The Library of Lost and Found | Chapter 26 of 46

Author: Phaedra Patrick | Submitted by: Maria Garcia | 18326 Views | Add a Review

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High Heels

Martha had always been wary of hairdressers. The giant posters of glossy-maned twentysomethings displayed in salon windows usually bore no resemblance to the bored women who sat inside, holding cups of tea and sporting silver foil in their hair.

On one occasion, not long after her parents died, she plucked up the courage to venture into a Maltsborough salon. She took along a photo she’d trimmed out of a magazine. Gingerly presenting it to a pretty girl with jumbo caramel curls, Martha admitted that she’d not had a professional haircut for some years.

The girl made all the right noises, then took up her own personal challenge, to produce a hairstyle as little like the one in the photo as possible.

Martha left the salon with a haircut resembling poodle ears, her curls tight and crispy.

Since then, she’d managed her own hairdressing agenda, consisting of a once-a-year snip at her dead ends, and a conditioning treatment if it came free with a magazine. So it was with extreme trepidation that she allowed Suki to hover around her head with a pair of scissors.

“We’ll just do a little trim,” Suki said. The bells on her ankle bracelet jingled as she circled Martha, peering into her hair as if she was looking for eggs in a large bird’s nest. “I’ll tidy up your hair, then we can try out some eyeshadow.”

Martha nodded meekly. She tried not to grip the seat of the wooden chair as snippets of hair began to fall onto her lap, a strange mix of dark and light.

“It’s just a haircut.” Suki paused for a moment. “You’re acting like you’re in a rocket, bracketed for take off.”

“Sorry,” Martha said, thinking that’s exactly how she felt.

The feeling of another person standing so close to her was unsettling. With her eyes screwed shut, she could hear the swish of Suki’s dress as she combed and snipped. She smelled of patchouli and toast.

When Suki touched her hair, Martha felt like ants were teeming through her roots and she wasn’t sure if it was delicious, or if she wanted it to end very quickly.

She concentrated on sitting still until Suki announced, “Done.”

Martha opened one eye and peered up, then left and right. Alarmingly, she couldn’t see any hair in her peripheral vision.

“Do you want a mirror?”

Martha didn’t detect any concern in Suki’s voice. She didn’t have an oh-my-god-what-have-I-done tone. In fact, she sounded rather upbeat. “I’m not too sure.”

“Okay. Well, I’ll do your makeup next, then you can take a look.” Suki took her cosmetic bag out of her handbag. It was purple and shiny, the size of a house brick, and looked just as heavy. “Can you sit still for longer?”

Martha nodded.

She used to wear a little mascara and a favorite dusky-pink Elizabeth Arden lipstick that Joe said he liked, and which gave her lips a natural color. But that was over twenty years ago, when her face didn’t look like it needed a good iron after waking up in the morning.

She never bothered to apply makeup these days. It was supposed to enhance what you already had, but what if you didn’t have anything in the first place?

The experience of Suki tending to her face was both intimidating and strangely relaxing—a brush to the cheeks, a finger blend to her eyes, the sensation of her eyelashes briefly lifting upward with the mascara brush.

“You’ve got good skin,” Suki said.

Martha, not used to receiving compliments, wondered if this was a secret code for, You have crow’s feet and broken veins, but surprisingly no spots. When Suki said she was going to give her a smoky eye, she thought of a finger ring of charcoal she had once given herself after overcooking some sausages.

She’d lost the ability to process a compliment. If someone said anything nice to her, by the time she’d mused over the conundrum of what it really meant and how to reply, the moment had passed.

After a further few minutes of dabbing, brushing and painting, Suki announced, “Ta-da. Take a look.”

Martha pressed her lips together and they felt sticky, like she’d eaten honey. Her eyelashes felt a little crusty. “I’m not sure if that’s advisable.”

Suki pressed a small round mirror into her hand, anyway. She folded her arms and stood back.

Martha inhaled and held her breath, preparing herself for disappointment, or even horror. Her rib cage felt corset-tight as she slowly lifted the mirror, wondering what awful apparition might look back at her. She turned her face to the side and then the other, to view her reflection. The person looking back at her didn’t look like Martha Storm.

“What do you think?” Suki asked.

Martha moved the mirror backward and then forward again. She tilted it and pouted to see her lip color more clearly. The peachy color on her cheeks made it look like she’d just got back from her brisk morning walk. Her eyelids shimmered with a soft olive and gold, and a fine flick of brown liner gave her eyes a feline quality.

Embarrassingly, she found herself brimming with tears. Deep lines appeared between her eyebrows as she tried to stop them.

I look more like the woman Joe fell in love with.

“I presume you’re weepy because you like it, not because it’s gross,” Suki said. “The mascara is waterproof, so don’t worry about that.”

Martha blinked quickly to test out this claim. She peered into the mirror to check for smears or smudges and was most impressed that there weren’t any. “You’ve made me look like an antiques show presenter,” she said. “Thank you.”

Suki frowned. “Um, is that good?”

“Of course.” Martha pressed a hand to her hair, which was shorter but more full and curlier. “I look like me, only much, much better.”

“You look lovely. And it wasn’t hard to do. Next time I’ll talk you through it.”

“Next time?” Martha repeated, finding it difficult to tear her gaze away from the person in the mirror who looked like her more glamorous, prettier twin.

“Only if you want to.”

“Yes.” Martha nodded furiously, her curls bouncing. “Very much so.”

Suki took a handful of products and stuffed them back into her cosmetics bag. “Have you ever thought about tracking Joe down?”

Martha tried to process the question. “No, why would I? He got married. To someone other than me.”

“Yes, but that was ages ago. He might be divorced now. You should look him up.”

“Oh no,” Martha said. Looking to her past meant thinking about her parents, of her nana vanishing and everything around that. She didn’t want to look back, only forward, as Zelda had prompted. “He moved on. He found a new life, without me in it. I was surplus to his requirements.”

“Don’t rule it out,” Suki said. “Sometimes putting things to rest from your past can be catholic.”

“Do you mean cathartic?”

“Probably.” Suki was about to say something else when her mobile phone pinged with a text. She took it out of her jacket pocket. “Hmm.” She grimaced as she read the message.

Martha ran a finger over her scratchy eyelashes and thought about Zelda’s instruction to bring someone to dinner. She wasn’t sure if Suki classed herself as a friend yet, or if she still belonged in the acquaintance category. But they had shared a unique experience together, with the dragon’s head and her makeover. Although Suki was young and might have other offers on the table, it might help to distract her from thinking about Ben. “You said that you’re not busy...” she started. “Perhaps you’d like to join me at my nana’s house for dinner?”

“Oh.” Suki wrinkled her nose. “Sorry, but I’ve just had a text from Ben. He wants to pick up some stuff and chat. I’ll have to stay in, though I’d much prefer to go out with you.” She stuffed her cosmetic bag back into her handbag. “It’s probably time to give him my culmination.”

Martha wished she could do something to help, but no longer wanted to suggest counseling or working things out. “Ben’s an idiot,” she blurted. “For letting you go.”

Suki froze, with her hand in her bag, before she straightened her back. “Yes, he is. Thank you, Martha.”

“Zelda told me to bring a guest, but it’s not essential to my attendance.”

Suki thought for a while. She zipped up her handbag and slung it on her shoulder. “You could invite Owen instead,” she said.

Martha shook her head rapidly. Her new hairstyle felt swishy. “I can’t do that.”

“Why not?”

“He’s probably busy. He’s had several wives...”

“Is he one of those polygon people?”

“No. He didn’t have them all at once, and he doesn’t have one at the moment.”

“Good. I’ll call and ask him then, if you like?”

Martha shook her head again, even more profusely. “Oh no. I wouldn’t want to intrude.”

“Maybe he’ll want to meet Zelda. I’d make it sound very consensual.”

Martha hoped she meant casual. She didn’t speak.

Suki raised an eyebrow. “Okay,” she said, with an exaggerated shrug. “It’s your choice.”

Martha was about to say no a further time when she caught sight of her reflection in the window. Would she say no to Joe, if she could relive her time again? Or would she take a chance?

She knew the answer.

She also didn’t want Gina and Zelda to think that she didn’t have any proper friends, even if she didn’t have. She owed Owen a thank-you for his research, and an apology for going to Monkey Puzzle Books without him. She looked at Suki and saw the disappointment etched on her face. After everything she’d done for her today, Martha wanted to please her.

“Well, perhaps you could ask him,” she said, instantly regretting it. “Though I’m sure he’ll be otherwise occupied.”

Suki broke into a smile. She picked up her phone and shook it in the air. “I’ll take this into the kitchen, before you change your mind,” she said. “You stay here.” Then she vanished out of the room.

Martha sat on her hands in case they started to shake. She wondered what the heck she’d just agreed to. Of course, Owen wouldn’t want to join her, but it would make Suki happy to call him.

She hummed a little tune to herself as she waited, wondering where to buy tiramisu. She’d have to find one with good quality ingredients and which looked authentically Italian. A supermarket one probably wouldn’t pass muster.

There was also the matter of her clothes. Now she had new hair and a new face, did her old clothes match?

When Suki reemerged from the kitchen, she wore a triumphant smile.

Martha found her own insides leaping around.

“Owen says he’ll join you. He’ll drive over and pick you up at five thirty,” Suki said. “So now, before Ben arrives and stresses me out, I’ve got a bit of time. Shall we see if there’s anything nice in your wardrobe for you to wear?”

“Okay.” Martha clicked her tongue. “Though it’ll probably be a fruitless search.”

Martha kept pressing a finger to her lips, the pink balm proving irresistibly touchable. She and Suki stood together in Martha’s bedroom. Out of all the rooms in the house, this was the one she kept in a minimalistic fashion. There were only her bed, a wardrobe, and a dressing table that she never used.

“Stop touching your mouth,” Suki said. “Keep the balm tube so you can reapply it. And I’ll leave some of the other makeup, too, for you to try out.” She opened the wardrobe door and began to work through Martha’s collection of long-sleeved T-shirts. Every so often she paused, tilted her head and then carried on, sliding the coat hangers along the rail.

She explained to Martha that there was such a thing as naff embroidery and lovely embroidery, but it was tricky to distinguish between the two. “A lot depends on the position and the motif. Roses are good but a boo-ket of flowers can be bad,” she said as she pulled out a gray top, then put it back again.

“I think you mean bouquet, and I don’t really understand.”

“It’s kind of an instinct thing. Anyway, you should find your own style and stick with it. If you like embroidered daisies on beige jersey, you should own that look. I always wear long dresses because I have dumpy legs.”

Martha found it difficult to imagine that Suki had any legs at all under her long layers.

“I kind of go for boho-cheek, but a classic look will work best for you,” Suki added.

Now that she was using Lilian-esque-type words, Martha decided not to say anything else. She let Suki do her job.

Martha had kept a few pieces of Betty’s clothes in her wardrobe, and Suki located a fine-knit emerald-green sweater and a black pencil skirt. She teamed these with a pair of Betty’s beige heels.

Martha felt that the color of the sweater was a little bright, too botanical, and the color of the heels reminded her of a dog’s skin, underneath its fur, but she told herself to trust Suki’s judgment.

She changed into the clothes in the bathroom. They were tighter than anything she’d worn before and she pulled at the sweater to loosen it. She was concerned it smelled a bit musty, so gave it a spritz of lily-of-the-valley air freshener.

“Leave it alone,” Suki said. “It smells okay and you look great. Take a look in the long mirror.”

Martha didn’t want to do that. She knew she looked different because she felt different. Although she was comfortable with the amendments to her hair and makeup, extending change to her entire body might be a step too far. “No, it’s okay. I trust you.” She held her arms out to the side and waddled out of the bathroom.

“Try not to walk like a peregrine.”

“Do you mean a penguin?”

“Whatever.” Suki shook her head and held out a coat. It was one of Betty’s, beige wool with a tie belt. “This will look good.”

Martha took the coat from Suki and pulled it on, catching a brief whiff of her mother’s perfume. It reminded her of the flowers her father bought each Friday.

A myriad of emotions washed over her for a moment—sadness, nostalgia, love and regret—but she didn’t want to allow them to envelop her. She was actually having fun. Not in a running-along-the-sands-with-a-beach-ball type, but a grown-up version. She had to try to banish any doubts or concerns from creeping in.

“I have to go,” Suki said, glancing at her watch. “You’ll be okay?”

Martha gave a firm nod. “I have no choice.” She tied the belt on her coat more tightly. Then she tried not to stumble as she made her way downstairs in the high-heeled shoes. “Please don’t pick up your craft bags. I’ll bring them to the library,” she said as she opened the front door.

“Okay.” Suki stepped outside. “Let me know when you want to paint the dragon’s head. Or feel free to have a go yourself.” She tugged her coat across her bump, the edges failing to meet in the middle.

“I will. Oh, and Suki,” Martha called out after her as she walked away. “Thank you for a most enlightening afternoon.”

“Ha,” Suki said, glancing back over her shoulder. “You shall go to the ball, Ms. Storm.”

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Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

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