her efforts. Her eyes are smaller than she remembers and the shape of her lips is wrong.

She barely recognizes herself.

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