Cheery Red

Her dearest Jane was a timid girl, Mrs. Bonhill would confide. One wheel short of a hamster, you understand. Her friends did understand, for Jane hardly ever spoke, and whenever she did something silly dropped from her tongue. The general consensus was that Jane did not have the necessary understanding of the niceties of social behaviour. In short, she was such a child in her speech (when she spoke) and so unnerving to be around (when she did not). Mrs. Bonhill flowered under the sympathetic cooing of her church circle and took her daughter with her everywhere.

It was not that Jane could not be trusted; she had had a half day job for years now, doing scanning and filing and photocopying for a stationary company. She was quiet and did her job adequately, her monthly pay deposited in a savings account. It was a real help, Mrs Bonhill allowed, to have a daughter who paid towards household expenses.  But then Jane had always been helpful. Even as a child Mrs. Bonhill had left Jane alone for whole mornings in the children’s section of the library. Everything worked out perfectly until a busy body librarian had confronted Mrs. Bonhill over such a little matter, nothing really, honestly as if literacy mattered in this day and age of television. No one could say that she did not care constantly for Jane, who certainly was in need of it, though she had turned twenty-four last Tuesday.

On the subject of herself, Jane could scarcely have said more than what she saw in the mirror every morning; her mother had said everything else. This morning bath ritual was her favourite time of the day and she always turned the hot water tap as far as it would go, delighting in the steam which gushed thick and hot into the cramped space. The mirror would fog up and then she would apply her make-up, piling it on heavily, giving life to the ghost opposite her. The worst time of the day soon followed – Mrs. Bonhill would open the door, tut to herself, drag a crushed wad of toilet paper across Jane’s face and scrub the life away, then bunch Jane’s long dull hair in a low pony.

“That’s my girl.” she would approve. Mrs. Bonhill would then kindly add a touch of very pale pink lipstick. Jane always wiped the back of her hand across her mouth when her mother was not looking. Mrs. Bonhill prided herself on awareness, however, and took to carrying the lipstick in her bag for when Jane’s lips, voluptuously at odds with those dreary brown eyes, showed themselves as naked again. Mrs. Bonhill did not see why Jane shouldn’t wear make-up when the girl obviously wanted to. Neither did Mrs. Bonhill understand why the lipstick hardly lasted five minutes.

“It’s like she eats it.”

Mrs. Bonhill would not have been surprised if Jane had actually reached into her purse and swallowed the tube whole. Not that Jane had ever done such a thing, or even hinted at such abnormal behaviour, but it made her mother feel better to express her fears to her friends, who nodded, large-eyed, whispering whispering whispering. At what Jane was capable of.