:: Article

Lynne Anne

By Carla Manfredino.

 

 

 

Lynne Ann is a beauty consultant at a shop that sells bubble bath and eye masks and other personal goods. This shop is located within a precinct in the centre of the town. There are phone shops, clothes shops and pound shops in the precinct that frequently close down.

Lynne Ann is hurt that the company she works for hired two men in cargo pants to wheel in a new counter for her. The men positioned the new counter in the far corner of the left-hand side of the shop. There are several beauty counters before Lynne Ann’s counter, all lined up against one wall.

Lynne Ann’s former counter stands in the centre of the shop like a cordoned off crime scene. The surface is covered in tissues of blotted lipstick and a tangle of security tags. No one tells Lynne Ann what they intend to do with the disused counter and she is angered that it is still in her view.

Lynne Ann has been working at the shop since it opened twenty-two years ago. She began her career working on the general till area. Lynne Ann was the first beauty consultant the shop employed.

The company has expanded, and now employs several beauty consultants who are all of similar age and appearance. The beauty consultants work for different brands and compete with one another.

 

*

 

The shop is laid out as though it was designed around Lynne Ann’s former counter. The rows of shelves which contain general goods are like pews in a church. A long aisle splits them into two sections and Lynne Ann’s former counter is in the centre directly in front of the automatic double doors.

The other beauty consultants have long hair and red nails and white laboratory coats. They talk over, to, and about each other like seagulls fighting over chips.

There is a general till section on the wall opposite the beauty consultants. Lynne Ann had not liked it when customers would come to her with goods from the general shelf area. These shelves contained the bubble bath and eye-masks and other personal goods that were not meant to be purchased from Lynne Ann’s premium make-up counter.

Lynne Ann used to tut and stuff these general goods into a plastic bag, sometimes crushing the chocolate bars and cheap eyeshadow in the process. But the customers didn’t notice. They would be busy checking their phones or talking to their companions. The customers would pay and walk away.

Lynne Ann’s counter specialises in anti-ageing creams and line-reducing cosmetics. The other counters also specialise in anti-ageing creams and line-reducing cosmetics, but Lynne Ann has worked in the shop longer and is more knowledgeable.

The customers do not go to her new counter now, possibly due to its new position and the distance they must cover to reach it.

Lynne Ann wears a navy blue two piece suit that is a mid-length skirt and a high neck tunic. The high neck tunic has three metal oval-shaped buttons that do not open or close. She wears the same style uniform she was given when she began working at the shop twenty-two years ago. It is made of a maladaptive material that lets the cold in when it is cold and keeps the heat in when it is hot.

Lynne Ann still checks the M size on the uniform order slip as she did on the day she got the job as the shop’s only beauty consultant. She packs herself inside the navy blue two piece suit each morning and when she unpacks herself at night there are red marks where her stomach and breasts have overlapped and flattened under the fabric.

She looks at herself in the mirror behind her now that she is on the new counter. Lynne Ann does not believe she has grown this packed and stacked.

 

*

 

It is a June afternoon and the weather is hot and bright and vinegar stings the air. Lynne Ann usually goes home in a taxi after work and watches television until she falls asleep. Today, however, she does not do that.

The sun pulsates as she walks down the promenade outside of the town. Lynne Ann hears calls for dogs and children to return.

Lynne Ann stops at a seaside bar for a drink. She orders peach schnapps and lemonade and takes it to a metal table. Her walk is curt as her skirt inhibits free movement. When she sits down a man at another table says, “You look flustered.”

Lynne Ann does not want to have an affair. She ignores him as she drinks from a striped straw and looks out at the harbour.

“Nice boats aren’t they? I’d have that one with the wooden panelling. But I wouldn’t waste my time here in Wales. I’d go somewhere exotic. Antigua!”

Lynne Ann prepares herself for an insult as she does not respond to him or show any signs of human life when he talks.

“What about you? You there in the tunic, what does it say on that badge? Lynne Ann! which boat would you have, Lynne?”

“I wonder what your wife would say,” she says quietly with her teeth around the straw, her eyes on the harbour.

He stares at her, confused and curious. His wife comes out holding three bottles of beer and a pot of nuts. “Would you like to join us dear?” the wife says to Lynne Ann.

Their voices become distant and Lynne Ann finishes her drink and orders another and watches a boat knock the boat next to it and so on and so forth.

 

*

 

Lynne Ann decides to leave the seaside bar. Her skirt has gotten tighter in the heat and her walking is more constrained. Her feet are bulging like dough out of their court shoes. Lynne Ann’s neck reddens under the tightness of the tunic and the sun is screaming down it.

As she walks she looks at other walkers and drivers as though it is their fault for her discomfort. Lynne Ann sees a white van approaching and swells in anger and anticipation. Nothing vulgar comes out of the open window. Nothing ever comes out of van windows except empty bottles of pop and apple cores and even these are not directed at Lynne Ann. She pulls her skirt down as it is bunching up at the crotch, as is emphasised by her own shadow.

“Why did I walk?” she thinks, “Why did I not ring a taxi? Lynne Ann frowns when she looks back down the promenade and sees from a distance the place where she had made the decision to walk home.

Nothing happens. No one stops their car and says, “Get in.” That had happened to a girl who works on the perfume counter. She was walking home when a man pulled up in an expensive car and said, Get in. He took her to his house on a hill where they played poker, drank prosecco and went jet skiing the next day.

 

*

 

Lynne Ann has a spray bottle to clean the brushes if she has performed a make-up demonstration for a bride-to-be or a partially blind person or someone with free time or all three.

She is sent posters promoting a new style for the season and she slots them into the frames on the counter. Lynne Ann changes the central display so that it contains the products worn by the happy, unknown woman in the poster.

 

*

 

Lynne Ann had always enjoyed it when the customers would walk through the automatic doors straight to her former counter where she had stood like a priest. The customers would come in with a sense of urgency and ask her questions that she was glad to answer.

“Where are the toilets?”, “Where can I get a dog kennel?”, “Do you know if the overflow car park charges?”

Lynne Ann has been given a stool for the counter in the corner and she cannot help but sit on it. She is camouflaged against the shelves on this chair. Her blonde head blends into the bottles of cream stacked behind her.

 

*

 

Lynne Ann is approached by Howard on her first day on the counter in the corner. Howard is a customer who pursues a different assistant each week. He walks with a crutch and drags one of his legs behind him.

Howard has a routine. He picks a counter, shelf area or till and says to the assistant working on or near it, “How are you angel?” And she will say, “Okay! how are you?” and look to either side at her colleagues winking.

“You’re not alright, you’re better than that, you’re beautiful. Howard will say, staring somewhere above her. His breath will be whistling out of his mouth like wind finding and entering a small cave.

When Howard has attended to each of the girls in the shop he goes back through them in another order. Annette on Operations was once his interest for twelve successive weeks. Annette encouraged Howard when he came into the shop but was discouraging with him when her shift had finished. Howard waited for Annette outside the automatic back doors but she said, “Not now Howard.” and Howard said, “No problem.” Lynne Ann has not been pursued by Howard.

 

*

 

Howard came sliding down the side of the shop past the other beauty consultants and towards Lynne Ann in the corner.

“You won’t get much business sitting on that stool”, Howard said.

Lynne Ann spun away to spray and wipe the mirror behind the counter. Howard stared at the back of her head. The other beauty consultants had gathered and were whispering behind their red nails. Then he walked away.

The following weekend Howard returned to the shop and he greeted all the beauty consultants,

“Good morning my angel.”

“Good day to you love.”

“Hello sunshine.”

As he reached Lynne Ann in the centre of the shop he said, ”Don’t hold your breath.”Then he continued walking, dragging his leg behind him.

“Good morning beauty.”

“How are you kitten.”

Lynne Ann watches the ease at which her colleagues interact with one another now that she is in the corner of the shop. Her colleagues do not care if a colleague speaks about them when they leave the shop floor.

Lynne Ann hides by some shelves near their counters and pretends to read a bottle of shampoo. Last week her colleagues said her hair looked like a helmet and the others laughed.

She ate a tuna and tomato salad in the tea room and thought about this comment. Like a helmet. She sat in the toilet cubicle and ate two iced buns with the cherries sliding down one side. She shook her head in between bites. Then she went to the hand dryer and turned her head upside down and moved it from side to side. But the hairstyle was indestructible. It had a blunt rim and an air of safety about it, like a helmet.

 

*

 

The night was thick but there was a slicing wind. Lynne Ann was sitting on the steps by the sea when she heard metal scraping the tarmac. Above her, through the railings, she saw Howard approaching. His two tufts of grey hair were blowing like feathers on an egg.

She held her breath as he stopped by the railings above her and put his walking stick against them. His good foot was near Lynne Ann’s head and she saw his bad foot twitching like it wanted to say something.

“Hey, hey who’s this down here, I know that tunic, which one of you is it?”

Howard touched Lynne Ann’s head then her shoulder with the end of his walking stick. She turned around and looked through the gap in his legs at a bus stop that was painted a forest green and had a tub of flowers outside it.

“Oh it’s you.” He put his stick back against the railings and looked out at the sea. His breath was whistling through his tiny little mouth. Lynne Ann carried on looking out at the sea too.

“There comes a time in a man’s life when he feels the only thing that understands him is nature. The sea understands a person’s want to escape and their need to stay. I wish I could be closer to it, in it, or up to my ankle in it, but I’ve got to be on my guard all the time with the leg. And those steps are dangerous. They need someone to get rid of the seaweed and rubbish every now and then, make the place look inviting.”

“Like who?” Lynne Ann said.

“I don’t know, one of these reforming criminals. I’ve seen them on the banks doing a fine job but I don’t see the point in having an anchor shaped flower bed when there is a whole beach in neglect. Anyway that’s beside the point.”

“The trick is to not get attached,” Howard continued, “the waves touch the shore but they pull away from it too. And in spite of all the rubbish. The same goes for the sky, it is still above us, sometimes with stars or clouds and sometimes it’s empty. And I realise there’s nothing in particular that I truly want. Everything in nature is the same. But some people can’t accept that-”

Lynne Ann felt there was something much larger whom Howard was reporting to. But this feeling waned like a wave.

“- Like you, Lynne. Haven’t you got a husband to go home to?”

“I did but I left him,” Lynne Ann lied.

“Why did you leave him?”

“I don’t think I loved him,” Lynne Ann lied again.

“You know you probably would be fine if you didn’t spend your life thinking you aren’t living it and that it’s everyone else’s fault.”

Lynne Ann closed her eyes. She would go home now and close all the curtains and take her make-up off and unpack and restack. She would roll her stockings down and poke the film of a korma with a fork and heat it up and eat it in front of the television.

 

*

 

Before she left, Lynne Ann asked Howard about his leg.

“But can you swim?” She said.

 

*

 

Lynne Ann held Howard at the waist and doggy-paddled to keep him up. She was larger than Howard and robust like a wardrobe, as her father said. Howard was soft and portable and made sounds of variable delight. Lynne Ann released measured huffs and kicked hard to keep him upright. It was dark and there was no horizon, and there were no calls for either of them to return.

 

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Carla Manfredino is a freelance writer living in North Wales. She is about to begin a PhD in poetry and translation.

ABOUT THE ART WORK
Image by 3AM.

 

 

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Wednesday, September 6th, 2017.