Blanche knocks over her makeup case and an eyebrow pencil rolls out. Or, what’s left of it, a red stub barely longer than its matching cap, with a black tip inside. She swiped it from her parents’ dresser twenty years ago, after Momma killed herself. Each time Blanche buys a new beauty case, the first thing she transfers from the old one is this little red pencil. She pushes it down to the bottom, where no one else can see it.
Back then, when no one knew anyone who went to a salon to do their eyebrows, Blanche’s mother used to pencil in her brows twice a day. She would lean in towards the bathroom mirror, her rounded stomach pushed up against the sink, her head tilted down, to see past her glasses. Jet black curves, standing out against Momma’s deep brown skin. Twice a day, morning and night.
“Why do you draw your eyebrows before going to bed?” Blanche asked her mother one night. She stood close to her, watching their reflections in the mirror, so close that Momma’s elbow brushed the top of Blanche’s braids.
“Because I want to be beautiful in my sleep” Momma replied. “What would happen if I had an important dream and didn’t have my eyebrows on, hmm?” Blanche nodded solemnly at the thought, leaning her ear against her mother’s hip and listening for signs of life inside her belly. Did the baby inside already know how to talk?
After the new baby grew into a beautiful little girl and then died, Momma sometimes forgot to pencil in her brows, leaving the delicate arcs over her huge, black eyes exposed. Blanche would look down, embarrassed by the sight of her mother’s grief, undressed.
Momma’s face was bare when they pulled her out of the water. In the last moments alone with her body, Blanche took the brow pencil out of her pocket and drew.
Blanche picks up the stub, now, holds it flat against her cheek, then rolls it against the side of her growing belly. Then she shoves it back into the makeup case, where no one else can see it.