Today is Mina’s first day on the new job. She takes more than usual in the shower, lathering and scrubbing, applying berry-scented shaving cream over parts of her body. She follows carefully with a sharp pink razor that leaves smooth bare strips on her armpits, legs, and crotch. She ponders how the head of the razor is really narrow, how it takes her forever to do this with it, how it sometimes feels like she’s trying to mow a football field with a tiny yard mower. Mina knows there will be angry red bumps in all the sensitive parts tomorrow, and the day after, but today, today she needs to feel like she is the boss of her own body, even the parts, especially the parts, that no one but her will see.
She adds an extra shampoo cycle, follows with the conditioner, then combs through once, twice, a dozen times, until there’s not a tangle left. She pulls the dead hair off the comb. There’s so much of it, the clump looks like a small rodent, and Mina wonders if she should name it. She decides on Harry the Hair Hamster. Once she’s out of the shower, she drops the ball of fuzz in the toilet and says a small farewell to Harry, the first of today’s fallen.
Mina spends half an hour in front of the mirror, straightening her hair, plucking her brows, applying layer upon layer of makeup. She contours and highlights, wielding the brushes and pencils like an artist, or a warrior. The arc of her brow and the curve of her lip become pointed. She’s used to wearing subdued lipstick shades, all dark plums and soft peaches. This morning, the color on her lips is red, like arterial blood. It makes it impossible to look anywhere else on her face.
As she stands naked in her walk-in closet, Mina contemplates what she must do today. Her neck feels stiff, so she turns her chin left to right, nods to one side, then the other, the vertebrae just below her skull making worrisome crunching sounds. She decides on a black bra and panties that are not a set, but could be. No one will see them, but she likes knowing they’re there. The bra is the one she calls her Barry Bra, because it holds her a little too tight, but somehow it feels perfect, like it’s saying Don’t worry, I’ve got you. Mina knows Barry would love to hear that she has a bra named after him, but she will never tell him, and she’s not really sure why. She makes a mental note to order several more, in a variety of colors.
Her outfit is a black pantsuit. She would normally wear a pastel top underneath, but not today. The camisole she puts on is crimson red, like her lips.
It’s after ten when Mina finally gets home. Barry is reading in bed. She knows he’s been waiting for her.
He takes off his glasses and smiles. “How was it?”
She almost smiles back. “Brutal.”
“Yeah?” He places the tablet and his glasses on the nightstand, and pats the bed beside him. “Come here.”
Mina takes off her jacket and tosses it into the closet without looking.
Barry’s eyes go to her blood-red camisole. He moves to sit on the edge of the bed.
Mina walks over to him and stands between his knees.
“How many did you have to let go?” Barry places his hands on her hips.
“Two dozen today. Another dozen tomorrow.” Mina sighs and slowly runs her hands through his hair.
“Jesus,” he says. “I’m sorry.” He wraps his arms tightly around her waist, and she leans over and hugs his head. They stay like that for a long moment.
Barry is the first to unfurl. He unzips her pants and slowly slides them off her hips, down her thighs and calves. She steps out and kicks them to the side. He places a kiss on her abdomen, just above the panty line.
Mina takes off the camisole and wonders if she should burn it after this week is over. She kneels down, so her face and Barry’s are at the same level. He reaches around her, unhooks her bra, pushes it off her shoulders and onto the floor. She throws her arms around him and he holds her tight, so tight, whispering in her neck, Don’t worry, I’ve got you. I’ve got you.
Maura Yzmore writes short fiction and long equations somewhere in the American Midwest. Her fiction can be found in Flash Fiction Online, The Arcanist, The Molotov Cocktail, and elsewhere. Find out more at maurayzmore.com or on Twitter @MauraYzmore.