red lipstick

My childhood neighbor was named Dallas. He was so old and lovely that I could not help but touch his skin and look through his translucent eyelids. I loved the way he smelled like pipe tobacco and his laugh that stopped at the corner of his mouth. His wife would feed me cookies and I would pump leg on his porch swing and never get yelled at that I swung so high even when the chain popped and made an eerie noise. And they knew what a good girl I was. And they loved me like kin. And they loved me.

And after I wasn’t a child anymore and Dallas had died leaving his wife all alone in the big old house I would visit her after school. I would walk into her kitchen that smelled just like her and sit at her Formica table and tell her all the things that I wanted to tell my own parents but couldn’t because I was practicing sullen and moody with them. And sometimes when my parents traveled they would leave me with her for a day or two. The last time I stayed with her was the night that my friend T and I told very big and intricate lies that involved church camp youth night alibis so that we could go out to a camping site with boys and a fifth of whiskey. We stood on the corner of Deerborne and Sycamore and called her parents and my sweet neighbor from the old silver phone booth. (The one that had all the sluttiest girls in town’s names written on it in red nail polish) We opened our mouths and lies poured out and pooled at our feet and then we got into a teenage jalopy car and drove away from our good upbringing.

When you are from a very small town you just accept that you are always being watched. I am unsure how we got from the woods to that trailer park and when T’s dad knocked his large fist over and over on the back bedroom door I just put my hands up and thought my world was over. T’s dad looked just like Dan Connor from the Roseanne television show to me but did not have the same sweet je nes se quoi. He already thought I was trouble for his little girl and now I had just made it certain. I pulled at my t-shirt and ran outside of the room. The stupid boy followed me out and then ran like hell when he saw the big man. T’s father drove us straight to my neighbors house and made me knock on the door after midnight. She made herbal tea and we all sat in her formal parlor and dissected the evening and her face dropped a little bit each time T’s dad opened his mouth. I discovered that my t-shirt was inside out just about the same time that I was telling my sweet neighbor how very sorry I was for being me. I took all the throw pillows from the davenport and covered my body with them.

The next day I went to Revco drugstore and bought the reddest lipstick I could find. I figured it was the least I could do because back then I didn’t know yet that people had both the good and the bad inside of them. I had no idea that we would move back and forth between the two for the rest of our lives.


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