Rebecca came home for the weekend for her cousin’s Communion; it was an inconvenience. Normally, she’s in Hollywood tending to the faces of the rich and famous — she’s a makeup artist. You probably never heard of her, but she did the makeup for that girl in that ballerina movie; the one that made her look like a colorless monster. But they said it was good, she won some acclaim and kind words for it. It’s not my kind of thing, but she’s good at it. She gets her name in the credits of movies and stuff.
This morning, she was yelling at her brother: “What are you doing in there?” she called slyly, eyeing the bathroom door as she pulled the cap off of her eye liner. The eyeliner was aggressive for a Holy First Communion, but you know, she’s a makeup artist. So I guess you need to display your wares wherever you are — even at Holy Communion.
“Just getting ready,” her younger brother’s voice came through the door. He had been in the bathroom for ten minutes, the water running in the shower the whole time. The water cascaded against the white tub in solid drops and splattered against the shower curtain with a hollow pop. But Tommy wasn’t going in; he stood over the sink, staring at a twenty two year old boy in the mirror.
“I don’t even know what you do in there,” Rebecca continued, more to herself than anyone else. Her dress was a little audacious for a First Holy Communion as well; a bit too short in my opinion. ”It’s not like you’re putting makeup on. You always take so long in the bathroom; it’s insane.” She paused as the pencil drew a heavy line inside her eyelid. “Or are you?” She stopped and smirked at the door. “If you are, I’ll come in and help you. I’ll make you look all pretty and then you’ll be done in, like two minutes. Then maybe we’ll make it there in time to do whatever we do there.”
Tommy turned the sink on. He stripped off his shirt and ducked his head into the stream of water. Both hands worked through his hair, soaking each line to the root; no shampoo or anything, just water. He turned the faucet off and reached for a towel. The cool droplets fell onto his shoulders as he wrapped the towel around his body, shorts still on. He threw back the curtain and turned off the shower. He looked in the mirror one last time, making sure he was there, then walked to the door and opened it. Rebecca popped her head out of her bedroom.
“Finally,” she smirked. “Let me get in there if you’re done.” She brushed by him, saddled up to the mirror, and continued her facial artwork. “Now hurry up in your room. You take forever to get ready!”
“Tommy, are you almost ready?” his mother called from down the hall. “We need to leave in a few minutes. We can’t be late. Are you ready?” Her dress wasn’t as inappropriate as Rebecca’s, but it was gaudy. It was black with golden material flowing across it, like the ripples in a lake.
Tommy pushed the door to his room shut. He stripped the towel and his shorts off and threw them to the floor. He pulled on a pair of tan dockers, wrinkled and too big. He threw on a shirt, horizontal blue and white stripes — much more appropriate for a Communion. He clicked his deodorant up three clicks, swiped, three clicks, swiped. Outside of his door, he heard Rebecca bounce down the stairs.
“Hey Daddy,” she said from the kitchen. “You all ready?”
Tommy sat down on the edge of his bed.
“Yes darling. I’m all ready. How does my tie look?”
“Perfect,” she said without looking. “Where’s Mom? Is she almost ready?”
“I’m here,” she called from the stairs. “I’m all ready. Let me just grab my pocketbook, and then I’m all set to go. Honey, do you have your jacket? Don’t forget your jacket. Becca, where’s your brother? Is he ready?”
“I don’t know. I told him to hurry up.”
In his room, Tommy stooped forward and pulled on a black leather shoe. He laced it, then reached down and found the other. His fingers worked confidently over the limp strings: looping, pulling, and drawing them tight. Then his hands rose stiffly to his face, and his head sunk down to meet them.
“Well go tell him again,” their father said. “We need to get going.”
“I don’t need to tell him again. He’s a big boy.” She pulled a dangling string from the high hem of her dress. Then she snapped up, as if realizing some horrible secret. Her voice fell to a whisper that carried through the foyer; it seemed even louder than her normal octave. “What’s up with him lately?” Neither adult answered. “Know what I mean? He’s so weird or something. He’s closed off; he’s odd.”
“I don’t know, just don’t mention it,” the parental pairing said.
Back upstairs, Tommy stood up and walked to his dresser. There were only a few things left to do. Then he would be ready for the day. The tasks that he already completed were easy: shower, check (sort of); brush teeth, forgot that (but who cares); dress in stupid clothes, check. He sprayed a dash of cologne onto his neck. Cologne, check.
There was quiet in the kitchen as he went through his checklist.
“Well, whatever. We need to go in like, two minutes. Get him going,” Rebecca urged her father with wide eyes.
Again, Tommy found himself staring at a twenty two year old boy in his mirror. This was the toughest part; this was the part that required no water, no toothbrush or toothpaste, not even some good smelling cologne to hide the fact you hadn’t showered. It required patience, a change of perspective, a sense of grace that wasn’t allowed. He looked at himself in the mirror: the deep set eyes, the purplish lips, the thin, hay colored hair.
If there was one redeeming feature, I always thought it was his eyes — sort of. They weren’t exactly something pretty, but at least they were interesting. Tommy’s mind was fixated on them. He couldn’t seem to get the final chore done. The eyes were so dark, nearly black, and in them he saw himself, powerful, strong, and assertive; in them, he was ok. A knock came on his door. “Can I come in?” his father asked. “No, I’ll be out in a minute.”
It’s funny. Because they don’t know why Tommy takes so long in the bathroom. They wouldn’t understand really. Becca should know, she spends so much time making people look different— better than they really are. But for some reason, she never sees it. Tommy’s makeup isn’t a fine, thin line under his eyes that makes him look more attractive; nor is it some red on his cheeks to make his face look nicer, fuller, happier — although he had tried both. Tommy is a true makeup artist; probably better than even Rebecca, even though he never had his name in the credits. Tommy could hide his true face beneath one that looked decent; just not with powdered minerals and pasty concoctions. The problem for Tommy, however, was that the application of such a face didn’t come too easily.
“Let me come in, Tommy,” his father whispered. Tommy picked up the bottle of cologne, tastefully shaped like the body of an ancient god-man, and squeezed it tightly. The thick, smooth glass felt heavy in his fingers; warmth descended from his chest. His arm twitched with a beautiful urge to hurl the glass across the room. But he never looked at the bottle, just at his eyes in the mirror. If you were there, you would have seen what he saw — a beautiful nothingness that seemed to sap away all the pain of life, like the void in the middle of a noose. His eyes were like that: a deep, welcoming void.
In his hand, the ancient god-man withstood the crushing force of his probing fingers. The warmth dried up in him, and the elusive act was consummated. The sinews of Tommy’s hands relaxed; his arm fell loosely to his side, then rose mechanically to straighten his tie. He opened the door, his father’s face greeting his with thin, tight lips.
“How’s the weather outside?” Tommy asked his father. “I hope it’s not too hot.”
“I’m not sure. It may be a bit muggy.”
“Oh well,” he said as he walked toward the stairs. He checked his makeup in the hallway mirror; it was immaculate. In the kitchen, he beckoned his sister and mother outside with a smile. “Ready? Sorry, had to do some things real quickly. But let’s go, we’re going to be late.”
As he walked to the car, the curves of the god man’s body flitted in the void of his eyes.