The following short story is a character study of two very different women, Kara and Jem, who live together in the outskirts of London. The subject of discussion one morning turns to make up and Kara's bronzer.
“I think one of my best skills is making my cosmetics last ages.” Kara said.
“Really?” Jem said.
“Like, it’s such a money saver. Of course, it means I can buy the expensive stuff.”
“I’m terrible at saving money.”
“Take this moisturiser here. It’s lasted me over a year, I swear. This bronzer I got in February, and it’s not half empty. I put it on every time I’m doing something. It’s really amazing, I still get compliments, the other women at work keep asking me where I got it from.”
“It really suits you. I’m not sure it’d match my tone, though. It really suits you.”
“How long’s it been?”
“What, like five months?”
“Five months, you see. Five months and I haven’t even used half.”
Kara and Jem had just started living with each other. Jem had been living in the house with her long-term boyfriend for over a year, a modest rent in Zone 5 for a young couple. When Mike was sent out to work on the Shanghai contract in person, it made sense for the landlord to rent out the spare room. They didn’t need the privacy with Mike away all the time, and, if he came back, the landlord agreed they could keep paying the lower cost and share the double, which they were pretty much doing anyway.
Kara, a recent graduate, was a few years younger and had found the property online. It was one of the affordable few, which wasn’t advertised by some creepy, forty-something, male live-in landlord.
“I have spent a lot of time developing my dream home, and, now it’s finished, I’m looking to share it with others as it’s too big for just me.” Their adverts always said.
Kara imagined forty-five year old Keith to be balding, with a wealthy belly, looking to capitalise on the power of property in London after his early retirement from real work, luring some poor, young woman, with no better options, with cut-price rent. She was savvy enough to see through it all.
“The truth is, I always tell the girls at work it’s from somewhere else. “Oh, this, it’s only Boots’ own range.” I’ll say. And if they’re serious and follow it up I’ll say, “Maybe it was Superdrug after all, I don’t know.” ”
“It’s sad we’re all competing in that way. But I guess you can’t be having anyone in the office with the same bronzer as you. I’d notice.”
“It’s actually Marc Jacobs. They’d all waste it in a week, and blame me for giving them expensive habits.”
“I want you to know, Kara, you can borrow any of my stuff in here, I don’t mind.”
“That’s sweet, Jem, thank you.” Kara turns from the bathroom to the doorway and smiles at her housemate. “The secret to making your stuff last is little and often. The rule applies across many aspects of life really. But to stick to it, you have to be certain you’ve got the best, sure nothing else compares. Then you build up your routine with the best of each type of product. And, with the good stuff, the expensive stuff, you don’t need to put more than a smidgen on for it to make an impact on a daily basis.”
“Do you mind if I try a little bit?”
“Oh no, sorry, it’s just really precious. Like you said, as well, don’t think it’ll suit your tone.”
Kara gathered her cosmetics from the perimeter of the sink, and divided them into her two hands. In one she held her dailies: her moisturiser, her bronzer, her cleanser, her concealer, her foundation, her brushes. These went back into the basket by the sink. In the other hand, she held her top-ups: her lipstick, her mascara, her eyeliner, her blusher, her lip balm, her hand cream. These went into a tightly packed makeup bag and into her handbag.
“I’ve got to get to work now, Jem, but I’ll see later, yeah?”
“Oh of course, don’t let me keep you. I’ll be here when you get back, don’t worry.”
“Great, see ya.” Kara walked out the bathroom, rushed downstairs, and left the house.
Jem stood in the doorway while she left, checked her phone for no reason, then heard the door shut. She stepped into the bathroom, looked into the mirror and sighed. She compared the two baskets on the cabinet by the sink. In Kara’s, these big names in clean packaging were neatly packed under the basket rim. In her’s, all her stuff piled well above the limits of the baskets and were balanced in a tower into the corner of the wall. Who knew what unfinished crap lived to hold up the next iteration of crap.
She tentatively held the bronzer in her hand. She opened the lid and looked at the evenly distributed remains. More than half. She picked up the accompanying brush from Kara’s basket and dabbed it in. So easy, so soft. She stroked it, unsure, around the centre of her cheeks. She tried to angle it in like Kara did, tried to create the contours Kara spoke of. She put it all to one side of the sink. She took a deep breath and looked at her face in the mirror, her face still and serious.
God, I look ridiculous.
She cringed. Her shoulders dropped. She turned the tap on, and the water pommeled the basin. She ducked her face into it, and splashed the water on her with both hands, being sure to get the bronzer off, and return her face to its previous bareness.