She was about 50, glamorous, stylishly but not expensively dressed; low heels, long hair. She got on the train about 2 stops after me and settled herself into the seat opposite with a loud sigh. She glanced out the window for a few seconds and then began rummaging in a voluminous leather handbag in search of her make-up. She applied darker eye liner, some sparkly eye shadow and glossy lipstick, all with intense concentration. Next she added some of that extra thickening, lash extending, pump-up, emulsion mascara (that, I personally, think looks terrible). After applying she attempted to brush most of it off with a tiny eyelash brush – jumping and grumbling every time the train bumped or took or corner. When she had finished, she stared into space for a moment and then looked disapprovingly down at the rest of her.
She took out her cosmetics once more and, with her compact mirror, she was making a show of looking at her eye make-up… but she wasn't looking at her eye make-up. I had to be careful, she was aware of me now and shooting occasional glares my way - some of which hit their mark. But with surreptitious observation I could see that what she was in fact doing, was considering how many buttons to un-do on her blouse. She first undid the top one, looked in her mirror, then undid a second… re-fastened the second, checked again… re-fastened the first… She bit her lip and furrowed her eye-brows… then she undid the first, left the second, put her compact away with a snap and shot a fierce stare at me to show she meant business.
Next she did something I haven't seen in 25 years – we all did this at school: she carefully folded over the waistband of her skirt (which is not easy to do discreetly, whilst seated) to make her skirt that little bit shorter. After completing this task, she looked around to see if she had an audience – I was caught red-handed. She stared me out and I looked away.
She looked at her watch, then at the próxima estación (next station) display. She closed her bag and hugged it to her as she edged forward in her seat and prepared to stand. She looked down at her shoes, flexed her feet, then looked at her hands… and she froze.
She started to bring her hands together, hesitated, then made her decision. After a quick glance around her, she quickly and carefully removed her wedding ring, stood up, straightened up and walked off the train into a warm, dusky evening.
Letters Live at Hay Festival 2015
2 weeks ago