by Lee Murray
by Lee Murray
The make-up girl has a silver nose ring and hair streaked psychedelic orange.
‘Almost done,’ the girl says, puffing his face with powder. She has bony knuckles like cauliflower stalks. Holding his breath, Adam wills himself not to fidget as she deals to the fresh eruption of zits on his forehead. Right now, a few spots are the least of his worries.
‘There, that’s put some colour in your cheeks.’
Adam opens his eyes, stares at the mirror, and doesn’t say anything. Even with the powder, he’s as pale as Colgate. There’s fuzz on his chin and dark bags under his eyes. He looks like a druggie, a metal-head on a bender.
The Powder Puff girl selects a lipstick from a tray which, held vertically, could be a Connect Four player board.
With a practised twist, she pushes up the tube.
‘Pucker up, now,’ she coaxes. ‘Give me your sexiest pout, the one the girls love.’ But Adam clamps his mouth shut, pursing his lips in a thin line, and shakes his head. No lipstick. This isn’t an audition for American Idol.
‘But...’ The Powder Puff girl puts on a pout of her own.
‘No!’ he says, with more vehemence than is warranted.
The girl shrugs, rolls her eyes. ‘Whatever.’ She packs up her Connect Four box and leaves him there.
‘One minute, people!’ the floor manager screams. Through the scramble of movement, Adam is aware of Dad, shuffling about on the spot off to the side of the make-shift set, a man out of his comfort zone. Six days a week, Dad’s natural habitat is Creighton Cars, the yard that he runs. On Sundays he mows the lawns, then slumps in front of the telly, cold beer in hand, watching whatever sport happens to be on.
Adam notices that Dad’s tugging his earlobe again. Dad always does that when he’s out of sorts. It’s a good thing the clients haven’t cottoned on or he’d never sell any cars. Lately, he’s pulled that lobe so often it’s a wonder he isn’t mistaken for a tribesman from Borneo.
Not that Adam isn’t uncomfortable. He wishes it hadn’t come to this. The thing is, the news people insisted a public appeal could make a difference. They said it’d made a difference in other cases. But Dad couldn’t face it, so Adam had agreed to do it instead. At this point Adam would agree to car surf down Auckland’s Queen Street in the wrong direction at rush hour, if there was a chance it would make a difference.
Anyway, it’s better Adam does it because, being younger than Dad, he’ll make the biggest impact, apparently. Adam knows this because he heard the camera crew chatting. They’d started off saying how Adam and Dad’s story was made for television, the kind of story that won awards. Then one of them said it was a bummer that Adam was seventeen. That’s when the guy holding the boom said, in these kind of cases, nothing tops a 7-year-old girl, especially a little blondie with dimples.
‘Trust our freaking luck!’ They’d laughed then, quietly amongst themselves, but one of them caught Adam looking and quickly shushed the others.
‘Hey, show a bit of compassion, will ya?’
Maybe this is how his life will be from now on. People shushing each other or looking away. Feeling sorry for him.
‘Adam? We’re ready for you.’ The floor manager speaks quietly. Adam’s grateful. Right now he feels like the entire cast of Lost, like something awful is about to happen. Maybe it already has, maybe he’s living in a parallel universe and none of this is real, but whatever it is, Adam doesn’t get any of it. He gets to his feet and allows the floor manager to direct him to the lectern. Placing both hands on either side of the lectern, Adam steadies himself.
This has to work. Please, let this work. Please.
But Adam knows that even if it does, nothing will be quite the same.
‘In 5... 4... 3...’ The floor manager holds up two fingers, then one...
The microphone makes a soft buzz as it’s switched on. Adam pauses, marvelling at how they actually do that, the holding up the finger thing.
He’s on national television. His face spreads with warmth: the nasty-but-nice feeling you get when you pee in the sea. Great. His face will be red and blotchy now. He inhales deeply.
Stares directly at the camera lens.
What if this is the last time he ever speaks to her?
‘Mum... Mum, if you’re out there, if you can hear this, please, please call and let us know you’re all right. Whatever’s wrong, Dad and me, we’re worried. Please, Mum, just come home...’