By Rachael Smart
I paint myself a new face just for the occasion. The woman pouting back in the mirror looks like a show girl, a rainbow of the pale old me. My anxiety is flawlessly concealed under a blend of Estee Lauder foundation; usually I’d have left it at that, no frills, just me and my nude skin. Pascal adores me bare. But I’ve got this compulsion to mask my face, paint over the nakedness with rich, velvety cosmetics to make myself look new. It’s quarter to. They’re due at eight. I feel very calm inside; it’s strange because going out anywhere usually gives me butterflies, but my hands are steady holding the make-up applicators.
I twist my hair into a topknot, careful to clip away from the lumpy scar in my scalp, thinking about our oblique vase from Morocco with its fluted lips, all those artfully arranged lilies dropping to the kitchen tiles.
From downstairs, I hear the glottal noise of Pascal hoiking up phlegm, the click of his lighter as he sucks too hard on a freshly lit cigarette. Sitting still and watching my new face look back in the mirror makes the smells and sounds amplify; the seconds seem out of time with my quickening heartbeat. The white noise of football supporters slams off the walls. A breathless commentator runs with his voice, slamming Nottingham Forest’s form. An away game. Tobacco smoke rises, the fragrant burnt singe smells woody, it curls up the stairs as slyly as Pascal’s sidle. He sidles everywhere, just as a race horse on wheels does, a soundless gliding and always watching. If he sees my made-up face before they arrive, he’ll have something to say about it.
When the knock comes on our front door, it’s still a shock, even though I’ve been waiting for it for the last seven hours. There are scuffling sounds as Pascal walks through the hall to unlock the Yale. A man’s voice, professional and brittle comes from outside, but I can’t determine his words. This is it.
‘What the hell do you want? Is this to do with her again? I haven’t done anything.’
A woman’s assertive voice asks: ‘Can we come inside?’
‘Vara, come down would you, the pigs are here.’ Pascal’s voice turns glass-edged.
I stand quietly at the top of the stairs in the blackened hall. My charity shop coat’s in one hand, a vanity case in the other.
‘What the hell’s happening, Vara?’ Pascal stares me down.
The police woman steps forward, her hand offering me a path down.
‘I’m going, Pascal. Tonight. That’s why the police are here. I’m not coming back.’
My silly case hits against the wall and my legs wobble with my voice. He doesn’t lunge for me as I walk past him. He doesn’t even speak. Outside, the sky is a soft plummy twilight, bleeding violet clouds. I pause for a second on the doorstep, think of the lilacs underneath my make-up and I walk away.