My mother sets up on the living room floor telling me she has all the supplies ready and will I do her makeup and she's waiting and she's ready and at the tail end of that single sentence exhale she tags on a little laugh so she can say she was just joking if I say no but I never say no.
Then we're inches apart. When I get real close like that it's not about makeup but some other kind of appearance. It's yesterday's mascara crumbling at the spot where her upper and lower eyelids meet at an unwavering eighty degree angle and offer up her stare like Vanna White's pencilthin arms frame those glittery squares the moment they reveal an alphabet letter on Wheel of Fortune.
It's something with clean lines like that—this thing she wants me to see. Is it that the new man in her life is not the new man any more or is it that she's reconsidering the old boyfriend from five paychecks ago or is it the sentence she started last weekend when it was just the two of us in the kitchen right before the sarcophagus of nevermind came sliding, heavy and permanent over the rest of the words and me without a crowbar of effort to pry like I used to before I spent my nights up working out little equations involving the long division of the single granola bar left in the empty house
or is it----
Her eyes full, round vowels, hidden behind a smiling crowd waiting for you to choke out a guess. Her eyes A, E, I, O, U and sometimes
I don't know. Why.
I try out guesses with what little I have figured out, but it's all consonants and too many critical blanks and without the eyelids closing out the act, she manages to make her glance go somewhere else and she doesn't need to let me know I guessed wrong because she winches up the Vanna White smile that says You're out of guesses.
The color scheme is purple/blue to match her eyes and it keeps watering off before I can get much on and she keeps saying she's sorry and I say I'm sorry too as the game-show tune tumbles over the scene in its relentlessly predictable order, both of us looking at the other, thinking why do I keep watching this
but really what else is ever on, and really
sometimes you watch stuff so you can levy a silent trickle of satisfied judgement through the whole thing. That's entertainment.
She makes the mystery noise: the half-snort exhale that either means What a joke, you're not sorry or I'm sorry I'm such a joke both of which require me to tune in again and try harder to spin that jackpot wheel so large neither of us can even see the other side.
After some breadth of time measured out in abandoned cupboards, we will both move on from watching that kind of shit. It sags under the sad, tiresome atrophy of what baseline judgement becomes. Though, years later, when I hear the familiar jingle, my clean lines at their eighty degree angles will flood all the color down my face and I'll think how much I miss that show. I'll laugh out loud at how obvious the hidden answers were. I'll set up there in the middle of everything till the memorysmack of nostalgia is inches from my face, waiting for me to say no but I never say no.
About the Author: Grace Campbell was born, raised and educated in New York. She's a co-founding editor of Black River Press and a nonfiction reader for 5x5. She is a 2018 June Dodge Fellow at the Mineral School and was a finalist for the Turnbuckle Chapbook Contest through Split Lip Press. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Chagrin River Review, Spry, Two Hawks Quarterly, New Flash Fiction Review and others. She lives and works in Olympia, Washington.