She never wore much make-up before him. Now she had to layer it on to hide how much he loved her from the rest of the world.
Putting the last of the powder on, Lauren went still. She hardly recognized herself anymore. Tears gathered, shining in her dull gray eyes. She fearfully reached for tissues, blinking the tears away. Make-up would smear. There wasn’t time to start over. He’d be back soon.
She never thought taking a few theater classes in college would save her life. Between the make-up effects course and the voice training, she built a bubble of shelter. No one penetrated it. No one came close enough. No one but Mark. The better she built it, the less he invaded. If she stayed pretty and sounded calm, he smiled. He called her “baby.” If she stayed pretty and sounded calm, he told her to make martinis. He fell asleep without calling her “whore.”
Lauren turned her face slowly, watching the mirror. The light was bright. It would show if she didn’t hide them. She added a dusting of shade over the swell of her left cheek. He didn’t like to see her hurting, he said. Cover it up. She covered it. Now she was pretty.
The mask covered gentle features with harsh lines and shading. The calm voice covered soft whimpers with a veil. Both fragile, they needed constant attention to survive. For her to survive.
When he was gone, she took off the mask. She breathed away the calm voice. She stepped out of the bubble. There was safety. It wouldn’t last. She huddled in it, trembling in a corner of the couch. She lived for this moment. This moment meant she lived.
Lauren scurried from room to room, erasing indications of life. No trace of her presence remained when he returned. The mask was on. Her voice was calm. The bubble was built. A meal waited for him, fresh and hot. She made no sound when he hugged her cracked rib. She did not wince when he kissed her swollen cheek. She smiled nicely when he told her to make martinis.
She did not move. She waited as he slept in his chair. Tonight, he called her “baby.” She waited until he snored. The meal must be erased without waking him. Silently, she removed the proof.
Lauren put the vodka back in the bar. Unwelcome relief flooded her. It quivered in her core. She saw it in the shaking of her hands. She felt it in the wavering of her legs. Sobs gathered around her pounding heart. Bitterness surged. Fear’s thin voice urged her away from emotion. This was not the moment.
Anger strengthened her legs. It focused her thoughts. It carried her into the chill of the garage. Silent rage fueled her return with the can. Fury moved her hands and thoughts in stealthy purpose, filling the bottle and closing the can. Abruptly the rage was gone. False calm rebuilt the bubble. She put the vodka away again. She erased anger’s evidence. The swerve from routine lasted moments.
Emotionless habit prepared for his morning. It put her to bed, uneasy and alone. It disappeared reluctantly as sleep claimed her. In its shadow she dared to hope. She hoped he called her “baby” tomorrow night. Anticipation drew her dreams that night.
© 2010 Jessica Rosen