The job would involve painting make-up and hair color onto
approximately two hundred mannequins, as yet blank and nude with beige
skin and locks like bobbed helmets. The owner wished them to look like
1920s dance hall girls.
It was required I submit drawings as evidence of my ability. I laid a
large sheet of clean white paper on the table and looked at it some
I made a long oval face and large eyes rimmed in black. The brows
plucked-thin and arched. A long dainty nose. A little rosebud mouth,
the upper lip like twin mountain peaks. A curtain of hair across the
forehead and cutting under the chin, a glossy knife blade.
I made another with ringlets and a fuller mouth. Then another with a
beaded Indian princess headband and a slender cigarette between her
lips. I was really filling up the page.
I found some colored pencils and started in. Red for mouths of course,
pressed hard into the paper. Blond hair, auburn hair, black. Blue and
green, peach, powder pink.
It began to seem strange that my women had no bodies, not even necks.
They lacked ears. Their noses were not dimensional. They did not look
I began to worry about the two hundred. I do not know two hundred
women. I doubted I could conjure as many unique faces. I looked at what
I had drawn and even those three were similar despite my attempts at
The job promised to pay well, however, so I leaned over the paper
again. I tried shading and molding. I drew long graceful necks and bare
shoulders, stopping before the breasts because on the mannequins they
would already be perfect, and covered by beads and silk besides. I
filled the background with bottles of booze, music notes, opium pipes,
designs one might find on Oriental rugs. I darkened areas I had already
shaded, hoping the emphasis would pass as confidence and skill. I was
beginning to sweat. The underarms of my blouse smelled like mildew and
When I leaned back again, the paper did not look good. I
couldn't look at it long. I folded it, slid it into an
envelope, and addressed it to my potential employer.
Some time later I found work as a hostess at an expensive restaurant.
It required I dress very nicely, in skirts and dresses and a proper
brassiere. Every night before my shift I stood in the bathroom and
lined my eyes with pencil, painted my lashes with mascara, powdered my
cheeks and rouged my lips.
I learned to smile in a way that pleased a great number of people. I
learned to hold a stack of menus like a bouquet of long-stemmed roses.
Every night I took off the make-up with cotton balls soaked in soap. My
trashcan filled up with wads of red and pink and blue and green and
One day an envelope arrived. I could see that it was my envelope,
except the addresses had been scratched out and reversed. My drawing
was inside, and for a moment I thought there might be an accompanying
note. But I shook out the empty envelope, and there was nothing.
I unfolded the drawing and lay it again on the table. I did this
wincing, as one might open a container of food that has gone moldy in
the refrigerator. But I looked, and it did not seem so terrible
I sat down with it and looked some more. With a big pink eraser I
started in on the background until it was almost gone, just faint marks
left where I had pressed too hard. I erased shoulders and necks.
Slowing, I moved to the faces, gently rubbing away color and shading. I
took most of their hair too.
By now a pile of twisted rubber bits had accumulated all over the
paper, so I lifted it and shook them to the floor.
What remained were three oval faces staring out, each with only the
barest outline of features. They looked naked and bald, neither female
nor male. They hovered in the blank space as still and solemn as masks.
Kathryn Scanlan has work in or coming from Noon, No Posit, Everyday Genius and others.
To link to this story directly: http://wigleaf.com/201002likeness.htm
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