Laid out Lovely by Grant Gillespie

Sally had a natural born gift. Her mother told her so:

‘You’ve got a natural born gift, Sal,’ she said. ‘I’ve got it too, and your Gran and my Gran. All the women in our family have it.’

Sally trained as a beautician and she loved her work. The mainstay of her business was hair and make-up for those one-off, special occasions. This meant that, instead of having the same set of customers, she had a huge variety. There was also a certain amount of pressure, which she liked, because there was a lot resting on her customers looking their best.

Today’s client was a woman in her mid-to-late sixties.

‘Hello, I’m Sally. What’s your name?’ Sally asked her. She always started off polite, till she’d gauged the situation.

‘Ruth…’

Sally nodded.

‘Did you hear me?’ Ruth asked.

‘Yes, Ruth,’ Sally said. ‘Clear as day.’

‘Oh, that’s good. No other bugger seems to be able to.’

Sally smiled. This was going to be fun.

‘Well, it’s a big day today,’ Sally said. ‘I suppose everyone’s got a lot to organize.’

‘Stuff and nonsense! My lot couldn’t organise a fuck in a brothel!’

‘Ha, is that right?’ Sally said, a little shocked. ‘Well, we forget about them for the time being, you’re with me now, for a bit, Ruth. You can just relax and we’ll have a good old natter… I love your frock, by the way.’

‘Thanks, charity shop’s finest.’

‘You’d never know… Emerald green! Dramatic… but different.’

‘That’s me, love,’ Ruth tittered.

‘Now, I’ve got this photograph of you here. This is how you want to look today, is it? Because, if you ask me, I think you went a bit overboard on the foundation. I always say, with a redhead – less foundation is definitely more. And these pink-based tones are a real no-no. Don’t be offended Ruth, but it makes you look like a farmer’s wife.’

‘Couldn’t agree more, love. It’s how my uptight daughter likes it,’ Ruth told her, before confiding, in a stage whisper, ‘She’s a bit brash, you know?’

‘Well, let’s ignore her for once, shall we?’

‘Yes, duckie, let’s.’

‘I’m thinking we don’t hide your freckles. They’re lovely.’

‘Do you think so?’

‘I do.’

Sally removed a selection of foundation bottles and moisturiser jars from her make-up case, and perused them like a painter.

‘The purpose of foundation,’ she explained, ‘isn’t to change your skin tone – it’s just to even it out. For you… I think this one,’ she said selecting a bottle. ‘Sheer. I’m just going to blend, blend… There, you see…’ Sally said, applying the beige liquid with her fingertips, and spreading it out in gentle circular movements, ‘that looks lovely, lovely….’

‘Ooh, that does feelsnice,’ Ruth cooed. ‘You know, I think I am starting to relax.’

Ruth smiled.

‘I see you haven’t got any sunspots, that’s quite unusual for a woman of…’

‘You can say it – my age. I know. I’ve never sat out in the sun. Never been one for them foreign holidays either. But my daughter is a different breed; she’s always chasing the rays. I tell her she’s tanorexic. And she’s pale like me. She doesn’t go brown… she goes orange, like a Cheesy Wotsit.’

Sally laughed.

‘I never thought,’ Ruth continued, warming to her theme, ‘she’d bag a husband being that colour. But she has now, thank God. I told her: “I hope you stop all them sun-bed sessions once you’ve got that ring on your finger. Otherwise, mark my words, when you get to my age, you’ll be so leathery your Andy’ll be mistaking you for a chair.”’

Sally giggled her approval and then, ever the professional, returned to the task in hand.

‘Now, as far as eyes go… most people would recommend neutral tones, but I don’t see why we need to be conservative.’

‘Why start now, I say?’

Sally carefully returned her foundation bottles to the case and then laid out a selection of eye shadows: gold, honey, russet and, her own favourite, terra cotta.

‘Are you married Ruth?’ she asked.

‘For my sins… thirty-six years it’ll be, this October.’

‘That’s great. Well done you! Now, Ruth, I’m going to try out the terra cotta for your eyes,’ Sally advised her.

‘Do what you like, I’ve got the feeling I’m in safe hands here love.’

‘Thanks, that’s a nice thing to say, Ruth. That means a lot,’ Sally beamed. ‘Where’s your husband now?’

‘In the church, I imagine,’ Ruth tutted, ‘doing final checks. He gets very nervy… bless him. He’ll be here to collect me, early, you just watch.’

‘What’s he called?’

‘Well, his real name is Fred, but I think that’s dead boring, so I call him Carluccio, like them fancy restaurants.’

‘That’s hilarious,’ Sally told her.

‘It’s where the reception is later! I insisted.’

‘Good on you.’

‘Well you’ve got to have a laugh, haven’t you?’

‘True,’ Sally agreed. ‘There… eyelids of smoky-red, very sexy,’ she said, standing back to admire her handiwork. ‘Carluccio’ll like that!’

‘He’d better!’

‘I’m going to use an eyeliner pencil… a brown-black…’ Sally said, selecting her tool, like a surgeon, ‘to give a bit of definition and we do need to fatten up those skimpy lashes.’

‘Oh love,’ Ruth groaned. ‘I tell you, my lashes are the only skimpy part left.’

‘Shut up,’ Sally told her. ‘You’ve a lovely figure.’

‘For a Sumo.’

‘No, you’re full bodied, like a good wine.’

‘You charmer! Carry on, I like it.’

‘I’m using a blue-based red for your lips, Ruth.’

‘You mean my cat’s bum mouth. I should never have smoked. But sod it. I love a ciggie. I’d die for one now.’

As a reformed smoker Sally ignored this comment.

‘I don’t need to do anything with your hair, Ruth, except brush it and spray some firm-hold on. It’s lovely. The best thing about being a redhead is you don’t go grey, just sandy then white.’

‘Yes, love, that’s true, but I’m all white. This is dyed.’

‘I didn’t want to assume.’

‘No, don’t assume… it makes an ass of u and me.’

Sally chuckled.

‘Don’t laugh. It’s a crap joke,’ Ruth told her, brusquely, then she mellowed again as the teeth of the brush massaged her scalp. ‘Oh, that feels wonderful. I love having my hair brushed.’

‘We’re nearly finished,’ Sally said, stepping back again to inspect the transformation. ‘Now don’t freak out, Ruth, but I am going to apply just a little bronzer,’ she said preparing a brush, ‘but just to your T-zone. It’ll give you that post sex glow!’

‘I should have that already, love!’

‘Oh yeah?’

‘Yes, Sally. That’s how I died…’ Ruth told her with a guffaw, ‘while I was getting laid!’

Sally’s finger froze on the woman’s forehead.

‘So, Ruth’ she said softly, ‘you do know that you’re dead then?’

‘Of course I do, love. It’s pretty obvious isn’t it?’

‘Well I knew, but some of you don’t.’

‘Oh, I knew straight off. I was having an orgasm, only the second of my life… then my brain went very hot and that was me, out like a light.’

‘Lucky you!’ Sally was relieved. She hated explaining to a person that they had passed. Most of them refused to believe it, and either became hysterical or furious. ‘Your husband must have had a shock. You dying like that.’

‘He did, Sally, but not in that way…’

‘What do you mean?’

‘Well I wasn’t having sex with him! Haven’t let old Carluccio near me for years. It was my daughter’s fiancée… fat Andy.’

‘Oh God! Ruth!’

‘I know!’

‘And was it worth it?’

‘Oh yes, love. Best lay of my life, I tell you.’

‘That’s good to hear.’

Sally sighed. Her job done, she began packing away her equipment.

‘Okay Ruth, you’re finished. Time for you to go to church. Are you ready?’

‘As I’ll ever be, duckie. How do I look?’

Sally grinned.

‘You’re laid out lovely!’

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