Every morning, she sits down at her vanity, in front of her lighted makeup mirror, the dial set to daytime, and carefully applies her makeup. First the moisturizer, then concealer and foundation, patted on with a triangular foam wedge the way her mother taught her to do it. Then the eye shadow: a pale shade all over, darker on the lid and medium color in the crease.
Today she is leaving Harold. Betty, her sister, is picking her and the baby Rosie up at noon. “Be packed,” Betty had said. But she hasn’t packed. She opened her closet this morning, after Harold left for work, and was too overwhelmed. She couldn’t possibly take it all, but what to leave behind? Not the wrap dress with the big pink peony pattern on it, not the long cashmere-blend coat her mother gave her three birthdays ago, not the carefully stored boxes of shoes. “Just take enough for a week or two,” Betty had said. “You can go back and get the rest later.”
The makeup mirror has four settings: day, evening, home, and office. She really just needs one setting: home. But maybe, wherever she ends up, she’ll have a reason to use all of the settings. She spots a new line near the corner of her eye. Her skin used to be smoother, softer. She changes the mirror to the evening setting and the wrinkle nearly disappears.
She looks across the room and sees Rosie’s head pressed into the mesh side of the pack-and-play. She thinks about leaving Rosie with Harold. Maybe what she wants is to be free from both of them. And then Rosie will never know what an awful mother she really is. How she ignores her sometimes when she’s crying, how she quit breastfeeding at the first sign of discomfort, how she sometimes parks the stroller, with Rosie inside, in the baby section at Macy’s and goes to the makeup counter alone. She figures Rosie is relatively safe there, surrounded by the other mothers browsing the racks of tiny dresses, and she’s never gone for more than five or ten minutes but oh those minutes of freedom feel like heaven. She always returns to the stroller, the top of her hand smeared with various shades of lipstick. Once she walked out the front door and onto the street for a moment, just to see how it felt.
It’s not that Harold is a bad man. He doesn’t beat her or yell at her or sleep with other women. Last week she read about a woman who had been stabbed to death by her boyfriend, who then cut her skull open with a saw and ate her brains. She imagined him scooping them up with a metal spoon, probably the same one he used for cereal in the mornings. He told the police he only took a nibble. She doesn’t know why this thought comes to her now, as she dips her long handled brush into the blush and fluffs it on the apples of her cheeks.
Rosie stirs in the pack-and-play and then settles down again. She hasn’t packed Rosie’s things either although she tried to last night, while Harold watched TV in the den, flipping between the game and the evening news. Rosie has so many things—diapers and bottles and ointments and miniature nail clippers. She doesn’t want to need any of these things anymore.
She sets the blush with a pat of translucent powder. Betty is jealous of her; she knows this. Betty wants a man like Harold, someone who will pull her close at parties, wrap his arm around her waist. Betty wants a daughter like Rosie, with a rosebud mouth and a closet full of pretty dresses. Instead Betty got a man who ran out on her right before Christmas last year, clearing the presents under the tree like a robber.
She switches the mirror to daytime and the new wrinkle returns. If she leaves now, Rosie will only be alone in the house for half an hour before Betty arrives. Rosie will probably not even notice, maybe will not even remember any of this brief life together.
She removes the wrap dress with the peony pattern from the closet and places it on the bed. She puts a shoebox next to the dress, a pair of red pumps she rarely wears because they give her blisters on her heels. She cycles through the makeup mirror settings before turning it off, the line near the corner of her eye disappearing with the light.
In the kitchen, she prepares a bottle for Rosie and leaves a jar of her favorite baby food on the counter, next to one of her tiny plastic spoons. Betty will scoop Rosie up like a good mother should, smooth her hair down and whisper, “There, there, everything’s alright,” in the way their own mother used to do. Then she’ll slip into the wrap dress and the red shoes, nestle Rosie on her hip, and greet Harold at the door.