penny in a castle

A digital chapbook.

Vanishing cream

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(Nota: A work of fiction)

Every Friday afternoon before catching the bus home, she trolled the cosmetics counters at the mall looking for free samples.

Wait, what was that? she thought.  She stopped and looked down the end of the aisle. A new company was selling its wares.  The translucent counter glowed gently under the harsh fluorescent lights of the department store.

“Hello, looking to try something new?” the girl at the counter asked her.

“Hmm hmm,” she said, hardly looking up. The girl seemed a bit non-descript – with her mousy beige pony tail and grey, shapeless clothes – compared to the peacocks and cougars lining the other kiosks.

“Well, we sell only one thing, but it is guaranteed to work.  Magic Blur.  It will soften your lines, and lessen those creases.  If you don’t like it, you can return it, money back,” said the girl in her practiced monotone sales voice.

“Do you have a free sample?”

“No honey. But I will throw in a free make-up bag.”

“Well, okay. Ring me up.“

The price was outrageous but the truth was, she wasn’t going to see the good side of thirty ever again and she needed all the help she could get before she turned the bad side of forty.

She nearly missed her bus home.


That evening, she peered at herself in the mirror, looking at all the lines she imagined were deepening even as she looked.

She unscrewed the lid of the Magic Blur jar and dipped her finger in. The cream seemed heavy, a translucent white.  She spread it over her face and looked in the mirror. She imagined that the crows feet walking their way around her eyes were less prominent, the lines around her mouth softer.  Well, it was something – whether it was worth its extravagant price was less likely.

“Waste of money again,” she muttered. “Why do I do this to myself and my wallet?”

She was going to pitch it in the waste bin and then thought better of it. Winter was coming and she could use a moisturizer.  Might as well get her money out of it somehow rather than face the faint embarrassment and confrontation of bringing it back.


The weekend faded quickly.  As she climbed aboard the bus Monday morning, she had a harder time than usual getting on board.  People didn’t move out of the way and they seemed to jostle more than usual.

When she arrived, work wasn’t much better.  She had lost her security card in some nether region of her purse. Someone had swiped the picture of her and her boyfriend Dave off her desk. Some of her files had disappeared on her from the system and IT wasn’t in a hurry to bring them back. Her manager ignored her requests. People seemed to take no notice of her when she spoke at meetings or sent them messages.  Her usual lunch mates all seemed to be too busy to talk to her when she came by for a visit, barely looking up from their screens and coffee cups.


When five rolled around she thought she would visit her mom at the seniors’ residence to cheer herself up.  Mom was getting up there, but still a ball of fire and energy.   She ran the nurses and staff a merry hell on a daily basis.

“Hi, how are you today,” she said loudly as she entered her mom’s room.  Mom was going a bit deaf and, not surprisingly, didn’t like to wear her hearing aid. She didn’t like to be surprised either.

Her mom looked up confused. “Fine. “ Pause. “Nice to see you.”

“Nice to see you too. What did you get up to today?”

“Oh you know, a little of this a little of that.”

A long pause followed. She frowned a bit. Normally Mom would chat her into a corner – give her intimate details of what horrible thing she had had to endure for lunch or which residents were getting caught in the wrong bedroom.  Mom always asked difficult questions about her flailing love life and career.

“Are you feeling okay?” she asked worriedly.

“Fine, fine.”

Where was the usual queen of gossip and chief interrogator?  Was this how it all started, she wondered, the long slide into forgetfulness?

She gave Mom a long hug.

“Well, okay, I just wanted to check in on you and see how you were doing.”

“Well that’s very sweet of you. Thank you dearie.  Please do pop by again.”

After a long day, her spirit fell a little.  It unusually cold, being dismissed by Mom like that after five minutes.

“Okay Mom sure thing.”

Mom looked up again startled.

“Do I know you?”

Her heart stopped.  She ran down to the nursing station. The only nurse there barely looked up from her crossword and coffee.  “Can I help you?” the nurse sighed.

“Yes, my mother, at the end of the hall. She seems to have…changed.  Has anybody noticed a difference in her the last couple of days?” she knew she sounded more panicky than she needed to be, but after a difficult day she felt as though things had slipped away from her grasp.

The nurse looked to where my finger was pointing. “Oh, her. No, she hasn’t changed a bit,” said the nurse in a slightly exasperated tone.

“Well, I’m a bit worried about her – she seems forgetful.  Can you keep an eye out on her? Let me know if she gets worse.”

The nurse looked at her, trying not to roll her eyes audibly. “Sure thing.”


The bus nearly didn’t stop for her outside the seniors’ residence that evening.

“Sorry, I didn’t see you standing there,” apologized the driver.

There was no room to sit down, and no one moved to make space.  As she clung to a seat, she looked in the window and saw her reflection – indistinct in the translucence of the night time glass.

She went to bed exhausted and failed to dream.


The rest of the week was a haze.  Her phone rang less and less.  Her desk cleared of paper and no more piled up in the in-box.  Her manager took no notice of her despite her request for more work.  Her co-workers looked confused when she showed up outside their cubicle.

On Friday, when she when she showed up without her lost pass-card for the fifth straight day, the security guard hardly looked up.

“Driver’s license.”

She held it out.  He grunted and peered into the computer screen.

“Sorry, you don’t work here.”

“Wait. What? Let me call my manager.”

He eyed at her suspiciously.

“If you don’t work here, you don’t have a manager.  You had better leave.”

She couldn’t believe it.  Ten year she had worked here without any complaints or bad performance issues. The guard turned back to watching the security cameras and the progress of the elevators going up and down.

For a long while she watched as people flowed by her, in and out of the security gate. No one took notice of her.  Even the guard seemed to forget she was there.

She decided she couldn’t face another bus ride home, but no taxi would stop for her.  She trudged into the twilight.

At least it was Friday. Date night.  Dave would never leave her.


It turned into an awkward evening.  Dave had barely noticed her. He had spent the night watching the hockey game on the television above the bar. He had barely responded to any of her questions or attempts at conversation.  He seemed to drink more than usual.

Going home they had walked quickly, and he was a silent shadow beside her.  He didn’t hold her hand and he hesitated at her door way.

“Aren’t you coming in?” she pressured him.

“Sure, I guess so,” he shrugged.


“Just a minute while I make myself beautiful,” she joked half-heartedly.  Her hands reached for the Magic Blur.  She would put some on now, so she wouldn’t forget later and could fall asleep immediately.  Make up for the dreams she had been missing all week.

She opened the door.

Dave looked up from the blaring television, totally bewildered.

“Lady, I’m really sorry. I’m not usually this kind of guy.”

“What kind of guy” she said confused.

“The kind that picks up random strangers.  I’m sorry, I really need to go. “

“No, wait, we’ve been dating for three years. What are you talking about?”

“Lady, I’ve never seen you before tonight. “

“This isn’t funny. Three years, I keep nagging you to move in. I want to get married. Have children. Now.  Are you crazy?” Tears pricked in the corners of her eyes.  She couldn’t believe it was ending so suddenly, so badly.

“No,” he said gently, getting out of bed and throwing on his coat quickly, “but I think you might be.”

“But I love you.”


He closed the door behind him. She sat on the bed and wondered if he isn’t right.  She looked at her hands folded in her lap. They were so smooth.


Saturday morning she ducked out quickly for coffee – everything in her apartment seemed to be running out at once.

Coming back up the stairs, she saw her landlord in the door way with a stranger.

“So, you’ll take it?” the land lord was asking him.

“What a minute, what’s going on here?” she demanded.

The landlord and the stranger looked past her.

“Are you interested in the apartment too? “ the landlord responded.

“This is my place!” she shouted. “I live here!”

“Lady, ain’t nobody lived here for weeks, and ain’t nobody paid the rent. I’ve changed the locks.  I don’t know who you are, but if you want to rent the place, you gotta apply like everybody else,” the landlord retorted angrily.

He turned to the stranger and muttered quietly “Downtown apartment, there’s always a risk there’s some nut wandering the stairwell or hallway. It won’t matter where you go. You okay with that?”

She pushed past them and the doorway.  She stopped suddenly.  Not a stick of her furniture remained. The room had been painted.

She turned and left silently.  The landlord and stranger barely noticed her drift past them as they haggled out a price.


“Ah, you’re back.  Another satisfied customer?” asked the girl at the translucent counter.

“Not exactly. I’ve lost my family, my job and my boyfriend.  Today I was kicked out of my apartment,” she whispered.

“That happens to us all honey.  Although in record time for you I’d say.  You must have liked it quite a bit. Or maybe you were already a little soft around the edges to begin with,” the girl at the counter laughed softly.

She knew she should have been angry but couldn’t find enough definition for emotion.

“What do I do now?” she asked

“You could join the rest of us” the girl said.

“Whatever do you mean?”

“Magic Blur is opening kiosks daily at stores across the country. It’s a bit of a revolution – or a devolution I guess. We prefer to staff them with those who know our product and use it. Makes it easier to sell you see.”

“Well, I don’t have a job. Or anything.”

“Well, the company has room for you and we can’t keep track of each other anyway.  Join us. You’ll see, it’s easy to blend in.”


Written by pennyinacastle

February 20, 2013 at 2:04 am

Posted in Fiction

Tagged with

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