“Don’t mind Ruth over here, she can’t stay out too late or she’ll miss her window for putting on her old bitch cream.” Ruth was what he derogatorily called Emily when he wanted to mock her for being too “old” to want to stay out into the small hours of the morning. She refrained from informing him that he simply could have called her by her actual name as a means of referring to that other stick in the mud, Emily Dickinson. He wouldn’t have gotten it. He never got much of anything, other than a hard-on for verbally abusing her. She couldn’t exactly pinpoint when this crux of their relationship sinisterly crept in. Was it after the six-month mark, the nine-month mark? She couldn’t remember anymore. It was so normalized now that it would be almost impossible to recall a time when he didn’t berate her in some way for being a paltry one year older than he was.
Though she supposed a year is a rather large difference between a boy at twenty-four and a girl at twenty-five, she couldn’t reason away his cruelty (the dick wasn’t good enough to do that). Already widely known that the male maturity level pales in comparison to femme one, the disadvantage of being the “older” woman in the relationship was starting to take its toll. She didn’t initially view him as someone who needed to be cosseted on a constant basis, but gradually, his infant nature couldn’t be concealed by the facade created by what’s damningly called the honeymoon phase. Perhaps this is why he so often felt inclined to lash out at her with the irascibility of a toddler. The petulance of a teething dog.
His mood swings were an unfortunate bane that came at a time when she was starting to notice her first eye and forehead wrinkles. She knew that they would come sooner rather than later, based on the looks of her mother and grandmother of photos when they were “younger,” appearing closer to forty than thirty when they were both in their late twenties. Maybe it was a result of her unfortunate Irish and Scottish “stock.” Populations notorious for red, easily chafed skin. The myth of the porcelain china doll put forth by Saoirse Ronan was not something that applied in any way to Emily, looking more like an aging Maureen O’Hara than a young Maureen O’Sullivan. The last thing she needed (or could tolerate) was the berating “sense of humor” her boyfriend wielded against her in front of their peers. She laughed it off as best as she could, even let it bully her into staying out later when all she wanted to do was go home, wash her makeup off and plaster her face with her latest round of cream.
Her research on the best options was endless and ongoing, usually leading her to try out a new brand in concert with another one. What they all seemed to have in common was the sort of “resigned to happiness” expression the females touting it possessed. She could never understand why middle-aged women in face cream ads seemed to look so fucking blissed out as they applied the concoction (well, either that, or as though they were having some sort of existential crisis). Were they simply on the right dosage of antidepressants and alcohol? Or had they intuited the secret to the acceptance of their new “look” in this age bracket called “irrelevant” and “sexual pariah.” Though she was still a long way from her thirties, she lived in constant fear of it, as though the ticking of the clock counting down to this decade signaled a certain failure if she did not achieve all she needed to, all she was expected to. Who was expecting anything, exactly? Well, her parents, of course. Society. So-called friends that had subversively instituted a “healthy” and undercutting competition between them to see who could make the highest salary first while, at the same time, who could saddle themselves with a domestic situation second (for career came first in this century labeled as “progressive,” which led Emily to ask herself if maybe housewives had been onto something all along. She could’ve been the perfect deadbeat stay-at-home mom, cleaning dishes so that they still looked dirty so as to still find time for her art while the kids were away at school learning to pledge allegiance to state and conformity).
Emily wasn’t in a great place in the “game” so far, miserable at her job as a junior copy editor at Random House, an institution evermore breaking into pieces and subsidiaries awash in the supposed grandeur of “The Big Five.” She had only wanted to work there in the hope of one day being able to submit her own novel to them with the benefit of preferential treatment. For she knew that by the time she ever finished one, she would have likely advanced to the stage of being a senior editor, hell, maybe even president of the whole operation–that’s how much she was digging her heels in about starting a manuscript. In many ways, she didn’t feel she had the right. What sort of life had she really lived? A trip to Hawaii at ten hardly counts as having seen much of the world (Hawaii, after all, is such a middle-class vacation to anyone living in California).
Pondering what subject she could possibly tackle in any book she might write, she stared blankly in the mirror as she rotely slathered on the cream, paying extra attention to rubbing it into her forehead and the areas where the dreaded crow’s feet would form. As she did so, she detected an unusual odor emanating from the container, and now, her hands. Upon closer inspection, she could see that some other ingredient had very clearly been mixed in. Something clear and filmy, with a tint of red-purple to it. Mucous-like almost.
When she emerged from the bathroom, she could see her boyfriend sitting on the couch pretending to be unaware of her as he played video games with two of his other friends, in addition to his brother. Dressed in her robe and with a towel on her head, she stood imposingly until finally, he and his gaggle were forced to look at her. He burst out laughing before she could even ask, “Did you put something in my face cream?”
Stifling his childish giggles, he corrected, “You mean your old bitch cream?”
“Yeah, sure. My ‘old bitch’ cream.”
“Um, no. No. Just maybe, like, a little bit of placenta.” At this, he and his goons all proceeded to laugh uproariously, as though they had just gotten away with a highly elaborate military coup. Emily didn’t need to ask where the placenta came from. He was doing his residency at a hospital that would easily furnish him with a supply of any human fluid he could ever want.
She said nothing to them as she stoically entered their bedroom, drowning out the sound of their ridicule over her struggle with shifts in the feminine aesthetic by playing a record. It was a bit of an “old bitch” move.
The next morning, she awoke to find herself looking as though she was ten years younger. She couldn’t believe it as she gazed in awe of herself in the mirror, at last looking more on the Saoirse Ronan side of Irish. Touching her face, stroking it with the same care as one does a newborn, she glanced over at her stirring boyfriend, who had to rub his eyes several times to finally process it was her.
“Holy shit. What happened to you?”
She beamed at herself. “Well. I guess you did.”
She might have relinquished her boyfriend, set him free to abuse another unsuspecting victim, but never let go of his anti-aging tip. One that he was so convinced would be a preposterous prank as opposed to her precious panacea. The one that made it so she wouldn’t have to settle for any “old” dastard so quickly, or maybe ever again, now that she had the illusion of youth–of all these years ahead of her–on her side.