She approached the bus stop on 23rd and Burnside with a frantic energy that caught me off guard. I was in the process of checking the next arrival time on my phone as she began asking each person waiting there if we knew when it would come, so I did not yet have an answer for her when she came around to me. Her appearance so baffled me that I failed to pay attention to what the programmed voice had to say anyway and I gave up trying again in order to watch her next move. She was well dressed all in black with a gaudy yet somehow elegant looking necklace, but her face was, well, completely smeared with bright red lipstick and there was a wild look in her eyes. I tried not to stare as she sat down on the small bench, pulled out a handheld mirror bigger than her head and proceeded to reapply her bright lipstick, likely a shade with a name such as “Certainly Red” or “Cheery Apple." It seemed strange that while looking in her gigantic mirror she failed to notice that it was already covering not only her lips, but her whole face. I’ve never seen someone apply makeup quite that liberally. With each swipe of the tube her tongue followed unconsciously, spreading the lines of red well beyond the reach of her small lips. She swiped the top, her tongue followed. She swiped the bottom, her tongue followed again. All the while her wide eyes watched in the mirror and she continued the swiping as if her tongue was a detached part of herself that she could not control but yet could not help but chase in circles. I was reminded of how my nanny’s dog Annabel used to chase her tail in circles down at the river that bordered the farm. Every several rounds her right hand would point the lipstick down so she could pass her dark sleeve along the bottom of her lower lip in a brisk attempt to clean up after herself.
And then came the lip gloss. The process continued: swipe, tongue, swipe, tongue, sleeve, swipe, tongue…until finally Bus #20 pulled up and interrupted this strange cycle. I felt guiltily relieved to be freed from my spectatorship, but then she sat down two seats ahead of me and that ridiculous mirror came right back out. This time I had a different view, the reflection of her face in the mirror, and my fascination did not wane despite our new surroundings. After watching her same frantic application for several more stops I began to look around the bus to see if anyone else was aware of her strange behavior. Across the aisle from me a young man, probably about my age, smiled slyly and I knew he was watching too. We turned our attention back to her and after a few minutes he got up to get off the bus and whispered “It’s so terrible but I can’t seem to look away!” At the next stop the mirror, lipstick, and gloss were shoved hurriedly into her bag and the woman frantically exited through the back door, face aglow with smears of “Certainly Cheery Red Apple.” I wondered where she was headed with such intent.