RED HANDED • by Patricia C. Anderson

They shared everything but underwear, though Julie suspected that Susanna helped herself to that, too. A diva without boundaries, her roommate felt entitled to all she could see or root out from the back of a drawer. Clothes, food, makeup, even shoes, she took advantage of Julie at every turn. To make it worse, she berated Julie for her passivity. “You’ll never get what you deserve in this world unless you push for it,” she proclaimed.

Julie’s idea of pushing herself was to venture into the high-end cosmetics zone of the ritziest department store in the mall. Polished glass and chrome reproduced her in fragments as she gaped at the colorful arrays of beauty products. Observing other women buzzing about, she mustered the confidence to try a lipstick. With a disposable sponge wand, she stained her lips the latest trendy shade, “Dewy Marigold”. Absorbed in her reflection, she startled when the saleslady across the counter said, “That looks lovely on you. Can I help you find something else?”

Julie did like the way she looked — sophisticated, assertive, even. Why not, she thought, and asked for the smallest size.

“It only comes in one size, honey,” the perfectly attired woman said, “but how about I give you a free sample of our new ‘Face Aglow’ line of self-tanner. It will put some color in your cheeks!” She chuckled at her own joke.

As she squeezed the lotion into a small plastic vial, the woman said, “Now listen — use just a dab and massage it in smoothly, in circles. Wash your hands really well, or you’ll have orange palms. In two hours, your glowing tan will appear.” She wrapped the lipstick and the sample in delicate tissue, making each into a tiny treasure.

Back in their shared bathroom, Julie tucked her new items into her quilted makeup bag, to save for a special occasion. Susanna emerged from the shower wrapped in one of Julie’s towels. Julie drew back as Susanna skittered about, dripping shower water and muttering her lines. She had a role in a tiny storefront production, although one would think it was Broadway from the fuss she made.

“The reviewer for the city paper will be there; you should come and watch me schmooze,” she declared. “I’ll have him eating out of the palm of my hand before he knows what happened.” Julie declined, muttering something about a library book being nearly due.

Then she gasped as Susanna scrabbled in the quilted bag, snatching up her precious sample from its pink tissue cocoon.

“Hey,” Julie began to protest, as she had begun so many protests. But as Susanna twisted off the cap, Julie stifled her complaint. She forced her face to be impassive while Susanna smeared the entire contents of the tube on her face and neck with broad uneven strokes, leaving a blob on her earlobe. She wiped her hands dry on her forearms.

Julie peeked at her watch, wondering if tickets to the play were still available. It might be entertaining to watch Susanna in action after all. Something would develop, she calculated, about halfway through the first act.

Patricia C. Anderson grew up, so to speak, on the east coast. She has lived in the Midwest for over twenty years but still wonders how she got there. She writes personal essays and short fiction. She has published nonfiction in South Loop Review and Good Bird! Magazine, and was one the winners of Smokelong Quarterly’s Thirty-Word Short Story Contest. Besides writing, she buys lots of books, reads some of them, and works with parrots. She has been ruminating about the variety and shades of meaning of “submit”.

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