Friday 6 September 2019

There's Lipstick on Your Collar

Published in The Haloscope Review, September 2019
Charlotte, North Carolina

‘There's lipstick on your collar,’ I’d told you. 
Do you remember? Of course you do. 
I’d cleaned the whole house that day – just for you. I’d scrubbed the kitchen floor until my knuckles were red raw and bitter fumes of bleach stung the back of my throat. I’d ironed your ties, hung them back up on their silver hooks and polished your leather loafers. An Argentinian steak sat on the table, drizzled with béarnaise sauce, ready and waiting to be devoured. I’d hoped I did enough to please you.
‘Is there?’ you’d replied, the tone of your voice gradually escalating. E, F-sharp, A-flat.
‘Don’t worry,’ I’d said, forcing a soft smile onto my lips. ‘I’ll put it in the wash.’ I saw your shoulders fall with the relief of knowing you’d gotten away with it -- or so you thought. You unbuttoned your shirt, exposing the walnut-coloured skin of your chest and the thick, dark hair that covered it, reminding me of your Turkish heritage if you ever did forget to mention it.
Once you handed over that dirtied shirt, I sat cross-legged on the bathroom floor and studied it carefully. I didn’t doubt for one second that the offending stain had belonged to another woman’s lips only a few hours before. It was a deep red. The colour of roses and romance. Blood and betrayal. Was it Chanel’s Rouge Irrésistible? Or, perhaps it was Dior’s Désir? I couldn’t tell. Either way, it was a pretty shade. I could picture myself wearing it. If I gave you some hints, would you buy it for me as a birthday present?
‘That wasn’t lipstick on my collar,’ you’d responded. ‘Don’t worry, my darling. Your eyes are deceiving you! It’s just a food stain or some pen marker. Don’t be silly now.’
I nodded vigorously and said, ‘Of course! I was just kidding.’ I giggled, jabbing your arm playfully and glancing into the pupils of your chocolate eyes – I loved how they flickered with passion. Or was it panic?
I’d been alert for months, searching for more clues, my radars fully-functioning. I had known for a while, of course. Your golfing weekends away with people I’d never met before and receipts of room service in expensive hotels told me all I needed to know. A cup of black coffee – times two; a fruit platter – to share.
You’d arrive home at quarter-past eight every evening, swing your tailored jacket over the banister and toss your keys on the table. And that was my cue. In I came, enter stage left, an apron tied around my waist and ready to nestle in your arms like the perfect housewife you knew me to be. Then, I’d recite my lines: How was your day? I missed you lots. Dinner’s waiting on the table. I’d inhale deeply – was that perfume I smelled? Did you notice? Or, did you just think I couldn’t bear to leave the comfort of your embrace?
I could remember the first moment we met as if I were still living and breathing it. ‘Come over here and meet my work colleague, Dominic,’ said the person who’d taken it upon themselves to play Cupid that night. ‘It’s good to meet you,’ you replied, placing a wet kiss on my powdered cheek. I’d seen you repeat the same routine countless times that night to every woman present: wide smile, eyes locked, hand offered, lips pouted and gently placed on cheek. You knew exactly what you were doing, and so did I. Yet there I was, held in your palm like some sort of doll– your doll.
‘I’ve got to leave in five minutes, but first, I’ll grab my coat and also your phone number,’you’d announced at the end of the night, with so much confidence it made my heart flutter. The hours I’d spent painting my face with make-up and trying on low-cut dresses were worthwhile. I’d impressed you. 
I received some strange looks from the other guests once I’d spoken to you, but I put it down to jealousy. Everyone wanted Dominic, the most handsome Turk in London. But now, I understand what they really meant. They were looks of sympathy, or warning perhaps – fleeting moments of despair that signified another woman had succumbed to the charms of somebody others had learnt to be wary of. My obliviousness proved to be my first mistake.
Stop. Don’t fall for him. Look what he’ll do to you, I’d tell myself. So what? my internal voice would retort. I had already fallen for you, Dominic, and it was too late to catch myself. Everything was perfect – from our beautiful townhouse in Knightsbridge, with its wrought iron fences and buckets of white roses sitting on its marble steps, to your handwritten love letters that I bundled up and tied with red ribbon. I was beyond besotted.
Do you remember the argument we had after Jane and Peter’s wedding? About you flirting with that tattooed waitress – the one who seemed to be glued to your hip the whole evening, always ready with a tray of fresh cocktails and a pout on her silicone lips? You slapped me around the cheek. 
‘It’s a shame I had to do that, my sweetheart,’ you told me the next morning, over steaming coffee and fresh pastries. ‘You must be severely insecure to accuse me of something like that. I had to slap some sense into you.’
Then, I knew. I knew what those strangers had been trying to tell me.
You believe I can cope with it, the lipstick on your collar. All I have to do is sit pretty and do nothing – I’ll leave all the doing to you. I’ll forget I ever saw a thing. 
Or so you think.


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