You might be tempted by versatility: the 5-in-1 contouring stick, the double-sided lip gloss. You might be tempted by practicality: face wipes, dry shampoo, a very tiny compact in a durable shell.
Resist these temptations. Instead, choose glitter, tiny glass bottles of colorful dust that emit their own light—champagne, aquamarine, fuchsia, aluminum. Choose bold, creamy lipsticks, eyeshadow palettes with a hundred shades, scented body butters in delicate little pots. Bring the fake eyelashes, the acrylic nails. The box of purple hair dye you’ve had in your bathroom closet for the past three years. Bring your brushes, every one.
Bring it all, even though your father/brother/boyfriend/husband will not understand. He will stare at you, a couple packets of freeze dried beef in his hands, and ask what in hell you think you’re doing. Don’t bother explaining it to him. He won’t understand, but soon he will.
When you get the news, you are home alone. You are out to lunch with a friend. You are in the office break room brewing tea. You are driving home from the grocery store with the radio on. You pull over, fast, so that the gallon of milk slides across the backseat and thuds against the door. You turn the volume up. Everyone everywhere turns the volume up.
Some people stay and some people go. You are one of the ones who goes, not because there is anywhere safe to go to, but because this is what you do when faced with an emergency: you act. So you pack up your things, bottled water and Ace bandages and a Swiss Army knife with so many attachments it looks like the mouth of a shark when opened. You stick moleskin to your heels, double knot your laces, and set out with your family. This is less pilgrimage than pageantry. Less an attempt at survival than an attempt at distraction.
Here’s what you do.
If it’s nuclear fallout, you’ll want something classic. A red lip, a blue eye. Go easy on the blush, the bronzer. What you want is history. What you want is memory. Look at yourself in your portable mirror and imagine that your face is the face of every woman who ever lived. Imagine them laughing. Imagine them crying. Imagine that they are there with you, stroking your back, braiding your hair. Imagine that their hands smell like skin.
If it’s an ecological disaster, try sea green as a remedy. Paint your face like a palm frond. Dip your lips in blue, the color the sky used to be. Already you are forgetting these colors. Smear them across your skin, remind yourself that your cells are still dividing. Around you, the earth flares like a cigarette.
If it’s zombies, coat your nails with glow-in-the-dark polish. At night, by the light of your nails, read labels out loud to yourself. Chocolate Truffle. Topaz Beauty. Sienna Sunrise. Chant names like a charm. Strawberries and Cream. Metallic Plum. Ice Queen. Fill your ears with language, with what it sounds like to be human.
When your father/brother/boyfriend/husband sprains his ankle/cuts his thumb on the Swiss Army knife/runs out of bottled water and is forced to drink his own filtered urine, tension will begin to rise. He will swear at you. He will storm off into the jungle/desert/deserted town, where he will have an epic encounter with something dangerous. He will die. Or else he will survive and come back bleeding. You tell him he’s an idiot. You say, This is just the sort of behavior that got us here in the first place. You say, You’re damn lucky to be alive. But then you staunch his bleeding and give him a cup of filtered urine water, because you love him very much.
In the beginning you were going from point A to point B, but eventually you end up going in circles. You know you’re going in circles, but you don’t say anything. After all, the line from point A to point B was arbitrary to begin with.
Above you, the sky darkens like a bruise. The air thickens, clots in your throat. Your father/brother/boyfriend/husband is struggling. His ankle has swollen to the size of his knee. His cut thumb is infected. He’s suffering from dehydration. We have to keep going, he says. Well, sure, you say. But also—maybe we don’t. He argues for a little while, but, when pressed, admits he forgets where you’re supposed to be going anyway. So you drop your backpacks and unfurl your sleeping bags and curl up on top of them.
At nightfall, the stars have a greenish hue/there are no stars/the stars are falling like fireballs to earth. Around you, flames pop and hiss. Trees shrivel, blacken, rot. The atmosphere peels away, like moth-eaten fabric or old paint.
Lying on your side, you stare at your father/brother/boyfriend/husband. He is crying. I’m sorry, he says. I’m so so so sorry. You are brimming with sorrow. He will be gone soon, and so will you, and everything will be less than a memory. And you loved this world, you really did, you loved it very much.
From your backpack, you pull a contour kit, eyeshadow palette, eye liner, lip liner, jars of glitter. Sit up, you say. You sit cross-legged on your sleeping bag and your father/brother/boyfriend/husband sits cross-legged on his. You pump cream into your palms, spread it across his face. He closes his eyes. Under your fingertips, you feel every wrinkle, every pockmark, every nub of hair. You line his eyes, paint his lashes, his lips. You dot glue onto his cheeks and press glitter into the glue. He does you next. You feel the lipstick smudging outside your lip line and you smile. In the propane flicker of your lantern, his face glows. You take his hands, and then you sit there, sparkling, waiting for the world to end.
Alyssa Quinn is the author of the prose chapbook Dante’s Cartography (The Cupboard Pamphlet, 2019). Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Hobart, Indiana Review, Ninth Letter, Meridian, Brevity, The Pinch, Frontier Poetry, Juked, Psychopomp Magazine, Monkeybicycle, and elsewhere. It has also been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, Best American Essays, twice for Best Small Fictions, and was included in the 2018 Wigleaf Top 50 longlist. She is currently pursuing a creative writing PhD at the University of Utah, where she is a prose editor for Quarterly West. Ms. Quinn is also our February Q & A.
Artwork: Rob Woodcox