Her makeup and her hair don’t match. The hair is thin, and graying through the artificial coloring. Her hairline is receding, from age and stress, from the cumulative days she’s spent scraping it back, ripping the follicles from the scalp one by one. Today she’s pressed it back with a band, opening the curtains on her round face. Crevices formed over exhausted years are filled in and smoothed over like spackling with a foundation just a few degrees of color away from her natural skin tone. Her eyeshadow sits darkly on her lids, attached to long, shooting synthetic lashes which fan down and up as she blinks away anxious tears. Her cheeks bear red blush spots, poorly blended with the whole but oddly complimentary to the eyes and dark purple lips. I reflexively wonder if her bathroom is dim, or if this is how she was taught to paint a face, before deciding that both thoughts are unkind and not worth answering. I look her in the eye and begin to breathe deep breaths with her. In through the nose. Her perfume is heavy and burns slightly on the intake. I suspect she hasn’t showered today, and would rather smell like ethanol than sweat. I ask about her children, about her Mother’s day, about their picnic in the park, and I laugh whenever appropriate, relieved to see her hands have stopped shaking and her shoulders have relaxed. One hour, one granola bar, one bottle of water later and we have avoided a panic attack, and she leaves for work.

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