3 October "Life is a Mystery"

Lipstick: a Love Story

Jimmy was getting old. He knew he was and he didn’t mind, he kept forgetting things but one thing he couldn’t forget was Her.

She was everywhere, dead did not mean gone, her memory lingered in every corner of the house. He remembered picking out the cushion covers with her, debating the pattern for the bedspread and the boredom of walking around endless furniture stores until they found the right chairs, the chairs she felt fitted the room, whatever that meant.

Even on the rare occasions that he sat alone in the garden, it felt like she was right beside him. He would often close his eyes and reminisce of happier times, sitting with her, holding hands and sipping glasses of wine as the sun set behind the house turning the sky into a vivid canvas of fire reds and purples.

She was in every room, in every decision, in every memory but she wasn’t here.

When she had died Jimmy had done the usual proper things, he had set a date for a funeral and buried her in style. He had done his best to make her proud and the buffet at the wake had been, in his opinion, pretty impressive. Then after spending a respectable amount of time being consoled by friends and family he had come home and sat alone, remembering her and missing her. He found himself raising a glass to her as he gazed at her photograph, remembering her laugh and her voice. He couldn’t help wanting to share this moment with her, to share every moment with her, but all that was lost now, nothing was as much fun if he couldn’t share it with her.

He had looked at her picture and smiled thinking of how she would have acted at the funeral, she would have been tickled by the vicar’s comb-over and chuckled quietly at the lopsided sandwiches. She would have told jokes and kissed cheeks, she would top up any empty glasses and her laugh would have made everyone smile. She always tried to enjoy life and that thought had made him cry, he had been angry but now he was resigned to it all, knowing that he couldn’t change things, no matter how hard he tried.

As the weeks passed he waited what he hoped was a suitable length of time before he removed most of her things from the closets, not having done all this before he wanted to get it right. Her clothes and other bits had gone to the local charity shops and with the larger items he had asked neighbors if they wanted them.

He hadn’t been able to part with some of her belongings, silly stuff that had special meaning to only him. Her favorite earrings, her lipstick, and her wedding ring. Little things that he could hold when he felt lost, things that helped him feel a closer connection to her again. Not that he often needed to feel a connection as she was with him in simple everyday items like a plate, a plant or an ornament. She had picked most of the things he used all the time and so he thought of her with fondness at most times of the day.

He had even begun talking to her, speaking as if she could hear him. “Ellie,” he would say, “Frost is closing in, winter is going to be a long one this year.”

He could almost hear her reply and a smile touched his lips. “You always say that Jimmy, it’ll be no worse than last year.”

As he sat in his chair thinking thoughts of her, a crossword puzzle laid in his lap half complete. Jimmy reached out to the little side table for his pen but it wasn’t there, he looked around confused. Had he lost his pen again?

He was sure he had put it down on the table. His eyes scanned the floor, searching fruitlessly. He gave an exasperated sigh and tutted to himself.

He was too old to go searching the floors for it if it had rolled away underneath something, so shaking his head he heaved himself up and went and took another one from the draw. Sitting back down to carry on he felt sad again as he thought of the way Ellie always used to help with his crosswords, filling in the ones she knew or getting him to read them out to her. He saw ten down was completed but couldn’t for the life of him remember filling it in, ‘funny how the mind plays tricks’ he thought.

He didn’t sleep well these days, not used to the empty space beside him; the bed seemed to stretch away from him, cold and unfriendly. Sometimes noises in the night woke him up and sometimes his dreams brought him out of sleep. He found he couldn’t remember them very well but he was usually crying when he awoke, his cheeks wet and his eyes sore. He had begun to need a few strong cups of coffee in the morning to get through the day.

In the kitchen, he grabbed a clean white mug and poured himself a cup from the bubbling pot out of the machine in the corner. He was humming a tune, suddenly he realized with a bit of a start that he could hear the music playing and it wasn’t just in his head. He put down the full mug on the table and headed into the bedroom, wondering how the stereo had come on; he didn’t remember turning it on, or even putting in this album.

The wiring in the old place was temperamental maybe there had been a power surge. The music was a welcome relief from the silence, he closed his eyes and could see Ellie jigging around to this song; singing like no one was listening and smiling her wonderful smile. He opened his eyes, looking lovingly at the picture beside the bed, him and Ellie dancing together; the music was playing then too.

Sitting on the bed he reached over to hold the little mementos he kept on the cabinet by her pillow. His hand stopped as he noticed her lipstick wasn’t there, touching her wedding ring he ran a tentative hand over the smooth wood of the bedside table. His brow knitted in frustration; where could that have gone?

He felt in his pockets and began to look down at the floor; he worried it had rolled under the bed. As he scanned the area around him he noticed a glint of metal and relaxed as there on Ellie’s pillow was her lipstick. Lovingly he picked it up and put it back where it belonged, the closed case stared at him from the table and he thought back to sitting in this very spot and watching her get ready to go out, her lipstick in her hand and always the light of excitement in her eyes.  

He left the music playing and with a light grunt, he heaved himself off the bed.

“Getting old Ellie,” he said sighing a little and heard Ellie’s reply in his head, “Never too old to dance, Jimmy.”

He left the bedroom with a smile, his feet did a jig and a little skip as he went back towards the kitchen, the tune following him down the hall. When he got back into the kitchen he couldn’t remember why he was there so he opened the fridge to get some breakfast. Seeing the half-empty milk carton he thought about putting it on the list for the grocery store. He could smell coffee and that reminded him about his drink, but as he approached the table he could see it was gone.

Muttering to himself he went back and carefully searched the bedroom and then the front room; no coffee, maybe he hadn’t made it yet? He knew his memory was bad but it seemed to be getting worse, he passed a picture on the wall as he returned once again to the kitchen–Ellie was the only person in this one. She was making a kissy face at the camera, her lipstick bright and vivid and her lips almost kissing the lens. He studied her face, her hair blowing in the wind, caught forever in that pose.

He had an urge to kiss the glass, feeling a need for her lips on his, but he resisted and headed back to the coffee maker.

He glanced again at the empty spot on the table, his memory telling him he had left a full cup there earlier; but perhaps he was confusing yesterday with today. He did that sometimes, thinking he had a red shirt on when he was wearing black but yesterday he had worn red and his memory messed him about, confusing him. Sighing he poured a cup of coffee from the machine and placed it on the table, next to his slowly cooling mug of coffee from earlier. The cups sat next to each other and Jimmy scratched his neck wondering how he had missed it?

With a sigh, he shook his head feeling foolish and old. Was his mind going?

He picked up the original drink, turning it slightly to take a sip, noting as he did the bright lipstick mark on the rim, a lip mark that filled his mind with confusion; and yet, it was almost a comfort.

He put the cup down and picked up the fresh one. “Let´s take our coffee to the garden Ellie.”

He walked slowly to the patio doors, slid them open and stepped out into the cool morning air, as he sat down he wasn’t surprised to see a white coffee cup already on the table and as he reached out a hand, she held it.

“Hello, Jimmy,” said a familiar voice and the still morning was broken with a laugh that filled the sky and startled the birds, making Jimmy smile.

 

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Christine King

Christine King is a female horror writer, she has a book of short stories available online and has been fortunate enough to have some stories and poems included in anthologies and magazines. Visit her author page. She enjoys a good cocktail and loves archery, she also runs a group on Facebook to help female writers get into the horror genre, without having to write vampire love stories. Christine is a wife, mother and English teacher in a Catalan school. Her influences are Stephen King, Mary Shelley and her young daughter. (Children bring a new level to terror.)

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