Photos Peter Goldman
Styling Lexyrose Boiardo
Art direction Tommaso Nicolao
Digital artist Cristian Girotto
Makeup & hair Ronnie Peterson Moreira
Model Delilah Koch @Elite NYC
Additional modeling Jayme Robinson, Lexyrose Boiardo & Jay
Mother and I had not spoken in a decade. I detected the incense of her YSL Opium, invading the funeral of Pedro Moya, her third husband and my first. She’d perfected her look in the Nineties, and sought no reason to change her style. She strode down the hill to the funeral ceremony, wearing the same block heels and shift dress she wore in my youth. Never one to avoid confrontation, she walked right up to me.
“You’re looking well, girl,” she said. Her voice sounded smokier than I remembered.
“As are you, Mother.” I replied. She looked as beautiful as ever, statuesque, her large eyes shadowed by sleeplessness, tears maybe. Her bun pulled her cheekbones feline, the halo of silver around the jet-black orb of hair, an eclipse.
Then, at the same time, we said, “I’m sorry for your—”
We stopped. Neither of us had spoken to Pedro before his death, we realized.
We took our seats, as the ceremony began.
For as many people Pedro knew, few had bothered to show up for his last rites. He’d grown increasingly megalomaniacal in the past couple of years, and no one cared about the accident. He’d been dashing when I’d been introduced to him as my mother’s new boyfriend, a renowned photographer and fashion historian. I was twenty, Pedro thirty, and Mother forty. Pedro: our median.
I couldn’t help but try to sneak glances at Mother. When she’d come down the hill, I noticed she still had her limp, imperceptible to most, something I could never unsee, for I was its cause. One day, I was a toddler, running into the street, and she pushed me out of a sedan’s way, by taking the hit to her leg in my stead. Perhaps this was the most tender moment of my childhood, followed by the most cruel, when she cursed me for ruining her life.
The chaplain spoke of Pedro’s life, not in the form of eulogy, but excerpts from a Vogue feature of his latest book, Rouge, a detailed account of travels inspired by the cosmetics of antiquity. He roamed the remnants of Southern Iraq, where Sumerians crushed carnelian and mixed it with lead to produce the first lipsticks. His account was fascinating, but more so was the aside in chapter twelve, about his affair with an indie film starlet and her daughter.
It was a secret that lived nowhere else but between the three of us. I tried to cry, but couldn’t seem to produce the tears. No one around me seemed to be able to do so either.
He showed up with a bottle of Shiraz and a few photographs of test shoots with me. We started kissing.
One night, I had called Mother’s apartment to ask her to borrow her car. Pedro had answered instead, and said, sure, sure, why don’t I come by and drop it off? I’ll take the train back home. Never one to turn down convenience, I agreed. He showed up with a bottle of Shiraz and a few photographs of test shoots with me. We started kissing. Then started the trysts at my place, his apartment, at Mother’s, in my old bedroom. Months, in secret, until one day my mother discovered a bra two sizes too small slung on the towel rack, and a note I’d written him, left on the night side table. She confronted him, enraged, one of his shaving razors in hand. He admitted we’d been having an affair.
“I made her,” Mother snarled, he told me later. “And she will undo you.”
She was right. Pedro and I, like most couples with a ten-year age gap, soon drifted into our separate hemispheres. He traveled a lot for work, and I studied sitar at the Conservatory. I found myself drawn to my peers, when I met a girl I’ll call B. I soon started an affair with B, a talented singer who would overdose on heroin after graduation. Pedro sent us a care package to her apartment. It was his signature move, when he felt wounded or betrayed. Inside: a pair of lipsticks, bullets chopped in half.
The chaplain concluded the ceremony, and we heard the wail of a woman we recognized from television but not real life. As his coffin descended into the ground, Mother stood up, gesturing that she needed a smoke. We walked towards the sunset.
“Imagine. Falling from a rooftop during a photo shoot, right onto Jane Street,” said Mother. “You know, he loved my first movie. God, I was only twenty, and he’d become infatuated with me as a teenager. Soon as we wrapped our photo shoot, the first day we met, he asked me on a date. We went to this random hotel room on the West Side, where everything was bubble gum pink. We stayed in the room for days. It was the first time I felt a man like that since your father left us. Every time we made love, Pedro lit a cigar, and I smoked, something I hadn’t done since my pregnancy. He’d met his dream girl, until he realized that the version that looked more like her… was you.”
“I’m sorry, Mother,” I said. “I was a stupid, stupid girl.” I wanted to hug her.
“You did what I did,” she said. She pulled a cigar out of her bag and handed it to me. I took a drag, carefully letting the honeyed tobacco roll over my tongue as Pedro taught both of us. We smoked in silence, until the sunset and disappearing mourners and paper burned to our fingers. Mother pulled out a lipstick from her purse.
“Remember,” she said, “We never leave a party—”
“Without a touch up,” I finished for her. She stroked the luscious hue over the bow of her mouth. My throat swelled, as if collecting the salt water that blurred Mother from view, and for a moment, all of the tombs in that cemetery radiated the same color as her lips.