I follow the beams of yellow light through the kitchen, past the ajar door, and into the dark bedroom. I can’t see much, but by memory, I make my way to the wooden bureau. I gingerly pass my fingertips along the perfectly-lined belongings: the jewelry box with the missing dancing ballerina, the ceramic Virgin Mary with the chipped fingertips, the Avon deodorants. My hands land on the round jar of body powder and, with a rush of boldness, I grab it. I have watched Mamita enough times to know you don’t twist the lid; you simply pull it off. I inhale the smell I know well. Standing on my tiptoes I lean into the mirror and ever so slightly see my reflection. My brown curls are pulled back into a tight ponytail, untamable little frizzies surrounding my face. Before I slip my hand through the powder puff’s ribboned handle I already know it will be a perfect fit.
“Don’t forget: you always have to smell good,” I whisper to the pretend camera in the mirror as I bat my lashes. White circles begin to form on my neck as I dip the puff into the tiny mountain of powder and press it against myself. I bang my knee into the brass drawer handle. There’s a creak by the bedroom door and I clumsily try to place the lid back onto the jar. My hands are far too small and it’s too dark.
“Jacqueline. Qué hace aquí?” Mamita asks sternly as she flicks on the light.
I freeze, thinking she might not see me, my fingers tightly gripping the edge of the bureau. I refuse to make eye contact with her through the mirror. I’m only five, but I know I shouldn’t be in this room alone. I look down and notice the powder has landed over the front of my puffy red dress. She pinches my chin with her thumb and forefinger and forcefully turns my face upwards as she grabs the jar of powder.
“Siéntese,” she says, and nods towards the edge of her bed. Somberly, I take a seat. A tear threatens its escape as I close my eyes. I am expecting her to call my mother into the room for a swift punishment. Instead, I feel a gentle swipe at my neck. Through the mirror, I watch as she wipes the ivory powder from my skin with a soft handkerchief.
“You added too much. Es asi,” she says with a laugh. She dabs the powder puff around my neck and under my chin. I laugh, my gap-toothed smile wide in the mirror. She steps back and watches me, her dark brown hair greying around the temples. Lightly, she brushes it against the tip of my nose. Boop. The puff, originally a light pink, has turned white from overuse.
“It smells so good,” I say.
“Lila symbolizes innocence,” she says with a gentle swipe. “Ámbar is for courage and jazmín is for love. Entiende?” I nod my head to say that yes, I understand, but I don’t. She tucks a lone, loose curl at the base of my neck back into my ponytail. I giggle once again with delight at the tickles.
“Hermosa,” she smiles. “Que la Virgen siempre la acompañe.” May the Virgin Mary always be by your side, she wishes. My eyes wander to the ceramic statue at the bureau. The Virgin’s tiny, pearl white hands extend outwards, as if waiting for someone to fall into her open embrace.
I look away, shyly, trying to hide my grin.