“So what do you do?” she asked. What wouldn’t I, Joe thought. She wore a green dress that ran out of opinions around the bust and let her take it from there. She was a brunette named Rhonda, good-looking, late 20s or more, no ring. So good so far. She managed the cosmetics counter at Xx.
“I design these,” Joe said. He picked up the matchbook she had placed on her pack of BelAirs.”
“Ooh! Did you do that one?” She took out another cigarette and held it out. Joe lit it without the one-hand trick, then shook the match out.
“No, and I’d fire anyone who did. What’s it advertising?”
“I don’t know,” she said. “I don’t pay much attention. Oh! Sorry. I’m sure lots do.”
He smiled. “You don’t have to pay attention. They work in other ways. Mysterious ways.” He held up the book again. “Or they try to work too hard. It’s a full-wrap, meaning it’s one piece of art on the front and back, see? Usually you have a front plate, a back, the spine. That gives you three places to make your pitch - four if you want to go inside. On a full-wrap you’re staking everything on one roll.” He paused. “This is dull stuff, isn’t it.”
“No, I like learning words for things like this. Full-wrap. I would never have guessed in a million.”
“That’s what we call it. Usually the art starts on the front, which is where most people look. But look: this says OK on the front. Meaning what? You have to turn it around. And then you have to turn it upside down. And then you have to open it up. That’s a lot of work.”
“So that’s bad.”
“That’s bad. By my lights. Okay, test - I’ll give you a look again, you tell me what it’s for.” He held it up for a second then put it down.
“I don’t know. It’s awful dim in here.”
“It’s Look. I used the word over and over when I was describing it and the word still didn’t come to mind. Their fault. Not yours.”
“I read Life, maybe that’s why?”
“And it’s blue and red. They don’t work well together.”
“So you’re a type of a critic.”
“Everyone’s a critic.”
“I know what you mean. I get girls who come over to the counter? They want this shade or that and there’s no telling them otherwise even though it isn’t right for them. There’s an art to that - telling them, I mean. Some clerks just say it’s not the right shade if the customer seems like she’s unsure and then say oh that’s lovely if the customer likes it, and there’s your sale, thank you for shopping at Xx. But I try to be honest.”
She was wearing a red so bright she should had a dalmatian tagging along, Joe thought. “What’s your shade now?”
“This?” She puckered. “Crimson passion.”
“Sounds like a Russian romance novel.”
“No one’s buying it yet, but they will when the magazines come out. It’s too new to known.”
“How do you choose? You have every shade in the world.”
“For work or myself? For work I put on something really, really bright. If I wore something mousy and they went with something that really popped they might think I think they’re, you know, loose or trying too hard. But every girl understands you need something more demure so they know I won’t think less of them if they don’t choose such a bold shade.” She took a puff and left a red ring around the tip of her cigarette. “It’s an art.”
“Everything’s an art these days.”
“That’s why everyone’s a critic,” she smiled. She looked at her watch. “My friends were supposed to be here. They were at a movie and it got out half an hour ago.”
“Maybe they stayed to watch the cartoon again.”
“If they got in late maybe. I can never do that - come in late, then stay to see the part you missed. Can you? I don’t see the point.”
“I don’t see a lot of movies,” Joe said. “I’d like to. There’s work and then it’s home and usually between I stop someplace for a bite and a bump. There’s a theater around the corner from my building but I never seem to catch a show.”
“Where’s your building?”
He thought for a second. Two blocks north, left, two blocks west, left, one block south. That was the formula for finding tonight’s place. “It’s back on XX. The XX building.”
“Oh I know that. They have a coffee shop, don’t they? I think I ate there.”
He nodded. “Listen, before your friends come -”
“I’m starting to wonder if they ever will.”
“Would you like to have lunch some time? My treat. I’d like to talk to you about color.”
“Would you.” She smiled and gave him a look. Joe thought If nothing else, I’m the only guy who’s ever come up with that line. True or not.
“I would. Like I say, it’s my business. I like to know what’s coming. What colors women like. That’s something I can take to a client.”
“You could just drop by the store and take a gander,” she said. “Unless you want me to bring all the lipstick to the coffee shop.”
“I’ll swing by,” he said, and he decided to leave it at that.
“There they are,” she said, looking past him towards the door. She picked up her cigarettes and pushed the change on the bar towards the edge. “Eleven-forty-five would be fine. I can tell you all you need to know about color in fifteen minutes and if there’s more, I have lunch at noon and I’ll tell you the rest. Ask for Gwen.”
“I thought it was Rhonda.”
“It was before I knew you a little better. See you around.” She stood and walked over to her friends and they all took turns having little hugs. Gwen said something, and they laughed, then she shooed them towards the door with one hand. One of her friends looked over at Joe, then left with the others. Gwen turned around before she went out the door and smiled and waved goodbye.
Joe turned around and looked at his drink. Another might be right. He noticed she’d left her matches. She’d opened the book and made it sit like a tent so the front was facing him. It said: