Written by Jessica Austgen
Photo: © Depositphotos.com/lunamarina
Traeycia’s face is asymmetrical.
It’s difficult to notice, as she compensates for this imperfection by tipping her head slightly to the right both in conversation and in selfies. But if one were to look at Traeycia’s face straight on, as she is doing now in a gilt-framed mirror, it would be fairly obvious.
She swigs a mouthful of Malbec and frowns. The light seeping in through the picture window casts a harsh highlight across her cheekbone and a shadow over her too-high right eye. Traeycia frowns harder and the shadow deepens. The light is harsh against her skin, an unwelcome emissary from the baking New Mexico sun.
The air-conditioning blasts through the McMansion. Traeycia pats her flower-crown, and is satisfied by the crisp coolness of the petals. She looks perfect. People from other states think New Mexico is a backwater, a barren wasteland full of adobe houses and meth labs. Those people—those New Yorkers and Los Angelenos and fucking arrogant Denverites—have no idea how hip New Mexico can be. And no one, no one, in the Land of Enchantment is as hip, trendy and en fleek as Traeycia Preston-Wells-Berkowitz-Hernandez.
A horn sounds from the street outside. It would probably be polite of Robert-Georg to come and say hello to her mother, but that would only leave him open to her barrage of criticism. Traeycia’s mother is aggressively puzzled by everything about Robert-Georg, from his perfectly groomed handlebar mustache to his manicured nails.
And she always calls him “Bobby.” Bobby may have been Robert-Georg’s name when he attended La Cueva High School, but he’s changed since then. Traeycia has changed. Her mother simply doesn’t understand.
Honestly, Traeycia wishes that her own unique surname were the result of some unique familial situation: a mysterious case of paternity or a polyamorous parallelogram of parental figures, but her mother had simply been divorced. Often. Traeycia, clever little minx that she is, had combined all her possible last names into a lengthy hyphenate.
Outside, Robert-Georg lays on the horn again. A neighbor’s dog begins barking.
More Malbec disappears down Traeycia’s gorge. A ruby droplet clings to her thin upper lip and she reluctantly wipes it away. The color of Malbec—a rich, earthy red—is absolutely perfect for Traeycia’s skin tone, but she’s never been able to find a lip product that matches it. No glass, no stick, no stain currently on the market is the correct color of wine-red that would make Traeycia into an appealing gamine français. No one makes it. Not even MAC.
Traeycia has a million things in her head that she’d love to own, love to wear, love to show-off, but she can never find them. It’s too bad. Malbec colored lipstain would be absolutely perfect for the festival tonight, but Traeycia will have to go without.
Albuquerque never has festivals. Well, it does have festivals, but not the right kind of festivals. It has the Hot Air Balloon Festival, Kokopelli celebrations, Adobe Days. All touristy shit. Destination:Desert is the first honest-to-god music festival and Traeycia Preston-Wells-Berkowitz-Hernandez intends to rock the shit out of it.
“Patricia?” her mother’s voice comes from just down the hall but it is distant, muffled by deep-pile carpeting and overly upholstered furnishings. “Are you going out?”
Traeycia rolls her eyes at her own reflection. A hunk of mascara clings to the upper lashes of her left eye. She picks it off and flicks it onto the marble floor, where it stands out in sharp contrast on the stark white tiles. Traeycia would love to see her mother’s face when she staggers into the foyer and sees the speck of imperfection on her immaculate floor. Susannah Hernandez would probably have a stroke. She’d clasp her thick silver Tiffany chain in horror, her pouched eyes would widen under their layers of primer and concealer. She’d drop her wine glass and a tidal wave of chardonnay would create even more chaos and devastation across the pristine landscape of the foyer.
It would be quite the show, but Traeycia can’t wait. A horn blares from the street outside, longer this time. Traeycia can picture Robert-George leaning moodily on the wheel, cramming his elbow into the horn so he can keep his hands free to take a hit from a vape pen and text simultaneously.
“Patricia!” Susannah hollers again.
“Wha?” Traeycia shouts back, conserving her consonants. Conversing with her mother is an unpleasant inevitability but if she avoids it for too long, her mother will come sloshing down the hall in search of her. Traeycia doesn’t have time to waste with Susannah’s chardonnay sharpened criticisms. Susannah may have been a Miss Bernalillo County once upon the eighties, but her taste hasn’t evolved since then. She simply doesn’t get it.
“If you stop by a Jewel Osco can you get me some tonic water?”
Traeycia blends a line of highlight down the right side of her nose before she answers, “’Kay.” Then, after a moment of considering her own unreliability, “Text me and remind me.”
“Okay, hunny bunny. I love you.” Then Susannah is silent. The sound of House Hunters fill the space between the foyer and the living room. Traeycia’s phone buzzes with a text from her mother reminding her about the tonic.
Traeycia drains her Malbec and sets the glass down with a thin thunk on surface of the Pottery Barn version of a Louis IX console table. She blends the contour down the side of her nose again and then gasps. The clouds have shifted outside in the desert afternoon and the softly filtered light that illuminates her face in the mirror is divine. The play of highlight and shadows finally, finally, creates balance and symmetry.
Smirking at her reflection, Traeycia snatches her pink baguette clutch and scampers out the front door. This moment, although Traeycia never realizes, is the pinnacle of happiness in her life.
Later that night, high on medical-grade marijuana and the euphoria of a Radiohead cover band, Traeycia and Robert-Georg will make sloppy love in the back of his Subaru hatchback. They’ll be too arrogant to use protection and she’ll get pregnant. They’ll have the baby and get married—in that order—and eventually move into a McMansion down the street from Traeycia’s mother’s next husband.
The baby will be called Satchel and it will be teased mercilessly in the Albuquerque Public School District. Eventually, it will beg be to be called “Michael” and Traeycia will agree. At that point, she and Robert-Georg are known as Patty and Bob Epps, so she doesn’t much care.
Patty Epps will shop at CostCo and gain weight. She will never be Miss Bernalillo County or go to another music festival. She will become an annual visitor at Adobe Days.
But for one moment, in the cloud-filtered desert light of a Saturday afternoon, Traeycia was perfectly content. In that one moment, her face was symmetrical.
Jessica Austgen is a performer, writer and teaching artist in Denver, Colorado. You can find out more at www.jessicaaustgen.com