Wednesday, June 29

Best Used Fresh

I sincerely doubt that the people I am so familiar with know me at all; nor can I explain, to any logical degree, how I am familiar with them, because I myself do not understand it. Just know that I know them. I am a voyeur of sorts, although I do not intend to be. Before I tell you anything about these strangers, I suppose I should tell you about myself. My name is Nev, an abbreviation of ‘Neville’, my grandfather’s name, but one I am not too keen on. I work for a cosmetics company, and my job title is ‘compounder’ – a word I had not seen prior to the advertisement. Simply it is my job to mix, in correct proportions and amounts, the cosmetics that are sold in our shops all over the country. I was pleased to get the job because university is expensive. Wracked with regret and boredom at my undergraduate degree, I will not divulge it to you; know, though, that my expertise lies in numeracy. I live just outside a large northern industrial city and cycle to work. When it rains in the morning, I still cycle to work, gladly, feeling the water lashing against my face and feeling a sense of excitement that I cannot convey to anyone unless they too love cycling through driving rain to wherever it is they will be shut up for nine hours (the company I work for also sells a facial cream for dry skin). I live in a studio flat with my girlfriend, Remedios. She is Colombian and she is my sun in this British gloom. It was she who showed me the job advertisement, over a string of black coffee steam—‘What about this?’ I smiled, knowing she used the products—‘You just want the discount.’ She shook her head and ate scrambled eggs—‘I don’t know what you are talking about.’ I applied, and successfully landed the position. So now I am a ‘compounder’ and it is my job to mix together the correct ingredients to a precise recipe so that I am left with a ‘soothing and cooling cream that is designed to go on even the most sensitive and easily upset skins.’ For reasons I cannot understand, on each of the items we, the compounders, make a sticker is placed, indicating who made it and on what date.
Yes, that is me.
‘This product was made by Nev on the 30/10/15 (B01) Use by 30/12/16. Best used fresh.’ That is me. I am Nev.
I am in households across the country, and through the lotion – a hand and body lotion – I can see into dozens of lives and it is peculiar because I cannot explain it to you. They use the lotion and I see into their lives. I come home and I tell Remedios about all of the things I see. She believes that I am making it up, as some kind of romantic pastime. ‘I see their whole lives, darling, I swear!’ I explain but she does not believe me. Remedios uses the lotion, although I bring her pots home, free of charge. She rubs it all over her dark skin; shoulders, thighs, ankles; and on bedsheets she shines and I understand our relationship deeper, her love for me. I would not understand love normally, but I understand Remedios’ love for me; no-one in their right mind understands another’s love for them. I understand Remedios’ love for me. I am a lucky man.
One lady is not so lucky, and I know this because I see her. I am stuck on the side of her pot of body lotion. She is a young working mother who wears long sleeves to her office job so that people do not see the old scars that line up like fish in a river across her wrists. Every morning she bathes her son. He is only young and he looks very much like her, his pale skin and wiry black hair exploding off his head, big kind eyes. He is autistic and feels temperature differences most keenly; so much so that when he undresses from his pyjamas, he experiences a pain all over his infant body and begins to cry. His young mother tries to caress him hurriedly into the bath but he sobs and sobs. During his screaming she hands him a plastic jug and says—‘Wet yourself all over!’ before fleeing the bathroom to tend to her baby daughter who is now awake and loudly declaring it through the house. It is inexplicable that I see all this, I know, but I am Nev.
After Remedios has a wax she rubs the lotion on herself, upon the irritated mound; many do this.
One young man, to overcome his eczema, uses the lotion on his arms and legs, which are inclined to flare up at any minor meteorological shift. As he applies the lotion, he sings the same song his mother used to sing to him as a child—‘O, soldier, soldier, won’t you marry me with your musket, pipe and drum?’ Sometimes I, too, get that song stuck inside my head.
There is one man who keeps a pot next to his bed, that he unscrews and sniffs before bed. He sleeps in a double bed and never shifts over his half of the mattress. Occasionally he smears the lotion on the pillow next to him.
I see a girl I recognise; she attends my university, working behind the cafĂ© in one of the libraries. You cannot imagine my shock when I noticed that it was her – as I stammered—‘cappuccino, please’ – but it was certainly her and I smiled sheepishly as she passed my change. She was polite. Yes, it was her. Seeing her clothed was surprising, as until then I had only seen her in states of undress. She ensures that all of her toiletries are facing her; a task she sets about while brushing her teeth, compulsively arranging all the tubes and tubs to face her direction. I told Remedios about his and she laughed at me, but she has her own bathroom habits that I won’t tell you.
A lady with golden hair bathes nightly and sighs dreamily over the edge of the bath around a range of bubbles. Her husband defecates apologetically next to her. He says—‘The next house will have two toilets, I swear.’ She closes her eyes until he leaves and she can no longer notice the smell, then her hands glide underneath and her heel drips on the floor as the spasms of water churn against her hips, finally extinguishing daydreams that brought such brief joy. The lady with golden hair is really an angel.
As an aside, out of nowhere, I admit that watching a lady apply mascara is one of the most jaw-dropping beautiful things ever; a perfect combination of beauty and tenderness. I will not ever become bored of watching a lady apply mascara.
Perhaps I have glamorised it. Generally, many people are unremarkable in the bathroom; I have only shared with you some of my favourites, the people who stick in my mind and who I find myself wondering, at different points during the day—‘How are they right now?’ I lie against Remedios at night and flashes of them interrupt my thoughts at the flick of their bathroom light. Worse things happen to people, yes, but I am just sharing this with you. Best used fresh. That is me. My name is Nev.

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