Natural No. 2  from With Everyone Watching - LUMP chapbook




Bell Newsome puts on her face. She works Pale Bisque into loose skin, humming random notes as she attacks her laugh lines with a foam brush, then maneuvers Natural Number Two, which is two shades lighter, into the deep folds that pierce the side of each nostril. She goes for a third pass with Rio Tan in an attempt to glaze over the remaining crowd of pores which gape from the left cheek. Then, touching a jumbo eye pencil to her brow, she outlines a wrinkle of memory, lost until now, of handsome Jim Trimm in his private swimming pool, days before a mudslide would fill the deep end with putrid earth.

Bell flattens her palms over the pock marks in the no-slip pool deck and dangles her legs in the water on both sides of Jim’s bobbing head. Jim, who strains one muscular arm to keep the chlorine out of his High Life, grabs the front of Bell’s bikini bottom with straight white teeth and pulls down, snarling. The rayon thong holds, chaste. Bell tilts her face toward the sun and bites her lip in victory. With his jaw still locked on bikini, Jim says, “Know what? I just decided that I am going to take you all the way.”

“Jimmy, not here. You’ll mess up the moment.”

“Oh hell,” Jim slurs. “I plan to graft you into the Trimm family tree. Know what I mean? You’re the lucky gal. The end of the line.” He releases the mouthful of rayon and spreads his arms wide as if he were opening a curtain on the pool and the faux tudor house that looms at the top of the steep slope of lawn. “All of this can be ours.”

Bell smiles, slow, measured. Jim watches a streak of pool water slide into her bellybutton. She says, “Who would you rather fuck? Webster or Arnold?”

“What?” Jim says, fighting a screen of confusion, quickly retracting his wingspan. The water quivers inside Bell’s divine dimple.

“Who would you rather? Emmanuel Lewis or Gary Coleman? Pick your man-child.”

“Shit Bell, why do you have to taint the air with an idea like that? I don’t know! It’s unthinkable. Disgusting is what it is. That’s some dark shit, darlin’.”

“You’ve got no imagination, Trimmy. You can’t manage to put an image to something as obscene and hilarious as that, and you mean to tell me that you can see us bound for life in your mind’s eye? I’m just curious to know what that looks like. Is it Arnold?”

“Webster, I guess,” Jim grumbles. “Don’t you have me all figured out.”

He dips under Bell’s legs and sloshes his way out of the pool. Then in a single motion, he crushes his beer can, pivots on one foot and plunges, exploding the water with a cannonball. After the waves subside, Bell squeegees her nubile face with her palm, which is marked with a painful relief of the pool’s deck, leaving a thin glaze of moisture on her brow for the sun to bake away.

Now, with her coarse skin bleeding through the makeup, and her boy Dillon screaming unadulterated agony at the bottom of the stairs, (“I think I’m going to faint, mom! What do I do?”) Bell patiently sticks an eyebrow on one lid.

“Hold tight, Dill Pickle. Can’t seem to find my keys.”

At the finish, Bell leans back into her chair, away from the raunchy perfume of it all; pulverized fish scales and urea weep from her face. Her focus shifts to the mirror’s parallax where Dillon’s friend Peetie, who has silently climbed the stairs, peers around the door jamb. One half of his long face and one doe eye beckon and accuse at once.

“Isn’t he a quiet little turd,” Bell wonders as she mimics his infuriating gaze. Right back at him.

The boy turns his head toward Dillon, who rests against the wall at the bottom of the stairs with his legs splayed, holding his porcelain forearm in front of him like a dubious specimen, fractured at the center and bent unnaturally toward the ceiling.

“Mom, are you putting on makeup?”

Peetie turns the one contemptuous eye back toward Bell, expecting her to answer - to admit her sin. But the chair is empty, and an Avon Medusa stands in front of the vanity, opaque with foundation, then floats across the rug, her bracelets rattling past Peetie like timber snakes. Mild irritation escapes her in a hot sigh. Indulgence swells under her skin.

“Mamma’s here, bringing cheer!” she sings, as she descends the staircase in long athletic strides.

From Peetie’s spot at the bedroom door, Dillon’s cries warble with Bell’s every step and grow faint as she carries him, flopped over her shoulder, to the car.

“First, the hospital,” Peetie thinks, “She will save me for later.”

He moves, between breaths, to meet his reflection in the vanity.