A first chapter of I don’t know what written for “September Scene Writing Month.” Warning: contains received language. Feedback welcome.
Marianne had overslept, but it didn’t really matter. She pulled on her yellow uniform t-shirt and sat down at the wooden desk which doubled as her vanity, decorated only with a small crystal lamp she had inherited from her grandmother. In front of her lay a comb, a mirror, and an assortment of inexpensive cosmetics, among which there were several powders and bottles of foundation makeup in various shades. No matter how she tried, she could never get the foundation to cover it up. She knew it would always be somewhat visible—that was utterly inescapable—but at least if it were not so conspicuous….
The mirror was thoroughly smudged, so she rubbed it a bit with her elbow and looked closely for a second. She took a little makeup and dabbed it on carefully, then holding the mirror away to judge her work. She sighed. Taking a larger amount, she attacked her face this time, rubbing the makeup in every direction, every lump and crevice. From far away in the dirty mirror, it looked alright. Up close, not so much. She took a cotton ball and blotted off the remainder.
Her finishing touch was to part her hair, comb it across her forehead, and pin it in front of her ear, but it was to no avail—you could still see it, and now her style resembled a combover. But there was really no remedy. Lifting her hair, she applied powder. She gave herself one more quick look.
There wasn’t much of an improvement. Its dark redness showed through the smears of makeup and strands of hair now greasy from manipulation. And there was no more time to wash it all off and start over, so she simply grabbed her jacket and ran out the door, yelling goodbye to her offended mother.
Marianne had no time to wait for the bus, so she half-ran all the way to the drug store, sweat soaking the back of her shirt. The bus barreled by; she ought to have waited for it. As was usually the case, she was late for work—after all, what did it matter? —and out of breath. One of her coworkers, Sarah, glanced up as she waited on a customer. Marianne rushed past the counter towards the backroom where she left her bag. She pulled the ratty lanyard with her name badge around her neck as she ran back to the checkout.
The next customer arrived immediately. Marianne barely settled herself behind the crowded counter before the woman laid out her maxi pads and denture cream in front of her. Automatically she scanned the items and the coupons, while her mind wandered out of the store. It was the same people, nearly every day, for their bread, milk, or Kleenex. A few of the people, but only a few, greeted her familiarly. One would think most of them would remember her, given her distinctiveness.
Her attention was brought back to the customer. By now, Marianne was almost used to people pointing out her face. But she had barely been there fifteen minutes before the third customer, another old woman, said, “I think you’ve got a little something there,” pointing to her face.
“I’m just fine, ma’am,” she said.
“You know, you should rub some liniment on it.”
“Thank you, I will look into it. Your total is $36.75. How would you like to pay?”
“Let me get my cash…” the old woman said. She plopped her heavy purse on the counter and proceeded to slowly dig for her wallet.
While she waited, she watched her coworker. A young man came up and emptied his basket. Sarah seemed delighted and set to work with enthusiasm.
“Why, hello, hon, and how are you doing today?”
The old woman finally paid and took her bag. She left her cane and Marianne called out after her, “Ma’am, ma’am, your cane!” It took a few tries until the old woman turned around. Marianne watched as the young man, ignoring Sarah’s squeaky small-talk, reached over for the cane and handed it to her.
Meanwhile, the next customer pushed past the other two and dumped his items on the counter; there were pain relievers, dental floss, and antacids, among other things.
“Listen, can you hurry up?”
She looked quickly at his face and back down to his purchases. “Yes, sir…” She began to raise her hand towards her hair.
“Don’t get any of that stuff on my things.”
“No, sir, I’ll be very careful.” She lowered her arm and continued scanning. Next to her, Sarah was still waiting on the young man, showing all her shiny teeth. The man did not reply to her, but looked around at the cigarettes and baby formula behind her.
“Okay, hon, that’s forty dollars even. I’d love to give you a discount, but I don’t think my boss likes it when I do that,” she said, “heh heh!”
“That’s fine. I didn’t ask you for one.”
“Hello? Can you pay attention to what you’re doing and hurry up please?” Marianne looked back to her own customer.
“Yes, yes…I’m sorry… Cash or credit?”
“Are you blind? Can’t you see the card right here in my hand?”
She took it with another murmured apology and finished the transaction. He snatched the bag without looking at her again or even taking his receipt, and left. There were no more customers.
“Well, he wasn’t that bad, don’t you think?”
Marianne looked back to Sarah. “That guy?”
“No, my customer!” She smirked and crossed her arms as she leaned her large rump on the edge of the counter, which always annoyed Marianne when she would do that. “Actually, he comes in here quite a bit.”
Marianne couldn’t remember ever seeing him; but really, she thought, what did it even matter if he did or not?
“It’s too bad you didn’t wait on him,” Sarah said, rubbing the side of her forehead and around her eye with one finger. “You could use a good customer.”
She knelt down and started to sort the baskets of returned items underneath the counter. Years of experience taught Marianne to ignore men as much as possible. Her reactions to them ranged from indifference, to timidity, to self-loathing. She usually just said as little as possible, placed the purchase in a bag, and kept her face down. As she dug through the merchandise, she suddenly caught her face in a plastic hand-mirror. Before she could look away quickly, she had already seen that her bangs were smeared with makeup. Sweat had loosened all her work from that morning, and her birthmark showed through like a cherry custard someone had thrown across the room.
To be continued…..