Bran patted the cushioned seat in front of her elegant vanity and Lucy hopped onto it and handed her the brush. She gazed at Bran’s made up face behind her as reflected in the mirror, admiring her bright red lipstick, dramatic eyeliner, and the creamy foundation that now settled into her wrinkles. Despite her advancing age, Bran was a classically beautiful woman with expressive eyebrows (even if they were mainly painted on), and a long, swan-like neck that still looked so stunning in profile. She commanded attention when she stepped into a room, from women and men, even much younger men. In Lucy’s estimation, her grandmother was the height of sophistication and worldliness, a glowing font of wisdom, and source of all good things, most especially the slightly verboten things she knew would meet with her parents’ disapproval. That Bran shared these things with her granddaughter—how to make a perfect cocktail, or how to light a cigarette in her own mouth and then place it in Bran’s for her when her nail polish was still drying—was their little secret.
Bran spoke without moving her teeth, which she clinched tightly together to hold the hairpins; she gathered Lucy’s shiny ebony hair in her left hand, drawing the brush through it in long strokes with the right. “Hold still, darling: Bran’s hands are a little shaky, and you are a moving target.” She spoke with the most intoxicating dialect, a collision of Southern Appalachian and Manhattan-ese. But whenever she returned south for a visit, the city in her became almost indecipherable. These days her voice had taken on the patina of a lifetime of cigarettes and Scotch, which gave it a chesty, sultry quality. Lucy would always remember that voice, long after Bran was gone.
But now Lucy was giggling at the notion of herself as moving target, sitting as still as a fidgety, skinny twelve-year-old person could. The facets in her grandmother’s bejeweled earrings caught the light and Lucy’s eye in the mirror. Now Bran was applying the pins that would anchor the twist, working quickly from Lucy’s delicate neck up the back of her small head. “Push against my hand with your head, darling; there’s a good girl.” Lucy surveyed the contents of her grandmother’s vanity laid out before her, the half-empty bottles of perfume lined up on the mirrored tray, little pots of makeup and brushes, fingernail polish in assorted hues of red, and the tiny blown glass animal collection that had so enchanted her for as long as she could remember.
The twist pinned in place to her satisfaction, Bran reached for the hairspray Lucy held in her outstretched hand. Lucy cupped her hands over her face while her grandmother sprayed and then brushed the loose wisps of hair into place, spraying again in a few small bursts and then patting down the last few unruly locks with her hands.
“Ta-Dah!” Lucy uncovered her face and smiled. “You look gorgeous. Would you like a little color in your cheeks and lips?” Lucy nodded enthusiastically, even though she had to stay in tonight to watch her little brother—all dressed up with no place to go, she lamented silently to herself. Her grandmother would apply the lipstick and then hand her a tissue to blot it; then she would dab a small amount directly onto her middle finger, dot it onto Lucy’s cheeks, and blend it into her baby-soft skin.
“Choose a color befitting a princess.” Lucy reached out her hand for the same color Bran had earlier applied to her own lips, but clumsily knocked it over and in her frantic effort to catch it before it rolled to the floor, narrowly missed the small framed photo Bran kept on her vanity, a yellowing image of a house at the top of a tall bluff, with acres of daffodils cascading down the hill to a serpentine river below it.