by Audra Kerr Brown

You come home from work and find a package on your doorstep. It’s from your mother; you recognize her writing on the return address—slanting cursive like trees bowing in the wind. You come in and set the package on the floor. Your cat sniffs the brown paper cautiously then rubs her face against its corner. You eat a bowl of cereal, watch a bad movie, then go to bed. In the morning you see your cat atop the package, asleep. You practice yoga. In downward-facing dog, you look through your legs and focus on the package. You decide to open it. It’s an odd assortment of your grandmother’s belongings: cookbooks, holiday pins, old black and white photos taken in the days when no one smiled, a tube of bright red lipstick. What you really wanted was the old captain’s chair she kept in the basement. Your grandmother died three weeks ago, on her birthday. Cancer. You didn’t go to her funeral. You had seen her a few weeks before she passed away; you’d said your goodbyes. You examine the lipstick. The case is gold and has a little mirror that flips up just big enough to see your mouth. You notice the hair on your upper lip. The phone rings; it’s your friends. A salsa band is playing tonight and you agree to go. But first, you nap. Later, your hair is wrapped in a towel and depilatory hangs upon your lip as a white mustache. You stand before the fogged mirror and think of your grandmother. You think of her as you last saw her in the nursing home: her hair, the color of the beach in winter, swaying in the air like dandelion fluff. Each time you visited she was a bit whiter, a bit closer to the final fade-out. But her bright red mouth remained, like a gash beneath her nose. The lipstick made you feel contempt toward her. You didn’t try to understand why. She’d lean toward you, her nightgown falling away to reveal shrunken breasts—gray and lifeless—like the underbellies of trout dangling on a line. She’d smile and squeeze your hand tightly. You forced yourself to smile back as you envisioned a car disappearing into darkness, a forlorn, blinking taillight. You never stayed long. You told yourself it was better that way. Now the doorbell rings. You shimmy into your dress, spray perfume, give your cat a clump of salmon-flavored food. Before leaving, you see the tube of lipstick lying on the floor next to the opened package. You smooth the red across your lips in long, lingering strokes, tickle your cat at the base of her tail, turn off the lights, and enter the night.

Audra Kerr Brown’s writing has been featured in Popshot Magazine, People Holding, Maudlin House, Pithead Chapel, 3Elements Review, and elsewhere. She lives with her husband and daughter on a quaint farm in Iowa.