Glycerin

Gently, he dips the long brush with the flat, smallish head into the tiny little tin container, follows the curves of the pot with an easy movement, and then brushes across her face. Some kind of asleep on the table, she doesn't move, doesn't notice, just keeps her eyes closed, her body motionless and still against his oh so gentle brushstrokes. He takes the thin pencil with the smooth brown wrapper and the soft head and traces the edge of her lashes, then makes them fuller, a deeper color, with his spiked-toothed mascara brush.

The man in the corner doesn't say anything, because he can't find the words, and because even if he could, he cannot speak. He has not spoken – not a word – for three days.

The man at the table finds this mildly amusing. The woman on the table: deaf; the man in the corner who paid him a pocketful of bills to watch him work on her: mute. The man in the corner does not think this is particularly funny; but then again, there isn't a lot that amuses him, really.

He hasn't smiled for three days, either.

And he doesn't smile now, just as he doesn't speak. He watches, his dark, sad eyes almost unblinking, arms crossed over his broad chest, hands clenched nervously. Not that anyone can see his hands. They're hidden in his dark coat, and anyway, the man at the table isn't looking – he's busy at work, and doesn't care – and the woman certainly isn't paying him any particular attention.

If either of them had cared, they would have seen his knuckles clenched white and disgusting, quickly healing scabs on his palms

(he needs to stop clenching his fists)

and on the soft underside of both wrists

(Cordelia had cried when she'd seen them, and shook him when he wouldn't tell her why he'd done it)

The man at the table takes the little green tube from the small metal table next to the long slab he is working at, unsheathes it, and rolls up a reddish, finely shaped sword. He presses the flat edge of the implement to the woman's lips; pale, fleshy bottom first, then finely sculpted top. The man in the corner flinches while the man at the table rolls down the lipstick, caps it, and puts it back on the little metal stand.

The man at the table takes a look at the woman's closed eyes

(he doesn't know, but they're green. The man in the corner knows this. He dreamt of that color last night.)

and takes his medium sized brush, one with a loosely bristled head, and brushes it lightly across one brow, then the other. He puts that brush back on the small table, and takes out his big one, the one with the soft, curved, bell head. He opens his little tin of redpink blush. She's so pale . . . The man in the corner does not like to see her this pale. He doesn't want the man at the table to use the redpink blush, because she wasn't pink, not on her face

(lower, there was pink. His.)

Her skin was the color of honey

(he can still taste it)

and not this redpink. It'll make her look like someone else, and he feels something blasphemous in that.

But he doesn't say anything, not as the man at the table dusts his beautiful bell head brush into the very wrong redpink powder, not as he runs the big brush over her finely sculpted cheek bones, not as he brings it over her lips

(the man in the corner's aunt had a garden. When he was small she sat him down in the dirt, brought his fingers to the soft petals of her favorite flowers – redpink it was – and told him "love, remember something. Flowers are very much like women. Remember that." He'd asked why and she'd laughed, and told him he'd know, when he was older. He knew now.)

the pretty, smiling ones on her face

(the man in the corner remembers what it is like to live there, to have heaven and hell in her kiss)

down the fine arch of her jaw, then down, dusting her pale neck

(he remembers what it is like to have heaven and hell here, too)

lingering slightly at the soft depression at the bottom of her throat. He doesn't say anything, and it's not because he doesn't remember how to make words, or because he doesn't know any words that would fit. It's because he's rethought this blasphemy, and has decided that it would be a beautiful thing to lay a mask over the gorgeous creature on the table.

He can pretend, for a little while, that it isn't her.

(the man in the corner thinks this is a little wrong, and feels bad for thinking it)

The man at the table looks at the woman for a minute, then realizes what the man in the corner knew all along: the redpink is very wrong. She is not a flower

(the man in the corner wishes she was. He could hold her in his hand, and pet her strong leaves and soft petals, and give her plenty of love and water and)

she is the sun. She is golden precious spring, and definitely not this horrendous Malibu Barbie redpink. The man at the table smiles sheepishly at the man in the corner, who averts his eyes. Then the man at the table takes a soft foam sponge and lessens the redpink considerably. He rummages through his clever little tins, and finds something a little more suitable for the sun. For the heavens. For

(an Angel)

a goddess such as this, frozen

(no, not frozen. She isn't that cold. No colder than the man in the corner.)

perfect forever

(twinning with the man in the corner, or the mirror of him, rather. Both perfectly beautiful forever, but her innocence saved, and him . . . it's his pain that's been preserved . . . and in the end, she will fall victim to time, withering away, while his wounds are all on the inside . . . his face – as always – unchanged, unmarred . . .)

The man at the table shakes the garish redpink from his beloved bell brush, the dips it into this newfound goldish powder. The man in the corner thinks this new color is more befitting, but he's not sure that's a good thing. It will be much harder to pretend if she looks exactly like herself.

The man in the corner watches as the man at the table once more goes through the motions with his brush

(watching his aunt, with her flowers; she'd cut an armful of brightly colored blossoms, and he'd helped her carry them to the table, tripping over his adolescent feet, dropping buds here and there. She watched, smiling, and when he'd successfully brought all the newly cut flowers to the table, she'd placed them gently in a water filled vase. "watch, love," she'd murmured, taking a small brush and a little bottle in either hand. "you can keep flowers forever like this, did you know?" he'd watched with the big brown eyes he'd had even then, as she painted glycerin over the petals of the newly cut flowers)

over his

(he knew the flowers were dead)

beautiful girl, lying so still on the table, so far from him now.

(but they looked so alive)

The man in the corner watched

(silently)

as the man at the table finished, screwing caps onto his jars of

(glycerin)

make-up, cleaning his brushes and putting them into their little box. Covering her with a sheet

(like flowers in the winter, so they wouldn't get cold)

and rolling her over to the other side of the room.

"Well, that's all there is to that.

(flowers are very much like women)

I'm going home.

(he remembered what it was like to live there, have Heaven and Hell in her kiss)

You'll have to leave, now."

The man in the corner doesn't move. Just like he doesn't smile, just like he doesn't talk. Another action arrested, something he can't quite remember

(he wishes that women were flowers)

how

(why)

to do. The man in the corner looks after her, blood tears running down his

(arms in rivulets, flowing down into the steadily running bathwater. Cordelia had cried.)

face.

"Did you hear me? Do you need

(glycerin)

a ride?"

He hears that, somewhere. It hits his barely alert conscious broadside. He shakes his head.

He doesn't need a ride. What he needs is

(glycerin)