Lipstick by Dani Burlison

I watched the sun rise from our Canadian hotel room, the starched white sheets draped over your chest like a shield; the heating vent against the wall whirring and buzzing, masking the sound of your breath.

I wanted to say your name that morning, to feel it clicking from my tongue and through my teeth as I watched you sleep. I thought of your wife and wondered how your name sounded emerging between her teeth, what her mouth looked like when she said your name and asked you to touch her or wash the dishes or to turn out your bedroom lamp. I wondered what color lipstick she wore when it was just the two of you, away from the cameras and lights that followed you around your city, 5,000 miles away.

Then I wondered if after all of this you’d write me a poem.

I showered while you slept in; I was a triumphant crook, a reluctant heroine in this tale. I stared at my reflection in the bathroom mirror, wondering where to go next. I refrained from painting my lips that morning, opting to apply a colorless gloss instead. I wanted you to see me, unglamorous and real, standing before you.

“You should wear that red lipstick, the one you wore last night,” you said.

Hoping for an impossible ending to this story, I peered at the snow flocking the mountains surrounding us. Sirens whined through the streets below.

Your eyes moved slowly up and down my body, fixing their gaze on my mouth. Your wedding ring sat on the nightstand, flickering under the lamp like a warning. You reached beyond it and beyond any reason, motioning for me to move closer to you.

“Please,” you said. “The lipstick. Wear it for me.”


Dani Burlison is the author of Dendrophilia and Other Social Taboos: True Stories, a collection of essays which first appeared in her McSweeney’s Internet Tendency column of the same name, and the Lady Parts Zine series, which will be published as an anthology by PM Press in 2019. She has been a staff writer at a Bay Area alt-weekly, a book reviewer for Los Angeles Review and a regular contributor at Chicago Tribune, KQED Arts, The Rumpus, Made Local Magazine and Emerald Report. Her writing can also be found at Yes! Magazine, Earth Island Journal,WIRED, Vice, Utne, Ploughshares, Hip Mama Magazine, Rad Dad, Spirituality & Health Magazine, Shareable, Tahoma Literary Review, Cold Creek Review, Prick of the Spindle and more. She lives, teaches and writes in Santa Rosa, CA.