The alarm had not been set in three days…it didn’t need to be. Uncreased pillows lay atop smooth, cotton sheets that were strangely devoid of smell. The hum of the ceiling fan never stopped, a constant fight with the deafening silence. Dusty curtains were intertwined in an endless embrace, covering the windows, silently resentful of being unable to fulfill their intended purpose. Outside, the sunlight continued its attack, determined to penetrate the room. Morning and night held no significance in this place.
Madonna’s “Borderline” rings out from the phone speaker, echoing through the brightly lit bathroom. My hand shakes as the mascara wand nears my eye, a reminder of the caffeine coursing through my veins. When the girl across from me, wearing the same white t-shirt and black jeans, catches my eye, I look away. If eyes are windows to the soul, hers overlook a hollow, black abyss. On the counter, a makeup bag spills over. The first product to roll out is a tube of concealer. I pick it up. The .2 oz bottle feels like a 25 lb barbell in my hand and the words Becca’s Perfecting Concealer start to blur in front of me. For a second I wonder if the lettering has finally begun to fade, before realizing my eyelids are closing. My thoughts stray to the memory of its purchase.
“$25? For one concealer?”
“Hun, it’ll last you forever.”
The bottle is half empty.
An incoming text message from my manager wakes me from my reverie.
“Did you work overtime this week? If so, don’t come to the gym tomorrow. Someone will cover in the kids room.’’
Several minutes later, a second text, from the contact “Store Supervisor”.
“Can you please work 3-11pm tomorrow?”
I answer yes to both of them, then pick up the concealer. After applying it, I finally look the girl across from me in the eye.
It started this spring. Sitting across from the man with “Jerry” on his nametag, I furiously sign everything handed to me with “New Hire” on the top. He breaks the silence.
“That’s all for today. You start tomorrow.”
I take the nametag he offers, my hand shaking in excitement. The white square shines, blank and new. A clean slate. That night I do not sleep.
One month later, I sit at a table across from a woman, slowly signing everything she hands me.
“Your training is this Thursday. Give me your availability again so I can make your schedule.”
I tell her. She frowns.
“Why can’t you work Sundays?”
“Oh…it’s my only day off from my other job. I’d like to keep that day free.”
“The only way we can move forward is if you agree to work Sundays.”
There is silence. The muscles behind my smile freeze, but I feel my head nod. My hands, motionless in my lap, reach out for the nametag she holds out. The white background is faded, covered by worn out plastic.
I lie in bed, my eyes focused on the revolving fan above. The spinning in my head speeds up to match the fan blades. The display of the bedside clock glows against the blackness of the room; the numbers slowly increasing despite my silent pleas. The engine inside my head stalls and I allow myself to believe that it has stopped for the night. The memory of last week’s mistake at the cash register brings the engine back to life. My body, drained and aching, screams at its controller and begs for relief. At 6am, I know the battle is lost. I get dressed and pin the nametag on my shirt. The coffeemaker hums and I turn on my 80s music playlist. Three dots of Becca go under each eye, covering up the events of last night.
It is August. I sit at the same table, across from the same woman. This time, she hands me nothing. I give her the letter.
“When is your last day?”
“You’re a hard worker. We’ll miss you.”
Two weeks later, I sit on my bedroom floor, remove my nametag, and empty my purse onto the ground. The concealer rolls to a stop by my foot and I do not pick it up.