October 28, 2018

The Green Chair

“Please don’t find me,” I thought to myself. I was curled up in a ball under the green chair. It was in the corner of the living room of our split-level house.

It was the early 1970’s and I was five years old. There wasn’t a lot of space between the floor and the bottom of the chair, but I was tiny so I could fit underneath. The fact that there was a skirt around the chair meant that no one could see me without actually dropping down on their hands and knees, lifting the skirt, and looking.

I could hear Mom upstairs questioning my younger sister, Kathy. Her voice was raised, but I don’t recall Kathy crying. Usually she would go mute in situations like this. I don’t know whether it was confusion or fear that rendered her unable to talk, tattle on me, or defend herself.

We had been playing upstairs and somehow ended up in Mom and Dad’s bathroom. It was my idea. I knew where Mom kept her makeup in one of the vanity drawers. I opened the drawer and was enthralled by the array of rouge, powders and tubes of lipstick. As Kathy watched, I gently took the top off each tube and turned the base so that the luscious colors popped up. I yearned to be old enough to wear makeup.

“Do you want to try some?” I asked Kathy. She looked at me and didn’t say a word. “Here,” I said, “I’ll put some on you.” I managed to apply the lipstick, staying within the lines. I was always good at colouring. Kathy’s naturally rosy lips took on a sort of burgundy colour. Next I looked in the mirror and slowly applied mine. Although it was from the same tube, my pale lips took on a rose colour.

“Look in the mirror,” I said. “We look good.” Both of us stared at ourselves for a minute. “Let’s do our cheeks,” I said. I picked up the brush Mom used to apply her blush. Then I found the blush and gently dabbed it on Kathy’s cheeks. Her cheeks were already rosy red, so you couldn’t really see the difference.

I applied some blush to my own cheeks, right in the middle, then gazed proudly at my normally pale face looking so flushed.

We heard Mom coming inside the house. “Quick!” I said. “Go hide.” I was fast. Kathy was not. I managed to get downstairs under the green chair. I figured that when Mom started making supper, I’d sneak into the bathroom and wash everything off. Kathy, however, messed up my plans. She was slow. And basically, she walked right into my mother.

“What have you got on your lips?” I heard Mom exclaim. From my vantage point under the chair, I couldn’t tell if Kathy answered her or not. Mom took her upstairs. I knew she would open her makeup drawer. I also knew she’d check her lipstick and see that the nice point she managed to keep on her lipstick was not so nicely pointed anymore.

Mom’s voice got a bit louder. “Did you do this? Where’s Heather? Was she into my things too?” I knew what was coming…a spanking, and I’d be next. If Mom didn’t do it herself, I knew she’d tell Dad when he got home and tell him to do it.

Kathy wasn’t answering or if she was, it was too low for me to hear. I waited silently under the green chair, not daring to move. My heart thumped against the wall of my chest. I could hear my mother lecturing Kathy on how we weren’t supposed to be rooting around in her things.

Then I heard her coming. She wasn’t stupid. I held my breath as she walked into the living room. I heard her approach the green chair. I knew this was it. I froze. Now down on her hands and knees, she commanded, “Come out from under there.”

I figured the best offense was a good defense so I started to cry immediately. “It was Kathy’s idea,” I blubbered, knowing full well this was a bald-faced lie. It’s not that I wanted my sister to be in trouble. I was just trying to save myself.

Mom didn’t swat us. She lectured me; she lectured us both. Part way through, she started to soften. Maybe she realized these two wide-eyed little girls, one crying, one struck dumb, simply wanted to look pretty in makeup, just like they thought she did. Because the next thing, she said was, “You should have asked me first. I could have given you an old tube of lipstick.”

I loved my mother at that moment. We were spared punishment, and that made everything ok.