Selene had dreamed of red the night before she found the lip rouge. In the dream she stood before a smeary mirror in the office tearoom and stared into the image of a face, which rippled as on water. She was taller and leaner and wearing fabrics she struggled against, fabrics she associated with pornography. The lace against her breasts was shiny and rubbed with wear. The silk skirt left her deliberately exposed and nude.
In her left hand, long and coolly pale, she held a delicate black pot stenciled in curlicues of gold gone to brass with the rubbings of time. Poised in her right hand like a cigarette filter dangled a slender brush. She dipped the brush into the pot, still transfixed by her cool other-image, and swirled it so that it emerged coated in redness. Thick vermilion that glistened as brilliant and wet as Chinese lacquer.
With a studied voluptuousness she raised the brush to her mouth and coated over and again the swollen lips. Over and again prod the brush into the pot, rim her mouth deeper and deeper into the red until her lips are sealed and invulnerable, as glossed and impenetrable as cherrywood.
She is asleep behind her mouth and yet in dreaming eases the brush again over the curving swell of her lower lip. It is warm wax. It seals and protects her.
She wakes up to the bass-heavy rattling kump-KA, kump-KA of a hot and rotting autumn wind pushing at the old panes. She makes coffee in the dark and draughty kitchen. No make-up to work today, yet still she is conscious of her mouth, the shapes it makes as she murmurs in the quiet office or sips a half cold coffee from the machine. She keys in data and lets its mindlessness wash over her. The red lip-rouge and all its potency glimmer in her mind, blood-heart of vividness in a room of grey walls, green terminals and shadow. She knows the pot of rouge to be hiding in a drawer; the last of its color caked like shoe polish, smelling of old roses.
That night Selene finds some of her Nana’s old things in a seed pearl purse. She also finds herself frightened by the accuracy of the dream image. She’s not usually prone to deep dreaming, or even to everyday vanities like lipstick. She knows she is colorless and wears her pale peach hair in a ponytail. Her skin is chalky-white and though she’s tried to wear make-up in the past, it always looks garish under the fluorescence at work. Now she moves into the bathroom and flicks her grey-eyed glance across the shelves, looking for the right oil. This is Selene’s private indulgence, fragrant oils for bathing. She loves to bathe, loves to lie in the tub in the darkened bathroom letting her ears drop just below the surface water until she can hear her own heartbeat. She takes a small bottle of macadamia oil, its fragrance already warmly exposed. At the dresser she carefully drizzles oil into the caked pot, watching it moisten and glow brightly red. As she watches this brightening, this process of glimmer and shine, Selene recalls again the dream and how she sucked in her breath as she looked at her final self. She begins to touch her face, and then she opens a bottle and is touching her face with circles of creamy foundation smoothed over her pallor. She puffs talc around her sharp jaw and sees it immediately soften, then with a long pencil rims her eyes in a hint of smudged grey kohl. They are enormous eyes, pools of silver in a blank face. She is a blank canvas that cries out for the red heart/mouth at its center, the color that will twist gazes to her; twist herself into someone new and dangerous. She paints, the color glimmers from the pot, glows on her lips like passion and tastes like old perfume. Selene dresses in a suit the color of milk-touched coffee. She slides pale silk stockings over her smooth legs. The fur collar she found in the old suitcase of her nana’s fits over the jacket and fluffs in a soft amber glow against her throat. Her shoes are oxblood leather. A look in the mirror from heels to head tells her that she is new. She is new and marvelous and shivering with possibility.
She goes perhaps to a darkened jazz club, listens to the sultry music as she sips at short blacks. The saxophonist is tall with long legs and slim hips. She watches and sips, he senses her stare and returns it. Selene feels as though she holds him in place with an invisible thrumming wire of energy that connects their gazes. On the break before the bands’ third set she finds herself being led insistently from the bar, past cables and amps and drum cases and into the half-lit industrial kitchen. His lips are searingly hot as they push aside the fur collar to lick and nuzzle her arched neck. Selene feels his hands between her shoulder blades undoing some hooks, her bra is pulled down leaving her breasts cool and exposed to the air, then his hot mouth finds her nipples, laps and sucks at the tightening pink skin. She is both out of her body with disbelief and immersed deeply in her own flesh as her skirt is hitched up and her knickers eased down. He is sliding incredibly long cool fingers along her thighs and the sink under her arse is icy cold and the sensation of being emotionally detached even as she pushes her breast into his mouth, of burning through her belly even as she shivers against slick metal overwhelms her. Selene pulls at the belt of his jeans then slides the clingy rayon shirt up his smooth torso. He doesn’t say anything to her. His fingers flick against her clitoris sending shimmering heat up her spine, they tangle in her pubic hair as he strokes the skin in low slow rhythms that leave her slack and sprawled and open. She slides her hands into his shorts, delights in the feel of the hard contracting muscles under the hot skin of his arse, then moves her hands round slowly to touch the thick velvety penis that strains towards her fingers.
He bites her throat, her ear; growls ‘God your mouth’ as he pulls her to the edge of the sink and kneels between her wide-flung thighs. His tongues is inside her then lapping and swirling around the whirls of her labia and clit until she collapses, panting, against the tiles, so glad she chose the sax player over the drummer that she laughs aloud…
But maybe Selene doesn’t dig jazz. Perhaps she goes to a gothic club then hides in the toilet fearing her new face in this crowd of strange faces, these ‘petals on a wet black bough’. A woman, tall with a beautiful pale décolletage offset by stiff black ruffles will watch her, then ask her to dance. They go the bar and Violet buys her shots of tequila. Selene drinks and her pink cat-tongue flicks out to lick the salt. They stare at each other and suck on the wedges of lemon. Selene’s mouth is ruby-smeared and tingling as she holds a slice of lemon between her teeth and leans into Violet’s perfumed neck, plum-hued mouth. Violet nips at the lemon, then growls low as she as she twines Selene’s hair into a rope and pulls her inexorably in for the kiss that is soft yet casts a handsome burn. Their knees draw closer together; they finger each other’s hair and napes as their lips slant harder in this kiss. Red lipstick smears with purple so that when they draw apart, panting, their lips looks bruised.
Maybe though Selene tires. Maybe the cat is hungry and wants to play; maybe the flat is warm and safe. Maybe she stays at home, undresses again slowly removing all but the red lipstick at the heart of her face. She reads a few chapters from an erotic anthology with a beautifully photographed black and white nude on its cover. Then, sprawled naked on her old couch she begins to caress herself. She will sigh as her hands glide down her arms against the inner flesh that is white, vulnerable and supple. She muses then that she is glad for this preciousness of skin housing self, for its youthfulness, it’s feeling. She must not waste this skin-communicated thing she has, that people have together. The book drops to the floor as she runs her fingers (so new seeming!) in delicate whirls over her breasts and belly. Her breathing deepens, she feels its heavy ebb and return eddy in the thickly radiant heat of the furnace. She drifts in currents of warm-water pleasure and her cat slinks out an open window.
Here is her form on the old couch: her lips glow softly carmine, her body rises and falls like pale tidal spume; rises, retreats then sinks into the deeps of sleep.
She dreams that she sits in a very hard-backed chair in a row of other people sitting in various poses: upright, stiff, sprawled or coyly cross-footed. In this formation they seem to be flying and so begged on by great gust of wind she stretches out her arms as wings. The one sitting before her does the same, then soon the one behind, and like this, like children in a school game, they turn great arcs against the sky, wheel and dive like birds over a tourmaline-green sea.