By Douglas J. Ogurek writing as Val Woodson
Painting © Andrew Abbott
Makeup. That’s it.
A woman returned her dog to the shelter this morning. She said it was a year old, and “It’s just not compatible with my lifestyle.” It chewed up her furniture. It chewed up her dress. She doesn’t have time for it. The typical spiel. But she did have time to apply gobs of makeup.
Makeup. Too much makeup out there. So I don’t wear it.
* * *
Fog masked the Valley of Pfoagin, where the Swolls lived. The soothing fragrances that their skin emitted communicated their status.
* * *
No. That’s too much. Too out there. The idea was to create a parallel, so that you, reader, see a connection between the Swolls’s use of scents and the contemporary use of makeup. The protagonist decides she doesn’t want to release any scent. She encounters resistance. We go from there. But you won’t identify with the Swolls. You need a human protagonist.
* * *
Fleeve Thides, virtuoso sheerplane player, discovered that when he put on his pink dishwashing gloves and petted his dog Ms. Bear, she dropped her green ball. Then her tongue turned green, and when she licked his arm, the journey began.
Thides and Ms. Bear floated over swaying pastel landscapes until they alighted in the fog-masked Valley of Pfoagin. There they discovered fragrant creatures called Swolls. Thides said, “Blozbly,” Ms. Bear wagged her tail, and the Swolls released scents that were exotic, and diverting.
* * *
I hung up all my roadkill photos. I want to see how Mom reacts. Mom loves animals, and she’s good. Still too much makeup, but good. I just want to see how she reacts.
I’m not saying that makeup causes the destruction of animal life. I’m saying that makeup is a manifestation of the materialism and greed that lead to the destruction of habitats and animals. Like with this dog shelter woman? To her, a piece of furniture is more valuable than an animal’s life. It’s crazy. Lipstick makes me hot, they think, and hotness deserves more. Therefore, I need more square footage in my home. So go ahead and chop down more forests. This dog is getting older, but look at me. Look at how healthy and young this mascara and foundation primer and moisturizer make me look. I got some pricey perfume. And I just had some of the fat in my thighs sucked out. I can’t be connected to this old thing.
So Fleeve Thides’s guest, this Glaze Hedge, is makeup personified. Combine that with the invisible technology, and she’s a representation of the total lack of introspection toward which Americans are headed.
* * *
Ms. Bear, holding a green ball in her mouth, puts her paws on Glaze Hedge’s thighs. Hedge extends an open palm and backs away.
Thides crouches next to a stain on the floor. “What does this tell you?”
Hedge’s fingers twitch above the stain. Her ring holds a frosted glass cube. “Coffee. Box Lot brand. With clearmilk.”
“No, I mean the shape. What does the shape tell you?”
She taps her cheeks.
“Does it make you think of something? Maybe remind you of something?” Ms. Bear, still holding the ball, rolls onto her back.
Hedge touches her eyelids. “Box Lot.” Behind her, a glass wall displays glass buildings, and glass boxes filled with people move through rectangular glass tubes.
Thides runs the fifth and sixth fingers of his left hand ran over the stain. “I don’t know what it means, but I like it. It’s blozbly.”
“Blozbly. Not a real word.” Hedge holds up her ring. The cube screens a pill-shaped object. “I’m getting my opacity reduced tomorrow.”
Thides tries to yank the green ball from Ms. Bear. “Gah. Give me that.” She does not let go. The people in the moving glass boxes flick and jab their fingers. Thides sticks his gum on the window.
Hedge looks at the gum, twitches her fingers by her forehead. She laughs. Her face turns red, and she has tears. Laughing, she falls to the floor. “Tip. You’re tip.”
* * *
Men apply a kind of makeup too. Like this guy who returned a dog today. It was older, he said, and his family just got a new one. His makeup was a Bears shirt. All those pretty colors and swerving logos and leering mascots that adorn men’s hats and coats and shirts? Just another form of makeup. I have no time for Spot. I have something important to do here. I have to eat chips and watch these dogfighters and womanizers play a meaningless game all day.
* * *
Ms. Bear holds the ball by Thides’s feet, wags her tail.
Thides grips the ball, drags the unyielding dog toward a wall covered with images of excrement. “How did that film make you feel?”
Hedge’s hand undulates beneath her chin. “Glass. Block. Play something for me.”
“I will. But the film. What song does it make you think of?”
“Tip. I like it. It was on the face.”
“What did it mean to you?”
She huffs, flaps her hands. “Here. ‘Get Diamonds by Midnight.’ Unique deaths: 87. Gunshots: 1,057. Explosion intensity: 8.5. Words spoken: 736. Cuts per minute: 30. Average rating among 20 most notable critics: 3.5 stars. It was cube glass.”
Thides touches the excrement image labeled “Mole.” It hisses. “Here.”
Hedge touches each of her fingernails. “It makes me think of your songs.”
“The ending? When Character A gave that speech?” She wiggles her fingers before her forehead. Tears well, and her voice quivers. “That was on the face.”
“Here. Smell this.”
She inhales. “Aw. That’s…aw that’s pipe. What is that?”
“Mole shit. Here.” Thides touches another image. “This one’s badger. Try badger.”
“Badger.” Hedge traces a square on her temple. “The badger is the fastest-digging animal on earth. Dirty.”
The ball bounces near Thides. “What’s all this shit supposed to mean?”
“It’s your wall. Play me something.”
Thides lunges for the ball. Ms. Bear gets it first. “Gah, you got it. You got it girl.” He struggles to yank the ball free. She does not release.
* * *
Look at all the people who get puppies then return them when they’re not so tiny and cute and controllable.
Then there’s the couple next door. At night, you can hear the coyotes howling, yet this couple lets its cats wander outside all day. The wife comes home, and there are the cats at the door. Begging to be let in, out of the cold, away from the danger. And she, the great savior, moonlight beaming off her multiple layers of makeup, opens the door, welcomes them.
The story will end when Fleeve Thides finally gets the green ball from Ms. Bear. Then, while wearing the pink glove, he pets her. The implication is that he’s traveling to the Valley of Pfoagin. It’s simply Thides giving up, coming to terms with his inability to deal with a world where everything is so transparent and artificial.
* * *
With ball in mouth, Ms. Bear follows Thides and Hedge into a room with a sheerplane. Next to the instrument is a mask that hangs from the ceiling.
Thides gestures toward a green beanbag. “Have a seat.”
Hedge extends an open hand toward the bag, flicks up her fingers. “What? In that?”
Thides puts on the pink rubber gloves.
Hedge twitches her fingers by her forehead. She breaks into intense laughter, and then falls into the beanbag. Ms. Bear pushes the ball into her arm. Hedge screams, “Get it off.”
Thides pulls the ball. The dog, refusing to let go, steps off Hedge.
Hedge twitches her fingers and her laughter resumes. “What are those?”
“For washing dishes.”
“Dishes.” She fingers a square on her temple. “Oh.” She draws a circle in the air. “People used to be so pipe.”
Thides picks up the instrument.
Hedge chokes back laughter. “Those gloves, you have more fingers than that. You’re a virtuoso.”
“Right, right. With these, I play…it sounds different. There are more mistakes. It’s blozbly. The sound is…the mistakes are…” Thides stops speaking.
Hedge stares at her ring, swipes her cheeks. “Virtuoso.”
Ms. Bear pushes the green ball into Thides’s thigh. He pushes her away then pulls down the mask. “Put this on.”
Stumblingly, with the gloves on, Thides plays the sheerplane.
Hedge raises her hands. “Aw pipe. Take this off, take it off.”
“But it’s blozbly.”
“Pipe I can’t…” She takes off the mask.
“It’s the scent of mildew. Mildew, and sweat, and skunk.”
* * *
Mom saw my roadkill wall. “I hate it.”
“But you laugh. How can you hate something that makes you laugh?”
“Mom, there’s an industrial park down the street. The developer knocked down like 90% of a forest to build it.”
“I know. It’s terrible.”
“Then he put up this sign with ducks on it. It says, ‘Caution, Wildlife Crossing.’”
“It’s terrible, all these developers.”
“Don’t you want to do anything about it?”
She pointed at the pics. “Don’t you?”
I am. I’m writing this story.
Frank came to the shelter today. He’s another volunteer, a big burly guy. Kind of a bigmouth. He took Woody to the exercise area. Woody is a one hundred-pound pit bull, with a lot of energy. Frank said, “You don’t want ta mess with this guy.” Without guys like Frank, the Woodies wouldn’t even have a chance. Frank had a Bears hat.
* * *
Ms. Bear, clutching the green ball, thrashes her head.
Thides kneels. “Let’s go see the Swolls, girl.”
He reaches to pet her with his pink gloves. She jumps away.
Thides looks at the buildings, the tubes, the glass. Those things are here, and will be here.
Ms. Bear lets the ball bounce on the coffee stain, wags her tail.
Thides takes off the gloves, chases Ms. Bear. “Gah, I’m gonna get that ball girl.”
* * *
Screw it. I, Douglas Ogurek, am the author. I made up Val Woodson. Years ago, I aimed my BB gun at a bird, then pulled the trigger. A feather descended reproachfully.
Douglas J. Ogurek