“Purple Eyeshadow,” by Rene Denfeld.

A “Small Things, Partial Cures” online exclusive.

“When it was quiet I would stand and look out the windows at the streets I had recently escaped, and I was filled with such a surge of life.”

When I was sixteen, I fought my way off the streets by getting a job at McDonald’s. It was the one on 6th Avenue in downtown Portland, Oregon.

For my uniform I was given a burgundy polyester smock and pants. I wore cheap eyeglasses with giant 1970s frames, and maybe because I was ashamed of myself and wanted to look like one of the day people, I kept applying more and more iridescent purple eyeshadow.

At the end of my shifts I’d return to the crappy studio I rented at the top of a building downtown, and turn on the light to watch the cockroaches flee. But the skin in my bathroom mirror, washed clean, looked pink with hope.

Because I was responsible, I was soon promoted to shift manager, and so at age sixteen I was managing a McDonald’s. One of the first changes I made was to offer free coffee to senior citizens. In the morning the restaurant filled with old people and the homeless. I figured the homeless had experienced enough to make them feel old — I sure did — so I poured free coffee for them, too.

Vintage McDonald’s uniform.

During breaks in my shift I’d go into the restroom and apply even more eyeshadow.

“You’d look prettier without that makeup,” old men would tell me, but I didn’t listen until my friends told me it looked like something had died on my face. Then I stopped.

In the mornings I’d pour the coffee, and walk around all the booths, and say hello to my new friends and old. When it was quiet I would stand and look out the windows at the streets I had recently escaped, and I was filled with such a surge of life. I remember looking at the sidewalks and the trees, the buildings and the rain. I remember walking home and thinking that, once more, my life had just begun.

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Rene Denfeld is the internationally bestselling author of The Child Finder and The Enchanted. Her books have won numerous honors, including the prestigious French Prix Award, an ALA Medal for Excellence in Fiction, a Carnegie listing, a listing for the Dublin International Award, and spots on numerous annual “best of” lists. The Enchanted has also been adapted to both the London and the Edinburgh stages.

True stories, honestly.

Author photo by Gary Norman, 2017.