{September 17, 2012}   Lipstick

After we moved from the city, there wasn’t much to do on weekends. I spent most afternoons at the skating rink. The rink had a wooden floor and a rail where little kids and people who couldn’t skate clung. I was pretty good at skating. I skated fast to Fortunate Son and slowed down to I’ll Be There. I’d get out of the rink when it was couple skate or race time. I entered the girl’s race once but I wasn’t comfortable racing. It felt dangerous to me. During races or couple skates, I’d go to the concession and buy a Coca Cola and big dill pickle. In the dark corners where large fans blew, girls older than me were kissing boys. I wasn’t ever kissed. I had braces and glasses, so not many boys paid attention when I walked into a room. I thought I’d probably go the rest of my life without ever being kissed. The popular girls already had boyfriends. They were already allowed to shave their legs and wear mascara and lipstick. I asked Mother if I could start wearing lipstick. I didn’t want to wear mascara because I couldn’t stand that tiny brush being so close to my eye. But I wanted to wear lipstick. Frosted white lipstick. Mother said she didn’t care.

On Saturdays, if I wasn’t skating, I’d go with Mother to a shopping center on South Cobb Drive.  There was a store there called Grant’s that carried the same kind of stuff as Woolworth’s. I usually headed there while Mother went to the beauty shop. I didn’t have money to shop so I only looked. I walked up and down the aisles touching whatever hung from hooks–cheap scarves and plastic purses, barrettes and hairbands, eyebrow pencils and lipstick stapled onto cardboard.

Lipstick. I needed that.  I walked up and down the aisle looking at all the colors. I picked out one I thought would look good. Frosted white. The card said 39¢. That sounded cheap but I didn’t have 39¢. I really wanted that lipstick. I picked it off the hook and went down an aisle where I was alone. After looking around, I slipped the lipstick into my pocket. I walked quickly to the door and out of the store.

When I got outside, I felt a hand on my shoulder. I turned around. It was a tall man in glasses. “Excuse me. Do you have a receipt for that lipstick?” My heart jumped up into my throat. I couldn’t speak. I stood numb as the man in glasses said, “You have to come with me.” I followed him through the store to a back room. It was a dingy office with a telephone and a desk. “Put the lipstick on the desk,” he demanded. I pulled the lipstick out of my pocket and put it on the desk. “I’m calling the police now,” the man in glasses said. The police? I felt lightheaded. I sat down in the metal chair. How am I going to explain this to my parents? Maybe I should take off my belt and strangle myself before the police came. I was going to get killed anyway. Mother’s probably looking for me in the junior department at Rich’s where we agreed to meet, ticked off because I’m late. The policeman came. He took me out the back door where a police car waited. The policeman told me to get in. He sat in the front with a clipboard. He asked me how old I was. I said I was twelve. Then he drove me to jail. He would call my home to tell my parents where to pick me up. He put me in an empty cell to wait. I sat on the metal bed and looked all around the cell. There was a window that had bars on the outside. I looked for a place where I could loop a belt around my neck and hang myself. But I didn’t see a place high enough. I thought maybe I could beat my head against the cinderblock walls hard enough to kill myself. That was the only way out of this terrible trouble I was in. I couldn’t face what was going to happen to me at home.

Daddy came to pick me up. On the drive home, he asked me why I did that. He said if I needed money, I should have asked him. I told him that I really didn’t want the lipstick. I told him that I missed living in the city and that I hated the house where we moved. I told him I didn’t have any friends and I was so sad that I wanted to die. He listened to me, but he didn’t say anything. When Mother got home, I got the beating I had coming. I deserved it this time. I shouldn’t have taken that lipstick.

Six weeks later, I had to go to court about the lipstick. I had to miss school that morning. I was nervous because I didn’t know what court would be like. What if the judge decided to put me in jail? It might be better there than home. Home was like jail anyway. I spent the whole weekend cleaning my room just in case I wasn’t coming back. Mother and Daddy both had to be there with me in court. Daddy had to miss work. He was mad. He said the store should just let him pay the 39¢ for the lipstick. I’d already been punished.

I was dressed in nice clothes for court that morning. I was nervous about seeing a judge. While I waited for Mother and Daddy to get ready, I sat on the floor of my closet and lined up my shoes. I wanted my closet to be neat in case I wasn’t coming back.  I heard someone walk into my room. I didn’t see Mother because I had my back to the door. Suddenly, I felt a blow to the back of my head. It was so hard I fell headfirst into the closet. I didn’t know what happened. The blow to my head was a complete surprise. I heard Mother shouting at me but what she said was all garbled. I laid among the shoes face down and didn’t move. I couldn’t see what she hit me with. Mother grabbed me by the back of my hair and pulled me up onto my knees. She was still shouting but I couldn’t make out what she was saying. I was dizzy from the punch to my head.  The only thing I understood was that I’d better be ready to go in five minutes.

Mother and Daddy sat next to me in court. The back of my head and neck still hurt and I had a terrible headache. The tall man in the glasses who worked at Grant’s was there. When he was called, he told the judge he saw me put the lipstick in my pocket. The judge told me to stand up. He asked me why I took the lipstick. I told him I didn’t know why.  I said I was really sorry I did. I apologized to the tall man in the glasses. The judge told me to sit down. He said it was my first offense so he was letting me go this time. But he’d better never see me in court again. I nodded that I understood. We were dismissed.

After court, Daddy walked up to the tall man in the glasses. He pulled a dollar out of his pocket and tried to hand it to him. Daddy said he wanted to pay Grant’s for the lipstick, and that Grant’s could keep the change. The man waved off the dollar. He didn’t want the money. He’d already done his job. He saw to it that I was punished to the fullest extent of the law. That was the important thing.

I never went back inside Grant’s again. Sometimes I’d look through the glass door to see if I could spot the the tall man in the glasses. I saw him once, standing in the clutter of the toy aisle in the dingy store light. There was a “Going Out of Business” sign in the window. Then, Grant’s closed. The space remained empty for years. But whenever I walked past where Grant’s used to be, I felt a throb in the back of my head.


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