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Excerpt from 'The Right Shade of Lipstick'

September 24, 2010

Excerpt from "The Right Shade of Lipstick"
By Polly Baughman
Most women have a favorite shade of lipstick, the one they’ve found through trial and error. It works with their skin tones, matches their blush, or keeps their teeth from looking too yellow. They find the color and they stick with it. After all, who wants to spend a lot of time thinking about lipstick? I used to be one of those women. Not anymore. My make-up drawer is filled with more tubes of lipstick than a Max Factor plant. And I need all of them. Some days call for Compassionate Coral. Others I know will need the power of Persuasive Peach. And some demand I wear Righteous Red. At least that’s how I think of them. None of this Smoldering Honey or Blushing Berry for me. I think of each shade of lipstick in terms of what it helps me accomplish. But like I said, I didn’t used to be that way. I didn’t understand the power or the comfort in having just the right shade of lipstick for the task at hand. All that changed for me one day last fall, a day that began without any lipstick at all. A day that began, I’m embarrassed to say, with drool. Not a little spittle, mind you, but a slimy slick across the side of my face and on what passed for a pillow.

Drooling was a sure sign I’d reached a level of sleep deprivation experienced only by POWs. And new moms. Normally, I assure you, I sleep with a nearly closed mouth and all my saliva inside it. But for two weeks, I’d slept for no more than forty minutes at a time on the torture device the nurses had rolled into my mom’s hospital room and cheerfully called a “bed.” Nurses use a lot of common words for odd things that exist only in their world – stuff like those ice-cream-scoop mounds of bright yellow rubber they call “eggs.” I’ll spare you the description of the black syrup the Lab must have originated in a Petri dish, though the nurses retrieve it from a “Nutrition Station” and call it “coffee.” Suffice to say, it had become my lifeblood by the second week my mom had been hospitalized. But strong as it was, the coffee wasn’t enough to prevent the catnap that ended in drool and my mother’s thin voice calling, “Cassie.”

I wasn’t sure if I thought the words or actually said, “What is it, Mama?”

“I’m sorry to bother you,” Mom said.

I rubbed the drool into my face, pushed away the panicky guilt that I’d slept through something important, and struggled up on one elbow to see if the catheter was bothering her, or if the IV drip was going dry, or if I needed to readjust the pressure balloons on her legs. Now, nearly as efficiently as the nurses, I scanned the room, but saw nothing needing attention. Nothing, except my mother, Krista Calhoun, the famed clothes designer behind KC Designs. Mom smiled at me – or rather her lips twitched in what these days passed for a smile. My lips twitched too before my head fell back on the pillow, and I granted myself ten more seconds with eyes closed, knowing that if I allowed myself eleven, I’d be asleep again.

(excerpt from “The Right Shade of Lipstick,” a short story)