Vanity

Rosalyn sits at her vanity. She is staring into the mirror with the intensity of someone who relies on her looks for a living. Her slip shimmers in the bright light. As she raises a slender brush to her cheek, she decides she will ask Harvey tonight. She will do it like she does most things—coolly, as though speaking of the weather. A lifetime of rude comments from men has taught her not to let things rile her.

Harvey enters Roz’s trailer as he does every evening before a performance. He feels lucky to have this time with his friend every night. She doesn’t even allow Lucas, her husband, in the trailer pre-show. Harvey is the only one because the flicker of his accent tickles her.

“Will you grab the red one from the back of the bathroom door, doll? I’m almost ready,” she says. She wants an answer to check for emotion in his words—guilt, lust, melancholy— but he only nods his response. She feels disappointed.

The tiny bathroom is stuffy from a recent shower. He opens a window and releases the moths of humidity. He lets the fresh air cool him before he takes Rosalyn’s charmeuse gown over to an ironing board. “I’ve never heard of anyone besides you leaving frocks in the bathroom during their shower. Don’t you know humidity isn’t good for silk?” Harvey looks up in time to see Roz’s lips purse, her standard response to criticism.

“I do it as a courtesy,” Rosalyn’s eyes hold steady on her work in the mirror. “The steam relaxes the wrinkles. . .that means less work for you.”

Harvey takes a folded bed sheet from a trunk. He lays it on the ironing board and slips the bodice of the gown between layers. The iron protests with a sudden churrrr when he begins to press. He watches Rosalyn—the mirror allows him to see both sides of her—then his eyes wander around the crowded room. Large feathers and boas hang from shelves and hooks like bunting, camera flashes of jewelry ask for attention from every flat surface, and three garment racks stuffed with dresses stand in one corner like an audience queueing up. He looks for anything of Lucas’s and then regrets spotting the lonely fedora placed neatly on a dresser. She continues the delicate process of gluing individual hairs to her cheek.

Rosalyn’s status as the most famous bearded lady is not based on a sham: Rosalyn has a glorious beard. But it is blonde and its length is hard to determine from the back of the theater. Every evening she adds darker strands to it, for contrast, she says, but Harvey knows the added fullness pads her paycheck.

He finishes his ironing and walks the gown over to her. After a few primps in the mirror, she stills herself so he can ease it over her head. As he does so, she stands.

“I wish you’d dress before making yourself up. I’m always frightened we’ll ruin your face.” He bends down to pull the gown away from the corner of the bench.

“I’d rather run the risk of lipstick on the inside of my gown than getting glue on the outside.” She winks, a circle of kohl contracting. “Speaking of running risks, Lucas said the funniest thing the other night.”

“Oh?”

“Yes. He said he’s in love with you. He’d like to know what I want to do about it.”

Harvey looks down, smooths out a rumple near her foot.

So it’s true, she thinks. And mutual.