By Liza Treviño
The lighting is all wrong. He’ll never fuck me with lighting this bright. You know what this lighting is good for? It’s good for signing tax documents, for grading shitty, half-baked term papers, or for getting a better look at the nutritional information on the box of overpriced granola posing as cereal that’s been sitting unopened next to my coffeepot for the last two weeks.
There’s an idea.
Unopened, untouched, untasted.
Just like me. Ha!
But it’s been a bit longer than two weeks, chica, hasn’t it? Shut up. Who asked you?
Jesus, Carly Monterosa, get a grip on yourself! No more afternoon French press brews for you.
I glance in the bathroom mirror and notice the wall behind me is covered in tan wallpaper that looks thatched, like bamboo linen. It’s actually kind of soothing. There’s a stained glass window up high, a rectangular thing that’s obviously part of the original Victorian mansion this remodeled restaurant used to be. Hard to believe somebody actually paid to put that window in their house back in the day.
I pull focus toward me, but the flatscreen TV mounted up high in the corner distracts me. (A professional habit, no doubt. Always with the newscasts.) And what on Earth is Katie Tur doing in that floral nightmare of a dress? Not a good choice for talking today’s political news. Instead, she’s flouncing around in a full length shot like, any minute, she’s about to break into some kind of interpretive dance routine in the vacuous, brightly lit set. That MSNBC producer should be fired. Dear God, women journalists and the dress code dilemma; it’s a never-ending sartorial push and pull. Kudos to Rachel Maddow for figuring it out, and doing the radical thing of keeping her wardrobe basic but professional. Day in and day out.
But back to me.
Ah, yes. Speaking of challenges.
I swipe my long bangs behind my ear as I scour just how much damage the San Antonio humidity has done to my $40 blowout.
Who am I trying to kid, anyway? I’m one stray patio spritzer run-in away from the boing-boing curls unleashing their wrath against my forced straightening. That’s okay, I guess. But, for now, it’s straight. It better hold at least for the duration of this…this…what is it…a date? Ugh. No wonder I’ve barricaded myself in the bathroom while Mark sits out…there.
I breathe in and exhale. One…two…three…four.
I drag my eyes up from the industrial chic Koehler faucet to my reflection.
You got this, Carly. You know you do. Stop pretending you don’t already know how this little story’s going to end. Mark’s easy. Well, not “easy”, but easy as in not a challenge. Not like, well you know who he’s not like. I know, I know, stop dwelling, chica. What would tía Glo say? She wouldn’t say anything. She’d just sit in her leather wingback chair in her library and give me that knowing look with her heavy-linered dark eyes, purse her lips and tsk while sipping from her white wine glass. She’s got that way about her that always knows the score if I may be so hardboiled Raymond Chandler about it.
I sink my hands into the weird mechanical appliance fixed to the wall that looks like some kind of stainless steel ‘enter if you dare’ kind of contraption.
What will they think of next in the hand-drying innovations sector? It whirs on like a hairdryer. Looking at the skin on my hands get pushed by the gusts, I know now what I’d look like if I were James Bond trapped in one of those spinning death machines. I can say this, as I, per the instructions, slowly pull my hands up and away from the dryer, it wouldn’t be pretty. But then again, I never imagined that skin pushed around my hands or on my face was ever going to be a good look. Not even James Bond could pull it off.
Actually, this hand dryer thingy is more like taking my Rav4 through the ‘touchless’ car wash that never really does the job. Why do I keep going back to that place? It’s cheap, that’s why. And it makes me feel like I got something checked off my ‘To Do’ list.
The heavy, tufted door of the remodeled bathroom opens and snaps me back to the moment. A woman walks in, and she looks all San Antonio society. She’s dressed in a smart pantsuit, a heavy set of pearls that look like the real thing, and her light brown hair is styled so very. Our eyes meet and she gives me a polite nod. She proceeds to a stall, and the lock slides shut.
That’s my cue to get out of here. I straighten up, take another cleansing breath and another appraising glance before I return to Mark. Mark, with his thinning blond hair that’s cut short and bristly and styled within a half-inch of its life. Mark, who wears shiny Donald Trump ties and who clears his throat every time he’s asked a direct question in our department meetings. Every. Single. Time.
So, here I go.
I pull open the door and catch a glimpse of my reflection.
I’m a smart woman, right?
Then why do I feel so fucking stupid?
Don’t answer that.
Even though this mirror is dulled and scratched, I expertly trace the contours of my lips with a deep brick-crimson lipstick, pursing them together, smudging the color in further. I twist the Estee Lauder ‘A Night of Promises’ lipstick back into its tortoise and shiny gold-plated case and toss it into my purse. I check out the job I’ve done. I adore this color! Sure, I shelled out way too much money for it, but eating’s overrated anyway. Besides, this color! It’s perfect for my olive complexion. It makes me look so…so…mysterious.
The rusted rotating fan’s oscillating wind blows against my neck, rustling my hair.
That tickle reminds me of driving in Philip’s convertible last week when we skipped out from his college graduation party at his family’s ranch so he could test drive his new present. Then, later, behind the pool house, overlooking the field of wild trees and shrubs, it was a different kind of tickle on my neck when I let him kiss me even though I knew Chrissy was his longtime girlfriend. One look at prissy Chrissy, and I knew it wouldn’t be hard.
Not once I locked on him.
And why not? It’s not like I didn’t see him checking me out all the time when he was here at the club, or even when we were in high school way back when. He’s a guy, just like all the rest of ‘em. I know what he wants.
What about when what they want catches up to you?
I catch my reflection and slip into the quiet place behind my brown eyes.
Every problem has a solution. That’s the beauty of the times we live in. No back alley hangar jobs; it’s just a quick trip over the border to Matamores.
The hot guitar riffs of Pat Benatar’s ‘Hit Me with Your Best Shot’ lash out from the boombox sitting on the dressing table. Just like every other time this song comes on, I reach over to turn up the volume button, and my body can’t help but start moving to the beat.
The amber light on my curling iron starts blinking, like a traffic light saying to proceed with caution. I pick up the iron (a cheapo found at Eckerd’s in the clearance aisle) and zero in on a long section of hair, clamping it between the metal pieces. I coil my hair around the iron’s hard edges.
The stream starts rising from my hair.
Seven, eight, nine, ten. Release.
My fingers gingerly test the hair. Yes, it’s going to keep this curl, for a while anyway. My eyes sweep over my reflection.
Yeah, Philip doesn’t have a chance.
What about Armando?
What about him?
Don’t be like that.
Por favor, Mando’s just a guy from the neighborhood.
Really? Doesn’t seem like it.
I lean toward the mirror to inspect my eye make-up. The left eye’s black eyeliner needs just a little more. I reach for my kohl pencil.
Mando’s just a kid, anyway. Too young for me. He’s only a year into his classes at SAC.
Who are you trying to convince, Glo? You say he’s nothing, then that’s what he is: nothing.
But my thoughts race before I can stop them.
Maybe I don’t want to stop them?
Mando’s deeply tanned face with new stubble, sweeps across my cheeks, scratching me with coarse roughness that is somehow pleasant. The bright sunlight that afternoon punched through the heavy trees overhead, providing lots of shade…and cover. Mando’s lips on mine, warm, soft and so consuming my breath was fast and ragged, gasping for air like I was drowning. Mando’s dark, curly hair falling long over his wide set eyes as he stares into mine, seeing more than anyone has ever seen. His arms brace on either side of my head as he leans down closer to me. My stomach jumps and I jump back to the dressing room and to my senses.
I check my teeth for any smudged lipstick.
Nope, none there.
I inhale, stand up straight and appraise my silhouette – from the front, from the side, from the other side. I glide my palms along my form, smoothing the lines of the lavender minidress, cinched at the waist by a wide, stretchy white belt with a glossy acrylic black square buckle. My hair is long, falling down to the middle of my back. The curling-iron curls are holding.
Looking good, chica. All those years of cheerleading and long walks back and forth to school, to the bus stops, and to work had to be good for something, right?
A shadow up high behind me catches my eye, and I see the stained glass window. I love seeing that there. The bright yellow roses and their long, intertwining jade vines are pure art. It’s dark outside right now, so the light coming through is from the streetlamps, but that window still lifts the room, giving this dump a touch of class. How beautiful this place must’ve been when it was a brand new mansion back in the olden days! I’m gonna have a place like this one day – a Victorian compound with grand rooms and expensive china. And I’m going to get a window just like that one up there.
What if he doesn’t show?
I fluff my hair one last time.
He’ll show. They always show.
I look in the mirror as I reach for the light switch to flick it off. Before I’m in the hall that leads to the ballroom filled with blue and red dance lights that cast smoky shadows, dulling the hard lines etched by the everyday, I glimpse my reflection just as everything goes dark. I go pitch black, too, like I don’t even exist.
My eyes strain, trying to grasp even a faint trace of my outline through the darkness.
It’s useless. I’m not there.
What if he doesn’t show?