It was refreshing. “What’s that?” Nora asked.
“Isn’t that for drinking?”
“Refreshes your skin. You look tired, like you’ve been not getting enough sleep.”
“I have a lot to do at home.”
“Oh, really? Like what?” Randy was definitely being sarcastic. Nora hadn’t heard such effective sarcasm since she left school. What, was this guy trying to teach her something?
“Like, you know, Facebook, Netflix… there are a lot of movies and TV shows out there that must be watched.”
“Facebook, eh? I bet a lot of your friends are on there posting really fascinating stuff about what they ordered at Starbucks and what fake name they hilariously got the barista to put on their cup. Oh, and let’s not forget the duck-face selfies with cat ears and unnaturally large eyes.”
“Dude, that’s Snapchat. Facebook is all old people, like you, posting about relevant current events and sarcastic videos making fun of irrelevant current events. Oh, and kitties. I’m not allowed to have a cat because my mom is allergic to anything cute or fun, so… yeah.”
“Aww. You poor dear. Well, whatever fascinating stuff is keeping you up till midnight–”
“Has got to be reduced to the most essential, most fascinating, life-changing, and dare I say orgasmic. You need a good night’s sleep, my darling, or you’re going to fit in here perfectly in a few years.”
Nora rolled her eyes. What was he, her mom?
“And then there’s your diet. Look at your nails. And your skin. Do you drink enough water?”
“Yeah, dude, I drink so much water… there’s tonnes of water in Coke, in lemon iced tea, in koolaid.”
“So what you’re saying is you drink plenty of sugar with some water mixed in to make it go down faster.”
“What about soup? There’s water in soup.”
“You make soup? Now we’re talking!”
“Not make so much as add noodles to a pot of boiling water, stir for three minutes, and then add the flavour pack. I use the actual Chinese import noodles because they have a packet of grease as well as a packet of flavoured powder.”
“You’ve got to be kidding.”
“How else am I supposed to get my protein?”
By now Randy was pulling a soft bristle brush through Nora’s mats. “You know, if you took care of your health, your skin and hair would be radiant. You’re a teenager, for god’s sake.”
“Dude, if I can’t subsist on a diet of Coke and instant noodles in my teen years, then what’s the point of living?”
Randy stepped back, gave her a look of total exasperation, and replaced the natural bristle brush in his hand with some ‘bio’ hairspray. His mouth set in a disgusted frown, he lifted sections of her hair and spritzed them gently. Nora had to admit that her hair actually did look more touchable and less like she had skipped conditioner because she was running late as per usual.
“What about my eyebrows?” she said. “No amount of salad and REM sleep is going to stop the spread of the black shag all over my forehead.”
Again Randy grimaced. “Your eyebrows are delightful.”
“They’re wall to wall carpeting.”
Just then the brown cracked dry mud face of Mrs. Tillynaught returned, with Mrs. Balanafeel in tow.
“Do you know what these ladies would give to have beautiful eyebrows like yours?” Randy demanded.
Mrs. Tillynaught and Mrs. Balanafeel came closer and peered at Nora’s eyebrows, exclaiming enthusiastically, Mrs. Tillynaught dropping flakes of dried mud all over Nora as she did so.
“Ugh,” said Nora, brushing herself off as best she could. “Um.. their right arm?”
“Oh, no,” said Mrs. Balanafeel. “It’s one of the few body parts that is still all original.”
Nora chuckled as simultaneously Randy maneuvered Mrs. Tillynaught to the special facial seat where he would begin the ritual removal of the mud mask and Nora’s phone vibrated in her pocket, jolting her to a state of absolute horror.
“He’s here!” She exclaimed, pulling the phone out of her pocket. Sure enough, there was a WhatsApp: Five mins away. Sorry I’m running late.
“Oh my god! What about my eyebrows? Can’t you pluck them or something?”
“Calm down, calm down! Look at Evelyn’s eyebrows. Now look at yours. Can you see what decades of plucking has done to the poor woman’s face?”
Nora looked. Mrs. Balanafeel’s eyebrows no longer existed. In their place, two carefully drawn black lines tried unsuccessfully to recreate the illusion of brows. Nora squinted carefully, trying to pick out at least one actual hair. Mrs. Balanafeel nodded.
“Well, do something!” Nora said. “What kind of mortician are you if you can’t even make the living look alive?”
Randy said, “Good point.” He resumed spritzing refreshing water and something else solution over Mrs. Tillynaught’s face and wiping at it with a special cloth. “Evelyn, please go show young… um… what’s Mr. Right’s name? Justin Bieber? into reception and tell him that Nora is busy and will be right with him.”
With a nod, Mrs. Balanafeel and her penciled-in facial features hobbled out.
“Looking good under there, Linda. Now for our little Nora. We have to do something to give her the confidence of a Miss America. Any suggestions?”
Mrs. Tillynaught, her face still somewhat muddy, contemplated. “Mascara?” she said at last.
“Great plan! Natural, unobtrusive, but will bring out those lovely ethnic eyes. He’ll be smitten.” Randy rooted through some drawers and came out with a chrome pink wand.
“Um…” said Nora.
Randy approached and swiveled the chair she was in first left and then right, peering at both sides of her face. “Maybe a touch of concealer and powder? I don’t have anything that will combat those zits, since we normally cater to the over-eighty crowd, for whom pimples are a thing of the very distant past, but we’ll wing it for now and maybe after you change your diet, sleep schedule, and excercise program, you’ll see an improvement there.”
He dabbed something cool resembling calamine lotion that her mom had always reserved for bee stings and every rash-like problem, which she invariably called eczema. Then he maneuvered it with a sponge and finalized the cheek art with some skin-toned powder, which he applied with a large, soft brush. It was astounding the sheer variety of skin-tone powders he had.
“It’s exactly the same as my skin,” Nora marvelled.
“I use the same powders for the living as I do for the dead.”
Nora almost threw up in her mouth. “Gross!”
“I mean, the same brands! I haven’t actually sprinkled this specific powder on any dead flesh!”
“And a final touch, some mascara to bring out those beautiful shiny dark eyes. He won’t know what hit him.” Randy deftly applied the soft, non-goopy substance without poking her eyeball once and then stepped back to admire his handiwork. He swiveled Nora slightly so she was looking directly at herself in the mirror.
Nora couldn’t believe her eyes. With some various spritzes, lotion, powder, and black goo, she was suddenly a goddess. Maybe not a goddess, but tolerable to look at for more than a quick glance.
“Wow,” said Nora. “If I ever die, I want you to do my post-death make up.”
Randy snickered. “Deal!”
Nora heard Mrs. Balanafeel’s slightly high-pitched, identifiable from miiles away, voice echoing down the corridor. “She’s got him!”
She leapt out of the chair and grabbed her tunic and gloves. With luck she would be able to resume wiping surfaces before he entered, creating the illusion that she was completely ambivalent to his arrival.
It worked. “Oh, hey, Ryan,” she said casually as she wiped down the chair she had just been sitting in with a wad of dampened blue industrial cleaning paper.
“Nora!” he said. He looked at her for so long she began to feel uncomfortable. That must be how zoo animals felt, she reckoned.
Mrs. Balanafeel said, “I took him to that lovely young nurse, Nicole. She said he should work with Randy.”
“Nice!” exclaimed Randy. He threw Nora a surreptitious wink.
Nora’ heart sank. She hadn’t really expected that vile Mrs. King to suggest that Ryan help her dust-mop the back corridor, had she? Well, at least she’d see him on coming and going, and with luck Randy would be available to beautify her according to Ryan’s proposed schedule.
“How often are you supposed to come?” she asked.
“Like, Tuesdays and Wednesdays,” Ryan answered. With watercolour painting and games night, those were Randy’s busy days, so it made sense.
“Cool,” Nora said.
“Yeah, cool,” Randy said. “I could definitely use the help.”
“Sounds awesome!” said Ryan.