The options available to Jackie were limited. She couldn’t stuff it in her bra—she didn’t wear one yet—so she had to decide between the pocket or sleeve of her hoodie. She was used to using the sleeve of her hoodie to hide things, like the pads she took with her to the bathroom in school. Jackie had purposefully selected the foundation that cost the least since she knew, if at all, it was better to be caught with something less expensive. The word for that is petty theft, but Jackie didn’t know that word yet. Standing in the employees-only bathroom, staring at the empty soap dispenser no one had plans to tend to, she wondered if covering her mole was worth the trouble.
“Nốt ruồi đẹp và tự nhiên mà con,” Jackie often heard her family say. They always told her that whenever she mentioned she didn’t like it. It wasn’t that she disagreed with them and thought moles couldn’t be pretty, but she wished hers was in a different place. Under her eye, in the middle of her cheek, anywhere would be better than above her lip. She half admired and half envied her mom, who always had perfect skin. Her mom used all sorts of skin-care products, although Jackie didn’t think she needed them. Jackie thought her mom was pretty, and not just when compared to the auntie who hemmed and altered clothes, or the auntie whose husband was deadweight, or the auntie that worked with her mom at the salon, or the auntie, who Jackie actually was related to, that owned that salon. Her mom was pretty when compared to anyone.
Her mom did her makeup the same way every morning, and Jackie had long memorized her routine. She liked light blue eyeshadow, liked to be conservative with eyeliner and mascara, and always finished with a setting spray which she diluted with water—it’d work just as well but last twice as long, her mom argued. Jackie disagreed with this, since her makeup still smudged in the Houston heat. However fun it was to watch her mom’s ritual every morning, and to Jackie it really was, she had her own business in the bathroom.
Jackie liked using the mirror of the medicine cabinet to track the growth of her mole. She measured it periodically and preferred the 6-inch rulers over the 12-inch rulers, since they were easier to hold when measuring small things. She wrote measurements on a piece of paper she kept in her pillowcase, the only truly private place in their tiny apartment, and always anticipated the next check in. This was her own kind of ritual. She couldn’t understand people, like her classmates, who didn’t seem to have the same regard for detail; this was why they did worse on all the reading tests at school and had a lower Lexile Score than her, she thought.
Reasoning with herself, Jackie decided it didn’t matter whether or not covering her mole was worth the trouble, since Shade 110 – Classic Ivory didn’t seem like the right color anyway. She had mistakenly swabbed this bottle in a hurry. Jackie knew that the clerk who worked on weekdays, a tall scrawny boy whose name was Brendan or Brendon or Brenden (she couldn’t remember the spelling even though she’s seen his badge multiple times), kept a watchful eye. Despite this, she had no other choice because she went to the salon with her mom on weekends, and the Walgreens in that town was unfamiliar. There was no guarantee the code to the employees-only bathroom there was going to be 0000 too.
Jackie removed the plastic covering the bottle. It was perforated, so when she removed the lining in the center the rest followed. Copying what she’s seen her mom do, Jackie used her ring ringer to swab the cream over her upper lip. She watched with disappoint as her suspicions were confirmed: it was far too light and only veiled her mole. She didn’t want to be like her mom or the aunties, who purposefully bought makeup that was too light and didn’t fit their complexion. They were in denial. Not the one with the deadweight husband though, that one had self awareness. An ache crept up Jackie’s back as she pressed for something more dense and pigmented she could use. The word for that is concealer, but Jackie didn’t know that word yet either.
Disappointed, Jackie decided she’d put the foundation back. She felt she could still be pretty, so long as she augmented other features on her face and took attention away from her upper lip. To do that, she’d begin wearing dramatic eye makeup. Specifically, she’d try to perfect wearing wing eyeliner. Most girls in her class, except for the white girls, wore wing eyeliner too. This alternative was fine. She was mostly just happy that soon, she’d be home. Jackie put the cap of the bottle back on, re-centered herself, and opened the door to Brendan with an “a” waiting outside.
I wrote this story as an apology letter to the Walgreens I stole makeup from when I was 13. Also so that everyone knows how pretty my mom is.
Như loves eating mango, reading stories, and making people laugh. She writes things she wish she got to read as a kid.
Cover Photo Source: Shopify