On the day of her release from the looney bin, Dawn waited on the hospital’s circular driveway, blinking in the sunlight until Tonya’s minivan appeared, and off they went to get eyelash extensions. Tonya said it would cheer Dawn up to look in a mirror through a curtain of eyelashes that would make her look like a robotic doll or a cartoon deer. Anyway, it would be an adventure – something to take Dawn’s mind off her divorce and all of the reasons for it, whose names were Rebecca, Shannon, and Jennifer.
Being a good friend, Tonya didn’t repeat her earlier advice about how Dawn might want to lose twenty pounds, as if the extra weight had caused Morty to stray, over and over again until, after fifteen years of marriage and many hours of couples’ counseling, he left her, at 45, without the baby she had always wanted. “These things will give you a new lease on life,” Tonya said, steering the minivan into a shopping center. “The men are going to follow you around like a pack of orphaned puppies.”
It was after five o’ clock. The nail salon was dark. An elderly woman with an apologetic smile and an unfamiliar accent unlocked the door for Dawn. Tonya waved good-bye, saying she had to pick up her kids, but Dawn could text her for a pickup. Inside, the woman introduced herself as “Kimberly.” She led Dawn down a murky hallway lined with plastic orchids, to an even darker room containing a massage table and an interrogation lamp.
“I do three types,” Kimberly said, “natural, thick, or extra length. Which one you like?”
Her voice had a whispery, stroking quality to it, as if she might be a Red Cross nurse on a mercy mission. Tonya had no doubt spilled the beans about her pitiful sweet friend who was going through a divorce.
Dawn wrapped her right hand around her left wrist, which was still bandaged from where she had sawed it with a steak knife. Hence the two-week stay in the looney bin and the bottle of anti-depressants in her purse. “Extra length,” she said, thinking once again about Morty’s many shortcomings.
She lay down on the paper-covered table, embarrassed by her body’s mildly funky odor. Her skin seemed to be decomposing. The spotlight blinded her. “So beautiful,” Kimberly said, cupping her soft hands around Dawn’s face. Kimberly’s breath smelled like fish oil and peppermint.
Dawn wanted to ask about Kimberly’s real name and her country of origin, but she thought that might be rude, and she was exhausted. “You are, too,” she said, closing her eyes. “Thank you for doing this after hours.” She would need to leave Tonya’s friend a big tip.
The room had a mossy warmth to it, and as Kimberly smoothed Dawn’s hair off her face, sleep tugged irresistibly, at least until her eyes were peeled back and taped open.
“Don’t jerk your head,” Kimberly said. “Tweezers are sharp.”
Dawn’s eyes were already burning from not being able to blink. Kimberly adjusted the tape. Her hands were shaking. “I’ve never done this before,” Dawn said. “I’m so excited.”
“I glue each eyelash, one by one,” Kimberly said. “Maybe half an hour.”
A clock ticked loudly by Dawn’s head. The tweezers pinched and pinched and pinched. Tears rolled down her cheeks, into her ears, soaking her hair. Would she be blinded by super-glue or stabbed in the retina? These were outcomes Dawn had not contemplated in advance. Tonya had said only that it would make Dawn feel gorgeous and desirable, like an underwear model wearing angel wings. Tonya hadn’t said a word about pain. She had delivered all three of her kids without drugs.
An hour passed. Kimberly was still tweezing on the same side as when she started. Dawn thought about excusing herself, claiming a headache perhaps, but she didn’t want to walk around with one doll eye and one human eye. Also, she couldn’t stand to hurt Kimberly’s feelings. She needed to finish what she had started. Still, despite her best efforts to lie quietly with her eyes taped open, she cried out.
Kimberly’s hands went still. “You can open eyes?” she said. “Eyes not stuck?”
“Ha ha,” Dawn said. “I can’t close them.” The pain of her marriage had also dragged on, becoming unbearable. In the end, it was Morty, surprisingly, who had called it quits. Dawn had never given up on the idea of having a family.
Another hour passed. She fell asleep or maybe passed out with her eyes open, like a dead person. When she came to, careful not to jerk her head, Kimberly was whispering to herself. “I’m older now.” The O sound in “older” was dragged out and faint, like the distant wail of a train. “Thought I could do it, but my hands are not strong.”
“You’re doing just fine,” Dawn said, gripping the edges of the table.
“All the time I’m little they say, work, work, please the man, do this, do that.” Kimberly hadn’t seemed to hear Dawn. “Now I’m old, can’t do things, need time for myself, need time for pray.”
Finally, the tape was ripped from Dawn’s eyes. She was handed a heart-shaped mirror. Through the hazy black shroud of her eyelashes, everything looked red. Her eyes were bloody. She used voice-to-text to summon Tonya. She groped in her purse for cash.
“Put back,” Kimberly said, pushing Dawn’s wrist. “No charge.”
“Oh, please.” Dawn struggled to keep her eyes open. Her smile trembled. “Don’t do that to yourself.”
Kimberly shook her head. “You really suffer.” The word “really” had an echo to it. “The suffering time is over.”
On her porch, after Tonya drove off with an upbeat tap on the horn, Dawn unlocked the front door. Even through the fake eyelashes, she could tell that all of Morty’s things were gone. The house was empty. It smelled clean.
Ginger Pinholster’s current novel, Seeing Gethin, a love story about mental illness and stigma, has been coming along nicely. She has published with Blackheart, Northern Virginia Review, Atticus Review, and Boomtown. A graduate of the M.F.A. program at the Queens University of Charlotte, she works in science communication and education.