He applies the makeup himself: a video of him drawing the outlines of where the black foundation shall go shows the long sweeps he makes—up and over the contours of his cheekbones, over the tops of tightly shut eyelids. The patterns have gotten more elaborate as he has gotten older: earlier days included a squirt of gold face paint into cracked palms, a washing of sparkle over splotched skin chaffed red from too many drinks, or too many headlocks. Now, there are angles that you’ve never seen: the flaring of nostrils, the erasing of eyebrows, the caking of neck until beard stubble cannot push through the gold like an unwanted dandelion. I cannot do this on my own. My hands do not turn the right way: they grow tired from their own mechanics; they cannot hold anything worth holding. Every finger I have is broken except for the thumbs: only spared by my clumsiness—a misjudged football, a slip on the ice braced for every way but correctly. As you sit on the coffee table in a blonde wig, you paint circles around my eyes—we start with the gold first, my head shaved for the artifice: of the makeup being soaked up by the dryness in my cheeks. You are concerned that this will be inauthentic: that the colors will smudge together—that there will be no way to tell the difference between the gold and the black, that it will combine to a sparkly mud of nothing—a bronze instead of a gold, a dullness less bizarre, a second-loser instead of something victorious. The man beneath the makeup spoke only in quotes—of famous starlets and dashing leads, of always being ready for one’s closeup. You are the only one I allow to look me in the eye—the rest of the time I keep my nose to the ground, I look toward the sky as if I have forgotten everything I’ve ever wanted to say & I am active in the mystique of remembering. That all I can remember is my name & even then I am uncertain in how it sprawls out from underneath my tongue—that I used to speak with perfect diction, that I would never stutter, or stumble, or fear that a syllable would get caught and echo back down my throat and into my lungs. I too, speak in quotations: of things I have said before, of forgetting to tell you about fears, about deaths and marriages. Instead, I tell you about my day over and over again—of things I once said, of overheard nothings, of things you have told me that I have already told. You know nothing about wrestling—about how men much larger than me fly through the air, how it is all choreographed, how you know that no one actually gets hurt, but you do not know about how everything hurts. You ask me who I am being, again—of gold paint and leotards, of being someone so grandiose yet so inconsequential: we are playing pretend, we are make-believing. You ask who you are supposed to be: the lovely accompaniment, the director, the producer, the woman in lamé, the name you forget because it means nothing; another character, a small bit-role in a story that has no end—a constant revolution of characters coming and going; of losing one’s way, of giving up the gold ghost, of acknowledging that all of this is false. We all know how the story ends: of redemption, of putting the makeup back on, of slithering over feathers, of remembering that some things are worth remembering and other things are worth repeating. You go back over the parts of my face that wish to remain uncovered—the dark concealer fading as it absorbs into my skin, as if I am trying to fight the cover up. I tell you to mind my lips, to make sure my jaw is covered, that I look as real as possible. We buy a cigar from the corner store to complete your outfit. You buy a dress that you will never wear again. You do this because you know this is important to me: to be mistaken for someone who wakes up in hotel rooms states away, who has brothers, daughters, who pretends to be hurt when he is not hurt. We will play the parts that neither of us are born to play. We will never break character: we will pose with strangers; we will drink gin through straws so we do not ruin the lipstick. We will return home, smoky and exhausted, a black smudge on your cheek. You will help me wash the paint off from behind my ears—I will spit black and gold when your head is turned. We will go to bed with our hair wet. We will wake up the next morning, and the next morning, and the next morning. I will remember your name each and every time. I will not forget my lines.
Brian Oliu is originally from New Jersey and currently teaches at the University of Alabama. He is the author of So You Know It’s Me (Tiny Hardcore Press, 2011), a series of Craigslist Missed Connections; Leave Luck to Heaven (Uncanny Valley Press, 2014), an ode to 8-bit video games; and i/o (Civil Coping Mechanisms, 2015), a memoir in the form of a computer virus. His works in progress deal with professional wrestling, long-distance running, and NBA Jam (not all at once).
Lead image: “Cigar” (via Flickr user madamepsychosis)