The Dead Live Longer

My dead ex-friend had a beautiful, long neck

Rainen Knecht, Joanna and Bobbie. 2017, oil on canvas. 20 × 16". Courtesy of the artist, Fisher Parrish Gallery, and Fourteen30 Contemporary, Portland.

My dead ex-friend had a long neck, a small head balanced on it. Her head bobbled when she danced, perched on her long neck—she might be willowy. A moon-crazed, intelligent, vain, sensitive, insecure woman, she was brought into life by a mean woman, a woman who terrified her little girl, and who became a miserly, scared widow when my dead ex-friend was 17, and who told her all her life: “Don’t ever leave the house without your makeup, no matter what.” My dead ex-friend always wore makeup to look at least presentable, even beautiful. It took her about an extra hour every day, before she could leave the house, and she was often late while perfecting her composition, a face to the world.

My friend’s beauty was a question to her, and to me. I could not see her face as it was, or maybe ever see her, and then there was who she was and became. Before I met her, she told me, she had very large breasts. She told me they had bulged and hung from her chest, below her long, swanlike neck; and below her breasts she was lithe and thin. Her breasts weighed her down from her shoulders, they made her look freakish, she told me, and her mother thought so also, I’m positive she did, because whatever her mother thought about my friend’s looks, my friend believed. She hated her mother.

Before we met, her breasts had been reduced, and during the surgery one nipple flipped, it turned in rather than out and could have been fixed. Her surgeon said he’d do it for free, but she never bothered, if it was a bother. She often mentioned it. I believe she came to admire her inverted nipple, an example of her specialness. People like to imagine their specialness.

Beneath her breasts, a wide, red-purple scar ran, a one-inch-wide scar. For a long time she didn’t tell me about her surgery, even when she had told me too much. The scar’s origin mystified me, and I didn’t ask about it. Maybe she’d tried to kill herself or, in a mad fit, sliced off her breasts.

She made up her face religiously, religiously is correct, though she wasn’t a believer; she might be considered a ritualist. She performed her ritual daily without hope, only devotion to her face’s transformation, her duty or assignment to cover any errors or flaws that might detract from her plausible or implausible beauty. In the late morning, unless she was sick, she applied beauty products, sometimes taking two or more hours in the bathroom, and if the application went wrong, her hand unsteady, the mistakes took more time to remove and make right.

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