Prompt: Seeing Red
“Wait, not yet,” my mother directed her words to me through pursed lips while her eyes studied every inch of the woman exiting the stall. I wasn’t sure why I had to wait, but I didn’t mind because I wanted to look at this creature so unlike my own mother. She was dressed in a tight black dress with her bosom popping out of the top. The length was cut almost up to her well rounded rear. She stood tall, straight. Elegant. Her gold earrings dangled, jingled, and sparkled when the fluorescent light danced off them. She wore stilettos that I was sure the likes of which my mother’s feet had never graced. I wondered how she walked without stumbling. I watched her pick up the bar of soap and roll it through long fingers tipped with crimson polish. She patted her hands dry with the brown rough paper towels. Then she meticulously applied the brightest, deepest shade of red lipstick I’d ever seen, deeper than a candy apple; more like blood itself. She puckered her lips and kissed them onto another brown towel. Both my eyes and mouth opened wide in utter amazement. My mother pulled me closer.
I proceeded to enter the stall she’d left. “No, wait. Not that one,” my mother warned.
Mama leaned in and whispered in a tone I could barely make out, “You can’t use that one. You might catch a disease.” I had no idea what she meant, but a matronly woman came out of another stall so I went in that one.
I had never seen anyone so sexy in all my thirteen years. I didn’t know women actually looked like that. I had seen pictures of movie stars, but even they weren’t dressed as provocatively.
When we left the restroom I asked my mother what kind of disease she thought the woman was carrying. “The female kind that bad women have.”
“How do you know she’s bad?”
She just shook her head. I wondered if my mother was just secretly jealous of her. After all what did my old fashioned mother know? She wore loafers and polyester elastic waist pants like all the other moms in my community.
“She’s a whore,” my mother gasped. I wondered if a whore was the same thing as a slut because she certainly didn’t look like the women I’d heard my mom tag as sluts. They were usually older women whose lips wrinkled from smoking cigarettes. They wore polyester shorts with painted toe nails. But their bosoms didn’t hang out; they mostly sagged like fallen apples. They were women whose husbands worked the nightshift or were usually too drunk to be aware what was going on in their own houses. I’d heard of a few of them, and they looked nothing like this exotic woman.
“How do you know she’s a whore?” I was almost afraid to say the word out loud. I half expected my mother to backhand me as it slipped from my mouth.
“How could you not notice her red lipstick!” My definition of a whore became a woman who wore red lipstick. I decided right then and there that if whores looked like that, I wanted to be one.
Of course, I wasn’t allowed to wear make up yet. In fact, my old fashioned mother had some idea that you had to be sixteen to even wear lipstick, let alone real make up like blue eye shadow. I practiced applying Mama’s lipstick every chance I got. I puckered and painted my lips that pale pink shade my mother wore. I kissed it off on squares of toilet paper and flushed them down the toilet. Somehow the pink did not have the same affect as red. It was plain, boring, motherly.
Eventually, I was allowed to wear make up. By that time I’d learned that red lipstick did not make a girl a slut. I’d found it wasn’t necessarily the way they dressed either. It was evident in what they did. Not even what we SAW them do but what we HEARD they did. I was told a reputation was something a girl must strive to protect. Still, I wanted to wear red lipstick. And still, I knew I’d better not touch it.
I experimented with lip liners, but felt the look was drawn and forced, fake. I spent my life juggling shades of pinks like fuschia, melon, and frosted rose. I even dared to buy cheeries jubilee but never ventured in public with it on my lips. It was close to red but in a pink hue. I once bought a red lipstick, still more coral than blood red. I wore it once. I even had on a tiny black dress, though I had no boobs to burst out of my dress. Nor could I walk in heels over two inches high. I asked the hubby what he thought, and he said I looked pretty. Then I asked what he thought of my lipstick. He scrunched both his eyes and mouth and said the only words I needed to hear in order for me to wash it off, “I don’t like it.”
Every time I try on lipstick I still feel my mother looking over my shoulder. It seems I’ve stayed mostly with her shades, going maybe a bit more scarlet with raisin berry and then paler and browner with silver sands and mocha freeze. The hubby never commented on any of them. For some reason I never found comfort in the reds.
Once I did veer from my normal shade to something a bit deeper. Hubby didn’t say anything, but the elderly usher at church smiled and commented, “you changed your shade of lipstick.” He didn’t say it was a good or a bad thing. He simply made an observation. I went home and threw it out.