about the author

Eleanor Levine’s writing has appeared in more than fifty publications, including Fiction, Evergreen Review, Fiction Southeast, Dos Passos Review, Hobart, Juked, Monkeybicycle, The Denver Quarterly, PANK, Atticus Review, The Toronto Quarterly, SRPR (Spoon River Poetry Review), Wigleaf, Heavy Feather Review, The Breakwater Review, Artemis, The Forward, (b)OINK, and BULL (Men’s Fiction); forthcoming work in Switchback and Willard and Maple. Levine’s poetry collection, Waitress at the Red Moon Pizzeria, was released in 2016 by Unsolicited Press (Davis, California).

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The Girl Without Makeup  

Eleanor Levine

The girl had a beautiful face, many people said, until she came out of the shower without makeup.

When one looks at a girl without makeup who normally covers her face, it is shocking, particularly before class begins.

Such was the case with Alexandra Q.

She was not an outstanding mind, though she did well in economics.

She met her husband at a frat party where Jewish men either married the women they didn’t sleep with or slept with the ones they didn’t marry.

Alexandra Q was the type who gets married, stays married, and takes her economics major to untethered levels.

It was particularly disturbing that Alexandra Q was a Jew bred on gefilte fish, and not even remotely accomplished like Jews who went to high school with me; there was no bounce in her feet; she was flat chested and not the least bit a skydiver of poontang or other exotic maneuvers of the mind.

At least my grandmother, Ida, may she rest in peace, cut her toenails in bed while peeling carrots. Some may not consider this an enviable skill, that is, multitasking in bed, but Grandma was capable of entertaining kids and grandkids and accomplishing much in her bed whereas most people merely sleep in theirs.

Alexandra Q stayed home, made macaroni and cheese, put said macaroni and cheese in a Tupperware container, and took it to class, where she ate in the biology lab because she was disgusted by odors in the college cafeteria.

Alexandra Q is the girl you see on the stairs whose work is more prized than her relationships with people, and will brag to you, “yes, I have housebroken my dog.” She is a brilliant person who can housebreak a dog in five minutes whereas most of us face the dilemma of a few months before doggy stops committing those salacious acts.

Alexandra is, without exception, the serial mom portrayed by Kathleen Turner who is insistent that the poor fucking puppy not shit in house. Don’t wear white after September, don’t defecate on my wooden floors. And God forbid the shag rug, you shit on, dear puppy, that might land you in Hades.

Alexandra Q, thus it came to pass, moved in with her husband in the suburbs.

They did not lead an extraordinary life.

They didn’t spend an enormous amount of money at Whole Foods.

She was still the girl who looked badly without makeup because she had worn makeup her entire life and would be like someone who stops eating donuts and no longer has a donut-like disposition or papier mâché face.

The girl with the not so beautiful face lived with her husband in a mansion on 8th Street that could have been a tree house or hiding space for the underground railroad during slavery times because there were many unopened compartments that weren’t opened unless you knew they were there.

Her husband was a prosperous dermatologist who, when he needed to make more money, would tell kids and their moms that to really prepare their epidermal layers for next week’s hurricane, they should get hormone injections; it would give their skin more resilience and prevent them from losing their faces in a storm that would devastate the coastline.

This might explain why, without makeup, his wife’s face became multi-layered; whereas her brother, Simon, had a remarkably normal face that did not have the streams or currents that afflicted her.

She was the rat for her husband’s dermatology experiments, which caused even more protrusions in her face.

Alexandra Q also provided the data that made his profits possible, though some parents had doubts.

“I’m still not certain why the hormone shots are necessary for the hurricanes,” one mother said to the dermatologist.

“Well,” he replied emphatically, “when wind blows ferociously against your face, the skin requires a heaviness for protection. Hence, the use of hormones, which makes the skin heavier, will combat this problem.”

“Are we expecting a hurricane?”

“Any day now,” he noted.

The beautiful girl’s husband, who had seen me during their fraternity days—me, always in the corner, watching Alexandra Q breathe and steal fruit from the cocktail drinks in the fraternity—suspected that I might have a crush on his wife. Thus, he had a security guard (and several members of the Elks Club [including an adolescent boy who removed the cherry from his daughter in a Corvette when she was fourteen]) residing at his 8th Street mansion.

Not on purpose, or perhaps on purpose, I frequently went by their house and spied to see if she was there. It was always on the way, no matter where I was going.

I did not pursue her because she was beautiful with makeup.

I simply wanted to sleep with her.

It’s like Formica—you know it’s a stupendous element in your kitchen and you want to kiss it—to touch and feel the cool, smooth ambiguous nature of it.

Finally, when the weather was freezing and the Hasidic Jews were not driving along 8th Street—they are bad drivers for the most part who think about God, not buses or pedestrians—it was Shabbat—I walked near her house.

I was dressed in black.

Not black face—that is verboten. Even on Halloween you wouldn’t want to be a basketball player who is black.

I tried to be Condeleeza Rice once but was warned that even a symbolic mask a white person uses for ironic purposes is not ironic or funny and while it is not tantamount to a lynching, it is deeply offensive. And Clarence Thomas, well, to order his mask on Amazon for Halloween, that would be like ordering anti-feminist and anti-Black legislation and paying for shipment.

And so in black, but not black face, I wandered over to her house.

I stared through the doors.

Unexpectedly I saw people gazing at me—the security guard and his Elks Club friends.

As I was dressed in black, it was impossible for them to recognize who I was or could have been in a different lifetime.

It’s not like I knew them, or they knew me, but they were clearly being paid by her husband the dermatologist to look for me.

However, I didn’t resemble me, and was clearly someone else—someone not the least bit impertinent—and they thought: Who is this? Doesn’t look like “HER.” Could it be her? I ran—that is, I took my feet, which were extended by my titanium knees and hip, and in the dark of night, where I was the only one resembling a Hasidic Jew—along 8th Street. Everyone could see my butt, which is large, but the butt, in the black of night, was black, so they could only tell the dermatologist, in an accurate and truthful way, “We saw black on black. We’re not 100 percent sure it was her.”

Last night I invaded their house again.

This time it was in Little Italy, NY, where I owe the mafia a lot of money: eight hundred dollars, to be exact, which has garnered interest over the years.

If the mafia catches me, and I don’t have this money, they will kill me.

Thus, knowing that the mafia would be reluctant to enter the dermatologist’s apartment in Little Italy on Centre Market Place, right behind the old police building where Toni Morrison (with Rastafarian hairdo) lives—and I did wave to her once—thousands of people have likely waved to her—I came upon the dermatologist’s New York apartment.

I had previously lived in his apartment, when it was not worth $5 million. Now it is worth $5 million, but despite my not living there—I could only afford eight hundred a month—I had mail addressed to me that still came to that address, which the current residents threw on the floor. It piled up, sometimes dated, with dead relatives’ handwriting appearing on unopened letters.

The new residents, who had furnished apartments with maligned paintings that would be repugnant to people who knew anything about art, were quite friendly.

There was only one indignant person present in the building last night, likely a good friend of the dermatologist and his wife, who was not enamored by my presence.

“What the hell are you doing here?” he asked in an Austrian accent. He had not seen me since we worked together in a bowling alley in Howell, New Jersey, and this seeing me, in such close proximity, nearly caused him cardiac problems.

“I’m looking for that girl who is married to the dermatologist,” I said aloud, so the elderly Italian ladies could hear me. They were busy preparing delicious pasta with ricotta cheese and homemade ravioli and there is no doubt that the gossip of my pursuing this woman, which was not looked upon well by the Austrian spy, added spice to their cooking sessions.

“But I used to live here,” I exclaimed.

“Not anymore,” the Austrian yelled.

“I’m still getting mail.”

“Please leave at once or I’ll call the police.”

He, the Austrian, was the kind of perpetual narcissist who’d act like your friend when you were picking up pins together in the bowling alley, but once the job was over, he would certainly not invite you to hang out with him and his wife for a coke at the bowling alley restaurant counter.

It was also rumored that he had a Jewish star painted in his toilet bowl, and that whenever he peed, he giggled in a vicious and anti-Semitic manner while urinating. This “pee on Jewish star in toilet” appeared in several documentaries that have since been removed from Netflix because the dermatologist is on the board of that company.

The Austrian kept a distance of several miles after work from me and other colleagues at the bowling alley because he believed that a worker was someone you could not avoid during working hours, and this meant you needn’t socialize with them afterward.

The bowling alley job was reminiscent of the time I had worked in a factory and was violent toward my coworkers. They nearly executed me and set me in concrete after the beating was over. There was a certain amount of redemption, but it was mostly that life was futile and I had to succumb to factory violence and a lack of superiority there.

The Austrian had gone on to better things: he had become the dermatologist’s spy.

He was hired while gossiping about me one day in the bowling alley restaurant.

“She is indefatigably the worst pin placer I’ve met. I’ve placed pins in Austria, Germany, and now New Jersey. It’s a mystery why  they employ her.”

The dermatologist, who had been sitting next to the Austrian, quietly contemplating my stalking that led to his wife’s reluctance to return damaged pantyhose to Macy’s—knowing full well I’d get a new bra and watch her return merchandise—was distressed by the current state of affairs.

“You know her?” he asked my fellow pin placer.

“Doesn’t everyone?” he replied in an Austrian accent with New Jersey nouns and adjectives.

“She’s been hounding my wife since college. We are beyond ourselves. Clueless.”

The Austrian was perplexed.

“What do you think I can do?”

“Prevent the stalking. Keep an eye on her. We have a place in New York where she has been getting her mail. Apparently, she used to live in our apartment before it was transformed from a rat-infested birthing spot to a multimillion dollar condo. Just behind the old police building...”

“You mean the old police building where Richard Gere lived with Cindy Crawford?”

“Yes, and where Toni Morrison still lives. Her Nobel Prize in Literature has skyrocketed the real estate prices. Ain’t that amazing?”

“Not as amazing as her hair,” the Austrian laughed.

The juggernaut was that the Austrian confronted me while I was eating spaghetti in a Little Italy restaurant, which was infamous for smelling like pee.

“You need to stop bothering the girl,” the Austrian yelled, while several felines climbed over my table.

“And what are you going to do about it?”

“We are going to lock you in a Manhattan solitary confinement cell,” he replied.


“Waiter,” he shouted at the man who was serving me pasta, “please remove this woman.” The FBI had recently taken over this eating establishment so I was handcuffed and told that if I ever went near the girl with the beautiful face with makeup and/or her apartment or 8th Street mansion, I would, indeed, be locked in solitary confinement in Riker’s Island. The FBI man gave me a bus ticket and I returned home.

Since then I have not seen the dermatologist, the Austrian or the girl with the beautiful face with makeup.

I’ve heard that they deny that I exist, sort of like Christmas never happened, though there are still people who celebrate with trees.

I’ve tried to confine my mind to where I work and ensure that there is a certain grace to falling bowling pins in Howell, NJ.

The Austrian no longer works with us and has been hired by the dermatologist to extort mothers who refuse to give their children hormone shots.

“It’s not extortion,” the Austrian told the local newspaper, “the mothers are merely negligent and we need to prepare everyone for the next hurricane.”

I imagine that the girl with the beautiful face, when she wears makeup, is wearing even more makeup than she did in college. Though some might consider this surface beauty, I still believe in the ambiguous nature of her refinement.

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