Playing make-up

Long ago, I went over to Manchester to see a friend. He was in love, a new lady, long story, but, at that time at least, a happy ending. I was going to meet her for the first time. I made it after a perilous drive through a junction with five ways converging and no clue which lane led to which exit. I was in the wrong one, anyway.

We met in a little wine bar kind of place. She was like an actress from a French film in the sixties. Slender, big eyes, blonde hair in a French pleat, feather light fringe, a short tweed pencil skirt, moss green cardigan buttoned to the neck, flat shoes. She smoked. Stylishly. My friend a lifelong asthmatic. Talked politics, art. Had I ever met anyone as sophisticated?

We went back to her rented flat. Two cold bare rooms, high-ceilinged, large, draughty windows, I’d seen them many times in South London rented places. Frost on the glass, cavernous bathrooms where the water ran so slowly, it was cold before the bath was full. Living in your musty clothes the entire winter.

But the kitchen was warm, dimly lit by candlelight, deal table, Frida Kahlo prints. The bathroom next door. An array of make-up, the like I’ve never seen before or since, ranged across a deep green-tiled shelf as wide as a counter, backed with a mirror. I looked in the pots and potions. What were they all?

I asked and we were in the bathroom, playing make-up. She had a deep voice. My friend stood in the doorway, neither part of this strange female ritual nor able to move away. “What do you think of lipstick?” I asked. He swung back and forth on the door frame, his face contorting as a hundred different responses fought each other in his reconstructed male brain. “Well,” he said finally, “it’s no good for snogging.”

(from November 2014)