Painted faces, p.1
Painted Faces, p.1L.H. Cosway
By L.H Cosway
Copyright © 2012 Lorraine McInerney
All rights reserved.
Cover image by Anatoly Tiplyashin.
Cover design by L.H Cosway.
This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission from the author.
Books by L.H Cosway
A Strange Fire (Florence Vaine #1)
A Vision of Green (Florence Vaine #2)
Tegan's Blood (The Ultimate Power Series #1)
Tegan's Return (The Ultimate Power Series #2)
Tegan's Magic (The Ultimate Power Series #3) (Feb. 2013)
Crimson (An Ultimate Power Series Novella)
For all the men who are women and the women who are men, the men who are men and the women who are women. And those of you who are a little bit of both. You colour my world.
..when in the fast embrace their limbs were knit, they two were two no more, nor man, nor woman – one body then that neither seemed and both.
- Ovid, Metamorphoses.
Table of Contents
Christchurch, New Zealand, 1998.
He was eight years old when his obsession began.
He was so much more than just a boy in a dress. He had been doing this for six years, and still he managed to keep it a secret. He was an only child and his father was forever absent, so the secrecy came easy. Nicholas had been searching for his old cowboy costume in the attic when he'd come across the boxes, full to the brim with his deceased mother's things.
He had exactly three memories of her. The first was how her bright blue eyes always lit up and shone when she saw him. The second was how she would fill the house with pretty music when she sang and played piano, and the third was of her crying, always crying in the bathroom when she thought nobody else was around.
Nicholas had taken her dusty old possessions and made them his life. He would sing like she sang in the video recordings he had of her. He kept them hidden under his bed and watched them over and over again. He would wear her dresses and jewellery and spend hours putting her make-up on his face. In time his habit would evolve into a need to entertain; a desire to express his fascination with the female form by impersonating it. But for now, it was all about her. The woman who brought him into the world and died before he had the chance to get to know her.
Over the years he had come to realise that other people didn't do what he did; they didn't spend hours at a time trying to replicate the memory of their dead mother by becoming her. He wondered if this was what grown-ups referred to as grief. It seemed odd for him to feel sad for a woman he had only three memories of. For some reason he felt like he loved her inherently, despite never having truly known her.
But it was loneliness too that spurred his unlikely habit. His father was a cold man and only spoke to him when it was absolutely necessary, while Nicholas was a child who thrived on conversation, on attention. At school he acted out, making fun of the teachers and always interrupting lessons simply because he craved someone to acknowledge him, to have people know he existed. He found that if he behaved badly, he could be the centre of attention.
He was friends with all of the prettiest girls. The other boys would call him a queer, but he didn't care. He liked being around the girls too much to give it up. He loved how sweet they smelled and how soft their lips were when they let him kiss them and put his hands up their shirts. He relished how they told him he was the most handsome boy in the whole school.
He was twelve the first time he got beaten up. He lay on the ground and let the boys punch and kick him because he didn't know how to defend himself. They spat names at him like faggot and nancy-boy. That was one of the last times they got away with it, because he soon learned how to kick and punch back, how to use his wit as a defence to their name calling. He never bothered trying to show them that he was none of the things they called him. Bullies didn't care about the truth, they just wanted an easy target.
He was fourteen the first time somebody discovered his secret. It was a Saturday and he was alone in the house. He put his Karen Carpenter CD in the stereo and let it play on full volume as he twirled around in his mother's red velvet dinner dress and her black high heels with the silver buckles at the front. He tried to match exactly how Karen sang. His friends from school all listened to Backstreet Boys and The Spice Girls, but he thought Karen had the most perfect, sweetest voice in the world.
He was holding a hairbrush, which also belonged to his mother, to his mouth as a pretend microphone in the front living room of the house, oblivious to the world, when he turned around to find a man standing there watching him. It was Kelvin, a friend and work colleague of his father's. Nicholas felt like a bomb had exploded inside of his chest. He was caught. This would change everything.
He really didn't like Kelvin. There was something about him that made the tiniest hairs on his arms stand on end. Why did it have to be this man who discovered his secret? He was a bad man, Nicholas could feel it.
Kelvin was old and stern like Nicholas' father, and he wore his ever present business suit. He stood holding a stack of folders in his arms. He smiled at Nicholas just before he set them down on the coffee table.
He dangled a set of keys from his hand. “Your dad asked me to drop these documents by today, he gave me the key to the front door,” said Kelvin.
Nicholas was mortified as he stared at the man. Leave, he silently begged, can't he just leave and pretend he never saw any of this?
The end of his happiness was upon him. Kelvin would tell his father what he had caught Nicholas doing, and his father would call him an abomination, burn all of his mother's things and throw him out onto the streets.
His throat was dry as he managed a reply that was barely a whisper. “I'll – I'll tell him you came by.”
Kelvin nodded, but still the stupid man wouldn't leave. He took a seat on the couch and crossed one leg over the other.
“So, what exactly are you supposed to be doing?” he asked, his eyes gleaming with an intention Nicholas couldn't quite pick out. A single tear spilled from his eye and ran down his face.
“Please don't tell my dad,” he begged fervently, as more tears followed.
“Oh, of course not. I wouldn't dream of it,” Kelvin replied. “Now, come and sit with me. I'm sure we can come to some kind of an arrangement.”
Desperate to convince Kelvin to keep his secret, Nicholas took a deep breath, wiped at his tears with his fingers, and went to sit down. His beautiful secret, the one that had brought him so much joy, would never be a happy, childish thing again.
Can I Call You Viv?
Dublin, Ireland, Present day.
The mascara stings my eyes as it drips down my cheeks. It's a good thing I'm not wearing lipstick or I'd look like some sort of circus clown. A lunatic escaped from the asylum perhaps. I could certainly give Alice Cooper a run for his money.
A sudden downpour of rain is soaking through my clothe
This is what we call summer in Ireland ladies and gents. One minute the sun is beating down on you, making you all sweaty, and the next it's lashing rain. Either way, you're going to end up damp. I'm carrying what feels like about a million plastic shopping bags, though in reality it's only three. The bags are most likely adding to my appearance of being an escaped psychiatric patient. Is it just me, or do the psychologically unstable always seem to carry plastic bags around?
I live in an apartment block just off Aungier Street. It's a bit of a dive truth be told, but at least it's central. I fumble for the keys in my handbag which is slung over my shoulder, as a couple of the local kids walk by me, snickering at my struggle. I want to tell them to go fuck themselves, but of course societal rules prevent adults such as myself from swearing at children. I suppress a snort at the idea, it would again add to the façade I'm unconsciously cultivating of being off my trolley.
Finally, I manage to retrieve the keys from their hiding spot at the very end of my bag - wouldn't you know - beneath a half empty bottle of spring water and a half eaten bar of chocolate. I live on the third floor and the building doesn't have an elevator. I have to trudge my way up the stairs, soggy clothes, plastic bags, open handbag (since I'm too lazy to zip it back up after finding the keys) and all.
As I mentioned, the block is a bit of a dive and I don't have the nicest of neighbours, so I always tend to hurry getting from the front entrance up to my apartment. Just as I'm slotting in my keys, the door from the recently empty apartment next to mine flies open.
I'm curious to see who my new neighbour is this time. A single mother with three little brat kids who'll make an unholy racket day and night perhaps? Knowing my luck it'll be something like that. Only it isn't, instead a very smartly dressed man emerges. He has a crisp white shirt on, the first two buttons casually undone, expensive black trousers and black dress shoes. Well, well, well, perhaps Nora and I are going to have a respectable neighbour for once.
Myself and my best friend Nora have been living together for almost three years now in our two bedroom apartment in the city. Not as glamorous as it sounds, let me tell you. In those three years we've lived next to a junkie couple, a single mother with two obnoxious children, and a young husband and wife with a baby who, when the baby wasn't crying the building down, would have noisy rows at two o'clock in the morning. The couple moved out about three weeks ago, providing myself and Nora with some much deserved peace and quiet.
The man I'm currently staring at looks like he belongs in this place about as much as an Indian tiger belongs in the Dublin Zoo. He has jet black hair, sort of midway between long and short, ice blue eyes and a classically beautiful face. His physique is lightly muscled in that kind of athletic way, and when he smiles at me politely his whole face lights up. His eyes are all shines and sparkles.
“Hello there,” he says, shutting the door behind him and locking it with his key. His accent is mildly Australian, not Irish. He steps toward me, holding his hand out for me to give it a shake. I give him a look that's probably somewhere between confused and exasperated, as I clearly can't get my hands free for the shake he's waiting on.
“You must be Freda, your flatmate Nora invited me in for a cup of tea earlier. Lovely girl.” He says.
Oh, I'm sure she did. Nora is quite the opportunist when it comes to men, and I'd say she thought this fellow was a fine specimen. Even within this short conversation, I've noticed something sort of electric about his personality, something addictive. His eyes pull me in, like they hold secrets that could make my boring old life so much more exciting. You don't come across men this alluring very often.
“Fred, you can call me Fred,” I tell him stupidly, placing the plastic bags down on the floor so that I can finally shake his hand.
Our palms touch, our fingers entwine, and I can't believe I'm admitting this, but the tiniest tingle goes through me at the contact. Of course, he doesn't know that, and thank fuck, because he'd probably think I was some kind of a pervert. I mean, who exactly gets tingles when they shake a person's hand? You might as well say, Hello, you'll be starring in my dirty dreams tonight, Mr Blue Eyes. Not creepy in the slightest. Perhaps it's been too long since I last had a boyfriend.
I let go first and try to ignore his magnetism. He laughs, a wonderfully low sound that vibrates through to my toes. “Okay Fred, you can call me Vivica.”
Our eyes connect and we both smile at his joke. It's funny, but not funny enough to solicit a laugh. “Cool, if we become close friends can I call you Viv?” I respond.
He mock flicks his hair over his shoulder, a very feminine gesture, and puts on a sweet Marilyn Monroe voice. “You can call me whatever you like, Frederick.” The gesture suddenly opens my eyes to a certain fey aspect in his demeanour, maybe he's gay. He certainly dresses well enough.
“Why thanks, I'll keep that in mind, Viv. It was a pleasure to meet you. I hope you're finding the place to your liking.”
“Oh it's a palace fit for a queen, Freddie, a real find.”
I take note of his obvious sarcasm. He still faces me, walking backwards down the hall, twirling his keys around his fingers. Clearly he has somewhere he needs to be.
I laugh. “Well, that's good to hear. Drop in for tea any time.”
He nods and leers at my wet top, where my purple D-cup bra is blatantly visible through my cream t-shirt. “Damn it,” he says humorously. “Did I miss the wet t-shirt competition, again?” The way he's staring at my top makes me 99% sure he isn't gay.
“Ah you did I'm afraid, in Dublin we put on some great ones too. We all gather down by the river Liffey and dive in with our clothes on. When we climb out the junkies on the board walk give us marks out of ten.”
He smirks at me. “If that's the case then you must have gotten an eleven. Sounds like a real classy affair Fred, I'll make sure I don't miss the next one.”
“Come along whenever you like. We always welcome newcomers.” I tell him, running with the joke.
He salutes me then, smiling at me fondly, and disappears around the corner. It's only at that moment that I realise he still hasn't told me his real name.
Inside our apartment is empty. Nora must have gone out somewhere. I drop the shopping bags in the kitchen and go in search of some fresh clothes and a hair dryer. Once I feel like the living again, I unpack my baking ingredients.
I have two jobs. One is working in a charity shop down the road three mornings a week, a handy little number. The other is baking for a cake shop in the city that prides itself on fresh home made produce. I make all of their cupcakes. In fact, I've been told that I make the best cupcakes in Ireland, though since it was my mother who said it she might have been slightly biased.
Baking cupcakes for a living has its ups and its downs. The up side is that you get to put a smile on people's faces, even if you're also putting a few extra pounds on their backsides. The down side is that you have to get up at four o'clock every weekday morning to bake the things and have them down at the cake shop by eight-thirty. I have a bicycle with a carriage affixed to the back of it. I put the cupcakes in boxes, stick them in the carriage and deliver them to the shop. Oh yeah, and when I call it the cake shop, I'm not avoiding telling you the name. It's a cake shop called The Cake Shop. So hip and modern, you know.
Another bad thing is that I have quite the sweet tooth, so baking cakes all the time sort of indulges it a little too much. In terms of size I'm a small fourteen, which isn't so bad I suppose, but I could always stand to lose a bit of weight. Oh, and I'm talking UK sizes, not US. If I lived in America I could go around telling people I was a 10. Even though there's no actual difference, it would please me no end.
I put my purchases away, ready for tomorrow morning's batch. I bake sixty a day an
There's something therapeutic, I find, about baking the exact same thing each morning. I could do it with my eyes closed. I tend to listen to music when I bake. I enjoy old punk stuff like Dead Kennedys and Social Distortion. I know, it's an unusual mix, punk and cupcakes, but it works for me. The fast paced punk music gives me an extra bit of a pep in my step at such an early hour.
Of course, I only listen to music with my earphones on, because Nora works as a bartender in a night club in Temple Bar and sleeps in. She'd probably have a coronary if I played my music at four o'clock in the morning, since she only gets home after two. I think she has a secret desire to take a hammer to my electric mixer.
We have opposite routines, me an early bird and she a night owl. But in the same way that the punk rock and cup cakes work for me, our opposite routines work for us. She's my best friend and I love her to bits, but I think if we had to spend all of our time together somebody would end up with a broken nose. And it wouldn't be me.
I flake out in front of the television for a while, watching the afternoon soaps. It's five o'clock when Nora strolls in the door, carrying a little beige and white striped bag from the evil department store that is Brown Thomas. I cannot stand the place. It's Dublin's answer to Harrod's of London, and I swear to God every single employee is a replica of the bitchy attractive girl you knew from school.
I always get a sick satisfaction as I mosey on past on a Saturday and see the anti-animal cruelty protesters outside, giving out hell because the store sells items made from real fur. The aggravated faces of the girls who work beyond the big glass front windows make me happy in a twisted but very fundamental way.
Painted Faces by L.H. Cosway / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes