When she had her old job, Casey was never totally sure if she was seeing the lipstick fortunes play out in real life because they were true, or because she unconsciously pressured all her friends into telling her what was already going on. She’d always been a gossiper, the make-up mum friend who got everyone chatting.
But as soon as she opened Lady Luck and started doing strangers’ faces full-time, the truth was obvious. Even if she’d never met somebody before, as soon as Casey looked at the way their mouth had shaped their bar of lipstick or the branching pattern her lip brush formed on the lip palettes, she knew things about them that shouldn’t be possible. The lipsticks told her everything, and all she wanted to do was listen.
To get a full fortune, Casey carried out a three-point inspection process. First, she asked to see one of the client’s own lipsticks. She told them she wanted to get an idea of what kind of colour they liked.
This produced one of three main indicators:
1.Those who wore the point off their lipstick and rubbed the colour on flat tended to be lucky. 2.People who maintained the one-sided flat surface their lipstick had been formed in were neither lucky nor unlucky. Nothing much happened to them unexpectedly. 3.Folks that wore a concave groove into the lipstick, creating a fine point at the tip, were unlucky.
The next layer of psychometry could be found in the tiny grooves that the clients’ vermillion skin carved into lipsticks. Casey examined these, carefully considering any hatching or crosshatching effects and identifying instances where the lips had crossed beyond the lipstick’s standard application surface.
These told her more specific details about the client. They spoke to her about whether the client was kind or unkind; introverted or extroverted; a worker or a slacker; open or closed to change; happy or unhappy. Lots of deep grooves suggested the existence of ties to loved ones, and heavy hatching indicated that those ties were strong. Finally, Casey picked up her own lip brushes, mixed a colour specific to her client’s needs against the side of her hand, and began the application. This was where she got the strongest reading. It worked best when she used brushes made from organic matter, bamboo and walnut and pig hair and sable. When the connection was clear, she could feel the life stories channeled through wax, oil, pigment and fibre going straight into her mind.
Lady Luck wasn’t a fortune-telling booth, of course. It was her make-up studio. She ran it out of a porta-cabin that stood in the parking lot of her friend Tiana’s hairdressing business. Tiana had kicked her teenage nephew Jayden out of it and shifted it to the carpark after everything went wrong with Casey’s job at the police station.
Casey tried not to think about the police anymore, but when Kayleigh walked through her smudged sliding door, she felt something nudge her. Kayleigh was a full-figured, attractive Asian woman in her mid-twenties with a fresh silver purple dye job. She had a really off-centre energy to go with her wonky cat-eye. “Hi Kayleigh, you’re here for event make-up, is that right?” Casey checked. “That’s it!” Kayleigh confirmed. “Got a special dinner tonight.” Casey steered Kayleigh to the client chair and passed her a box of make-up wipes. She could see Kayleigh assessing the state of the porta-cabin, nose flaring at the faint urine scent that never quite came out of the carpet. There was only so much Glade PlugIns could do in a small space. “So, I don’t think I’ve gotten any inspiration images from you with this booking,” Casey mentioned. “Can you tell me what you have in mind?” “I don’t know, maybe something a little bit glam. Did you ever see Hustlers?” “Yeah, you want J-Lo’s look from that? Say less,” Casey confirmed while Kayleigh nodded fast. “A bronze smokey eye.” She tucked a black cloth over Kayleigh’s top, quickly assessed which shades of bronze would be suitable for her colouration and set about pulling the right products from her storage racks onto a wheeled tray. When everything was assembled, she pulled her rolling stool over and sat down, pulling herself right up close. “So let’s get started,” Casey said. She began mixing foundation and saturating a firm wedge of foam. “Why don’t you tell me about this dinner? Somebody you wanna impress?” Kayleigh laughed. Casey had been expecting a cute giggle, but what came out was a more of a guffaw. “Oh, it’s not what you think,” she said. “His name is Carl, he’s a regular of mine. He’s not the easiest guy to deal with, this is kind of a last hurrah before we go our separate ways.” “Hmm,” Casey said, sponging on a base layer with the foam. There was a particular rolling motion which worked best with Kayleigh’s skin texture and it took a moment to get right. “What’s the plan for this hurrah, then?” “Well, he’s booked us a little house out in Martinborough. I’ve arranged for someone to bring us a really nice dinner, got a bottle of wine, and I’m just going to spoil him before releasing him back into the wild.” “You going to tell him he’s getting cut off?” Casey asked. She gently grasped Kayleigh’s chin and tilted her face to the left, examined it, then began mapping out where she’d place the golden planes of highlighter. “No,” said Kayleigh. “That wouldn’t be safe. I’ll just ghost him after this.” “R.I.P. Carl,” Casey said.
Kayleigh burst into laughter. “Oh my god, yeah right! He’ll have the next girl lined up so fast, don’t you worry.”
Casey changed the subject, then, and they talked about Love Island while the eyeshadow, liquid liner, mascara and brow gel went on. Kayleigh asked about primer, and Casey explained it wasn’t necessary: “There’s just no need if you do it right. Primer is a scam!”
When the eyes were finished, Casey moved away from Kayleigh’s face to take in her work. Yes, it was time for the lipstick. This would be an interesting read. The half-used tube of M.A.C’s Candy Yum Yum sported a one-sided flat surface, showing that Kayleigh didn’t leave life up to chance. The grooves in it weren’t what Casey expected - they told a story about a moderately unkind woman with few interests. Kayleigh’s bubbly persona had led Casey to believe she might have lots of friends and family, but the lack of cross-hatching spoke of loneliness. Using a fine brush, she mixed a warm, earthy pink on the back of her hand, and with a firm stroke, made the first connection with Kayleigh’s lips. Right away, she understood that Kayleigh was not just isolated but somebody with very little to lose, and by the time she’d lined her bottom lip, Casey knew her client was making dangerous plans. A suspicion crystallised in Casey’s mind: Was Kayleigh planning to kill Carl? “So, what’s made you want to ghost Carl?” Casey asked. “Oh, you know,” Kayleigh said. “He’s starting to feel a bit rough around the edges. He’s been… unpredictable, before, but his drinking is making his temper way worse. I’m just done, you know?” “Shit, girl, I’m sorry,” Casey replied. She could feel Kayleigh’s anger seethe beneath the lower lip, harsh and sweet as a shot of celebrity perfume. “Has he hurt you?” Kayleigh met Casey’s eyes, narrowing her glossy golden lids.The look was working well for her, Casey noted. “Guess that depends on your definition of ‘hurt’, but yeah Carl’s been violent a couple of times,” Kayleigh said. “Oh no,” Casey sighed. “I hate that guys like him take advantage.” “That happen to you too once?” Kayleigh asked, lifting a gel-slick eyebrow above her gleaming eye. Every good reading had an inflection point like this, Casey had noticed. She wanted to know everything about her clients, to identify their trauma and secrets, but almost nobody wanted to treat her like an actual confessional booth. They wanted to know her story in exchange. She hated giving anything away - but she’d never predicted a murder before. “Well, no. But I saw a lot of it at my old work,” Casey said. She pulled out a can of spray-on setting mist from her toolkit and shook it. “Eyes closed, please.” After the spray had settled, Kayleigh batted her damp eyelids and looked back at Casey. “I thought I recognised you. You used to run the front desk at the cop shop downtown, right?” Casey’s stomach seized in a spasm of discomfort. She’d always been terrible at recognising faces she hadn’t yet touched. Kayleigh must have come in for something when she was on her shift and remembered. She would never have accepted the booking if she knew. “Yeah, that was me. I don’t work there any more, though. I’m an entrepreneur now,” she said, lacing the word with a little sarcasm. She made a faux-expansive gesture at the porta-cabin’s interior. “Right, yeah. I knew I knew you as soon as I walked in but couldn’t quite place you. Wait, you used to be Cassie, right? The one who made up all the girls who worked out of Lydia’s place in Newtown after hours?” Kayleigh’s face was animated in a way it hadn’t been before, tensing all the little muscles around her mouth, nose and eyes. She’d made an exciting discovery. “Oh,” Casey stumbled. “It wasn’t really as formal as that. I just met Jaimee and then she introduced me to Wei, and then the whole lot of them wanted false eyelashes and contouring all the time and that’s a big job so I started doing house calls, I wasn’t like exclusive to them or anything.” “Is that why you’re doing this now?” Kayleigh asked, a smile in the corner of her mouth. “Yeah,” Casey said. She still held the slender lip brush in her right hand, and remembered to put it down before she broke it. “Not really, though, eh,” Kayleigh pressed. She laughed, that dirty guffaw again, and fanned herself with one sequin-tipped claw. “And now I remember why you changed your name. Hoo, mama!” The porta-cabin was too small, Casey thought. Kayleigh was using up all the air, that was why it was so hard to breathe all of a sudden. The only way to stop this was to get her out as soon as possible. Casey rose from her seat, shoved it backward and began sweeping all her tiny pots, tubes and brushes into containers without any regard for open lids or organisation. “Sorry, I’ve got another client coming,” Casey began, tugging the protective cloth away from Kayleigh. “I had to spend a long time covering up that coldsore that’s starting on your lip and filling in all your wrinkles, so we’ve run really overtime and I’m going to have to start charging you extra if you stay any longer.” She sniffed and took a deep breath so as not to cry. “It’s time for you to leave.” Kayleigh shook her silver-purple head and scoffed quietly. “Cassie, Casey or whoever you are, I’m not trying to make you feel bad - honestly, I’m impressed. Jaimee and Wei and literally everyone would’ve got deported if you hadn’t told them who the cops were and busted up their shitty investigation.” Tears began to rage out of Casey’s eyes, spoiling her mascara and turning her face all blotchy. Her chest was burning. She wanted Kayleigh out. She wanted to call Tiana. She wanted to set the porta-cabin on fire and move to Invercargill. “I didn’t mean to, I was just making conversation,” she wailed, sinking onto the stool in despair. “I fucked up.” “But, babe, it’s all turned out okay,” Kayleigh soothed, using her long nails to brush a lock of hair off Casey’s reddened forehead. “You’ve got your own little business going on, you’re doing what you love, and beautiful Tiana’s letting you park up for free. You’re killing it!” Casey only sobbed harder. Through a dry, mucousy mouth, she gasped: “I hate it here.” “What, sweetie?” Kayleigh asked. “I said I hate this place and I want to go back to the police!” Casey cried out. Kayleigh straightened, stood up and reached for her bag. Her mouth was set in a hard pink line. “Well, baby girl, that’s not going to happen. I’m gonna leave now, and I’ll be pissed if you charge me extra for staying to comfort you while you had a fat cry about your bad decisions.” “Wait, before you go,” Casey began, wiping her eyes. She scrabbled around on her wheeled workstand for one of the small plastic pottles she liked to accumulate. “What? Carl’s picking me up in an hour and I’ve still gotta go to fucking Farmers to buy the stockings he likes.” “Hold up, just wait,” Casey sniffed, turning off the tears as hard as she could. She scraped the blended lipstick off the back of her hand into the pottle, and added another few brushfuls of colour to create more of the same. As she mixed, she asked: “What was the last straw with him? The incident that made you want to fire him as a client?” Kayleigh frowned. “If you gotta know, he got too faded one night and choked me out. Had to poke him in the eyes to make him stop. Nearly passed out and died.” “Oh,” Casey said. “Well, you’ll need this for a reapplication.” She held out the pottle. “It’s your shade.” “It is, isn’t it,” Kayleigh said. “Take care, girlfriend.” “You too.”
Sarah Dunn is a former news journalist and magazine editor who works in corporate communications. She lives in central Auckland with her wife PJ and their elderly rescue dog. Aged 33, she holds a B.A. Hons in English Literature and Religious Studies from Victoria University of Wellington, plus a Postgraduate Certificate in Professional Economics. Her fiction writing focuses on the way consumerism intersects with female identity.