~This piece was originally published in slightly different form in Midwestern Gothic (2012).
So this was what it was. Champagne gold read the label on the box. Anne Marie looked at the silver-colored pot in her hand, its contents like a dessert, a blondish mousse in a miniature ramekin. Against the lip of the pot’s smooth white insides the champagne gold seemed dark, but impossibly pale for its intent.
Was her face champagne gold? Champagne gold where it wasn’t port wine?
Fifteen minutes ago her mother had returned from shopping in Traverse City. Among the bags she brought home was a tiny unmarked vellum one in which was nestled a tinier box (in which, Anne Marie knew now, had been nestled the still tinier pot of this mousse-like makeup).
"I found it at Macy’s," her mother told her.
Anne Marie had smiled and said thank you and asked if she should wait until tomorrow to open it.
"No. It’s not a birthday present. But listen, Anne Marie, don’t be mad."
And Anne Marie had wondered what she meant. The package looked like it could hold a pair of earrings, or a lip balm, maybe.
"Don’t be mad," her mother said again. "It’s just…I saw it, okay? I ran across it. And I thought of you. You’ll be thirty-nine tomorrow, honey. I mean, thirty-nine. That’s almost middle-aged."
Maybe not a lip balm, but earrings, perhaps, or a brooch.
"It’s not a birthday present. It’s just that it seemed…it seemed time. All right? Now I’m going out again for a bit."
When her mother gathered up her things to leave, Anne Marie had the sense she was being given privacy. She’d need the whole house to herself, apparently, to open the tiny package—and then she’d wondered, panic traveling up from the middle of her chest, what kind of sex thing could be so small. Was her mother giving her a filthy toy? Or birth control? Oh Lord, it made sense: "Don’t be mad," "You’ll be thirty-nine tomorrow," "It seemed time."
"No, Mom!" Anne Marie had shouted.
"Don’t be mad. I’ll be back in a couple of hours," her mother said, and shut the door behind her.