They came to her like sleepy children, only half-awake. Faces scrubbed clean, hair pulled back, they looked nothing like the camera-ready product Cindy would turn out in half an hour, wearing a hard shell of make-up like a shield. They were the early-morning news anchors, and she was their make-up artist. Together with hair-stylist Miguel, she stood waiting in the prep room at four a.m.
Yawning, stretching, they arrived, the weather guy and the man and woman who read the news. Station policy dictated that they start their viewers’ day in high energy mode. It didn’t come naturally to anyone at that hour, but it was totally foreign to the woman anchor, Jemima. She had to psyche herself up to be cheery. Sometimes, with her mask-like face and immovable hair, she swung her arms in circles and jumped up and down before she went on the air. It looked like a hard way to make a living.
Today Cindy felt light-headed with fatigue. The baby had had a bad night – was still having it when she placed him in bed beside her husband, kissed the red little angry face, whispered “Sorry, I’ll make it up to you,” to her groaning spouse, and let herself out into the pre-dawn stars. At least traffic was light and she had her choice of parking spaces when she arrived.
Jemima was in first this morning, eyes at half-mast. She settled into Miguel’s chair with a sigh and submitted to the teasing and spraying without a word. By the time Cindy got hold of her, she was a bit more awake.
“Cindy, you wouldn’t believe the night I had,” Jemima began. “That hot new band is in town and I managed to snag backstage passes for Jeff and me. It made for a late night, though – only three hours of sleep. I don’t know how you’re going to make me look human today.”
“Wow, uh huh.” Cindy knew Jemima didn’t want to hear about her own three-hour night, so she let the words wash over her as she began applying moisturizer, then primer, then concealer, then the thick pancake make-up that made everyone’s face look flawless for the camera. She couldn’t do much for necks, though, and they often served as stark reminders that the faces couldn’t be trusted. Necks never lie, that was Cindy’s experience. Every sag, every line, every jowl was merciless reality.
Mark was next. He didn’t get the fake eyelashes and lipstick, but Cindy spent some time trying to reduce those under-eye bags. He was growing old in a young person’s game and it was getting harder and harder to conceal it. She liked Mark, so she soaked two teabags in hot water, laid the chair back and placed the bags under his eyes for a few minutes. Bags on bags, she thought. But the tannic acid did reduce swelling. Lucky for Mark, he got to wear a buttoned-up shirt and tie cinched under his chin.
With only minutes to spare, the anchors scrambled onto the set, settled themselves in their chairs and squinted at the Teleprompter. When the green on-the-air indicator lit up, Cindy’s job was done for the moment. She had time for a break before the first commercial, when she’d dash onto the set armed with blotting papers to absorb shine on those perfect faces.
She plugged in the electric kettle and got another teabag, this one for the purpose it was intended. Catching sight of herself in the mirror as she waited for the water to heat, she saw a pale face and hair scraped back into a messy pony-tail. Wearily, she leaned forward and began spackling on her own hard shell.
She knew when she got home that evening her husband would hand her the baby at the door and say he hadn’t been able to do a thing about his job search because he’d had to take care of a kid all day. Then he’d head to the pub for some adult company. She wouldn’t have a chance to mention that her paycheck was stretched beyond the breaking point – surely he had to know that – or how tired she was, or the funny noise her old car made when she turned left, or how she had to beat down the flashes of anger that illuminated her horizon these days.
Wielding the soft sable brushes expertly, she sketched herself a beautiful, flawless face that hid everything, but only to the jaw line. How long she could avoid looking at her neck?