Cosmetic Countess

With the exception of new born babies, my mother, Shirley T., got more joy out of cosmetic departments than most anything else. Spritzing new fragrances or spot testing the latest color wheel of eye shadows brought her unmeasurable joy. Unfortunately for me, I was the chosen one plucked from the chorus of six children to accompany my Aunt Sissy and her on their shopping adventures.

“Don’t be a ninny Mr. March,” Shirley T. said as she drug me, silently kicking and screaming, through the revolving doors of the department store.

I stood stiffly at the counter, fretting and fidgeting. Bravely, I dodged the shower of spritzers and atomizers coming at me from every direction. The heavily made-up gargoyles who work the front lines, with the style and grace of used car salesmen, bedazzled my mother and Aunt with their magical elixirs, spells, and potions. 

“I feel naked without my Estee Lauder,” Shirley T. said gleefully, holding her head high as if she had been just been knighted a Cosmetic Countess.

“A dab and trickle is all you need,” the masked mummy muttered from behind the Fragrance Bar.

Determined to rise above the caked and baked faces liberated from good taste, my mother applied her magic modestly. With the earnest conviction of Madame Curie, she began her daily routine. A thorough astringent-cleansing was followed with moisturizer and base color. Carefully, she brushed eye shadow onto her eyelids and smudged the rouge evenly on each of her high cheek bones. The first phase complete, she stepped into a steamy bathroom, allowing the makeup to melt seamlessly at the boarders. 

Returning to her dressing table, the master studied her reflection in the mirror. With surgical grace, she applied the eyeliner, mascara, and a slash of coral lipstick to complete the portrait. Gently, as if holding a baby lamp in her hands, she raised the atomizer of Estee Lauder’s White Shoulders perfume close to her neck. Spritz. Spritz. The chemical reaction, created when scent stings skin, permeated the air. 

Her perfume cloud hovered over every important event my mother and I shared. The scent of White Shoulders perfume calmed my nerves before facing abdominal surgery in High School. I easily located her at my college graduation by trailing her scent through the crowd. And thankfully, that musky aroma masked the dreaded smell of death permitting Aunt Sissy’s hospital room where she lay dying from uterine cancer at the age of forty-two.

“She’s gone,” Shirley T. whispered into the telephone receiver in a monotone that sent chills skipping up my spine. “She’s gone.”

The sharp news speared my soul. I dropped the phone and bawled like a baby.
I arrived at the funeral home the next day. Shirley T. stood, her face painted to the perfection of a Vermeer portrait, instructing the undertaker in the proper application of Aunt Sissy’s makeup.

“Subtle and natural looking,” she sighed sadly, “she liked looking good when she traveled.” 

The fragrant aroma of White Shoulders wafted under my nose. I inhaled deeply. My mother’s aromatic lullaby was as therapeutic a smell and as comforting as the aroma of the freshly baked bread she pulled out of the oven, piping hot, every morning. 

Shirley T. is gone now. However, her signature scent lingers in my olfactory senses and the moments of joy we shared are recorded in my heart and in my head for eternity.


Richmond, VA

A writer from the Thursday Class

Jerry LongComment