Makeup Tips for the Mature Woman

by Rhoda Greaves

Photo by Caroline Hummels via Pixabay

A selection by guest editor Madeleine D'Arcy. To receive a PDF version of this story to read offline or export to Kindle, please email longstoryshortjournal(AT)gmail(DOT)com.    



Your biggest beauty consideration is your skin. The better your skin, the less makeup you’ll need. Flaky, dry skin is not attractive. Exfoliate every day with either a facial scrub or a flannel dipped in coconut oil.


Jude removes the filmy plastic and hanger. She holds the new dress against her bare skin and kicks a leg out in front of her. Positions the dress against it to get a feel of how it might hang. It doesn’t work like she expects it to. The arc of her dimpled thigh is exposed: raw sausage. She lays the dress on her bed, unhooks her bra and pulls down her knickers. Steps out of them and heads for the shower. She adjusts the temperature so it’s slightly hotter than is comfortable. Feels each bead of heat scratching away at her, as if trying to wake her from a groggy sleep. She squirts shower gel into her palm as usual, but barely recognises her body as she soaps it: the way her hands slide into the creases at the tops of her thighs and lose themselves in the hollows of her armpits, the hint of ribs marking her breasts, and the slackness of the skin covering them. The way it’s almost impossible to ease her toes apart to clean in between the gaps.

         Her shoulders grind in their sockets when she raises her arms above her head to wash her hair, and the muscles in her forearms tighten. She uses a two-in-one these days: combs it through with her fingers. Thanks Christ she’s had her hair cut short. She unscrews a large tub of coconut oil, and breaks the foil by stabbing in her fingernail. Breathes in its Caribbean sun-creamy fragrance. It seems such a waste to smear it into her skin. She wipes away water to try and look at the label but can’t read it without her glasses. Surely it’s edible? She scoops a fingerful and bites off a miniscule amount. It doesn’t taste of much, so she sucks the rest from her finger. Coconut and lard; extraordinarily moreish. She could have made coconut flapjacks or coconut icing. Could have spread it on her famous banana loaf cake. She scoops in a few more mouthfuls, then remembers she’s supposed to rub it on her face.

         She tries to wash it off. Should have used a flannel. It’s like trying to remove solidified fat from a frying pan without a cloth. A lump of it gets caught in the tiny links of her gold chain, and, as she opens the shower door, water sprays over the bathroom tiles. Her eyes sting and she reaches for the towel on the rail. She realises she is crying. Can hear a kind of baying that can only be coming from her.

         She doesn’t recognise the paperiness of her skin when she dries it. Knows she should have moisturised properly when it still had its elastic intact. She slathers lotion over her legs. Dollops more on her stomach, rubbing her fingers in clockwise movements – something to do with following the natural rhythm of the bowel. She traces her hands over the silver-white stretch marks. She’d hated them in her thirties and forties but it’s not like she’ll be wearing a bikini again.



Choose products with the mindset of a fifty-year-old woman, not a teenager. For a softer, more natural look, take a retexturising face primer with an SPF of at least twenty, and apply all over the face.


‘Have you got a retexturising face primer?’ Jude asked, frowning, trying to read the myriad pots, bottles and tubes stacked neatly by colour.

          ‘A what?’ The girl on the makeup counter looked up from her phone.

          ‘A . . . um . . . a retexturising face primer?’

          ‘How’s it spelt?’ said the girl. Her phone vibrated with an incoming message and she smiled at the screen.

          ‘R-E-T-E-X-T-U-R-I-S-I-N-G, I think.’

          ‘No. I haven’t heard of one of them.’

          The way the girl raised her eyebrows and shook her head reminded Jude of the central-heating man when she’d asked whether the price included fitting. Richard would usually have negotiated that kind of thing.

          ‘Well, have you got any primers?’ Jude asked. ‘Something that might be right for me?’

          ‘My grandma uses this one,’ the girl said, unlocking a cabinet and taking out a small tube.

          Jude couldn’t help herself doing the maths. Her daughter, Amy, was only twenty-three.

         ‘It’s fourteen quid,’ the girl said. ‘Do you want it?’ 


Jude thought she should probably get a dress as well. Told the womenswear girl that she didn’t want to end up looking like mutton dressed as lamb. The girl looked blank, and just as Jude was about to rephrase it, finally replied, ‘Mutton, you say?’

          Jude said something about an old sheep not trying to look like a young sheep. And the girl said they’d just had some lovely sheepskin gilets come in.

          ‘You going out tonight?’ the girl asked.

          Jude said, yes, she was going into town.

          ‘What, like for dinner or something?’

          ‘No, just a few drinks.’

          ‘What, like nightclubbing?’

          Jude said she wasn’t really sure, and another sales assistant pushed between them with a rail of clothes bearing half-price tags.

          ‘Sorry about that, she’s new,’ said the girl. ‘You should probably go for a little black dress.’

          ‘No, not black.’

          ‘Why not?’

          Before Jude answered, the girl said, ‘Navy then?’ She moved to the next section and motioned Jude to follow. ‘Or maroon – what about this one? Not too short and has hidden panels at the waist.’ 

          When Jude came out of the changing room the girl said, ‘It really suits you . . . really flattering . . . you definitely should take it.’

          Jude didn’t know whether or not to believe her, but didn’t know the etiquette for saying she didn’t want it, when she’d just been told she should have the dress.


Then there were shoes. She had to explain to the shoe girl that she needed to be careful in heels at her age. Gave her a line about varicose veins that was meant to be funny. The girl had some spiel about comfortable inserts. How you needed to go a bit bigger on the size.



Less is more as you age! Opt for a lightweight foundation to give a fresh look. Use a foundation brush instead of your usual sponge for better coverage without creating a ‘caked’ look. Make sure you blend your foundation right down to your neck so you look like you’re wearing no makeup at all.


Jude turns on the iron. While it is heating she removes all the packaging and lines up her new makeup in order of application: primer, foundation, powder, eyeshadow, mascara, blusher, lip-liner and lipstick. She grabs her tights off the radiator and sniffs them. They still smell a bit feety so she sprays them with deodorant. The iron hisses when she touches it. She sucks her finger. Doesn’t bother running the tap for the tiny red welt. She lays her little black cardigan on the ironing board. Had thought she’d never wear it again. But black goes with everything, doesn’t it? She’ll have to cover her arms with long sleeves.

          She needs to eat: something light but bready to soak up the alcohol. She puts on the kettle and drops a teabag into a mug. Pulls a tin of baked beans out of the cupboard. Pours half the tin’s contents into a microwavable dish and the other half into a breakfast bowl. She stretches clingfilm across each, then opens the fridge door. In the fridge is a breakfast bowl covered in clingfilm, with half a tin of beans from the day before.

          ‘Damn,’ she says, pushing back the bowl in the fridge to accommodate the one in her hand. She did her food hygiene certificate two years earlier in order to cover dinner-supervisor sickness. Knows she should swap the bowls: use the freshest. Doesn’t. There’s no bread so she’ll eat them with a spoon. She pours hot water into her cup, adds milk. Tiny white specks float on the surface of her tea: the milk has turned. The rest of it goes down the sink. It smells like baby sick. The lumpy spatter caked around the plughole looks like it too. It’s disgusting but compelling. She wonders when Amy will meet a nice boy.

          She turns on the gas hob to light her cigarette. Richard always hated her cooking in her dressing gown. Said she needn’t think he’d be forking out for an expensive funeral if she went and set herself on fire. They’d picked out his coffin together almost exactly three weeks before he needed it. You never knew with cancer, she’d overheard a nurse at the hospital telling a student, they might have months left, but sometimes it was only days.



Use light and shadow to your advantage. Apply a small amount of powder concealer to the tops of your cheekbones, and blend well. This will ensure the light from the concealer reflects upwards to hide any dark circles under your eyes.


Jude has never used concealer before, but makes sure she dabs it in all the correct places. When she was a teenager she and her friends had used extra makeup if they wanted to hide their blemishes.

         Amy said it wasn’t good for her to be hiding herself away. Jude didn’t tell her about Mitchell. How she met him at a careers thing at school. How she felt sorry for him when he pointed out his son, stood with his ex-wife and her new husband. When he asked Jude afterwards if she’d eaten, she wasn’t quick enough to lie. She told him, yes, a steakhouse was fine. Richard would always have taken her for fish: ‘My wife’s almost vegetarian,’ he’d tell whoever was serving, and the two of them would stifle a laugh as the waiter or waitress politely smiled. 

         The meat was served bloody, with thick-cut chips. Jude expected herself to order a salad, but when it came to it she asked for an eight-ounce fillet with blue cheese sauce, and a side order of onion rings: ate a slice of his garlic bread. They started with a glass of Prosecco. Moved on to a bottle of Rioja. Another. She ended up in his bedroom. His bed. As he leaned in to kiss her his beard grazed her cheek in a way that was almost familiar. But when he pulled her body towards him, it was as if it had a sudden and severe reaction to the rich heavy food and the wine. He held her hair while she vomited, and said why didn’t she stay over anyway – he was worried about leaving her on her own. When she said yes, she knew it was because of the streetlight outside his bedroom window. He’d apologised when he first switched off the lamp; said he’d tried to wash his curtains but had shrunk them. A warm strip of orange shone from underneath.

         ‘I don’t mind it.’ She knew he would think she was just saying it. Her own bedroom was pitch black. It was because of the thick drapes she and Richard had bought together to stop the morning sun from disturbing them. Their bedroom was so dark that if you woke from a bad dream in the middle of the night, you wouldn’t be able to see the shape of the person next to you. Wouldn’t be able to tell if that person wasn’t there.



Look through your makeup bag and give your daughter or your granddaughter any eyeshadows that are shimmery or have frost or glitter in them. While these products look great on plump, young skin, they will get into your fine lines and wrinkles and accentuate them. Instead, purchase matte eyeshadows in soft, natural colours.


Everyone at school warned Jude how different it would feel when Amy went off to university; how empty. She hadn’t been able to tell any of them how much she’d been looking forward to it just being her and Richard. Was terrified they’d all think her such a terrible mother. She remembered the line of weeping women outside the gates that first day Amy had started primary school. All of them busy checking PE bags, packed lunches, pencil cases; smearing lipstick kisses from their children’s little cheeks. How Jude had reached out and adjusted that awful headband with Amy in sparkly writing; her daughter had insisted on wearing it so the teacher wouldn’t forget her name. That fleeting sweep of pride as they waved goodbye to each other, then the intensity of the freedom she’d felt afterwards – it made her feel like spreading her arms and twirling. Twirling till she was overcome with a reeling kind of sickness.

          It was the same when Amy went off to university. Except this time it was a car full of Amy’s belongings, as well as a few of their saucepans, mismatched plates and mugs, a spare duvet set, and the cutlery with purple handles bought on a whim then never used. Jude found herself wondering how long before they could rip down the posters and decorate Amy’s bedroom. Something neutral. Calming. She and Richard had celebrated with champagne and a slice of loaf cake. Talked about a Caribbean cruise.


Amy says, ‘Hang on a sec I’ve got a rubbish signal.’  Says she’s sorry but she’s not going to be able to come home next weekend. Finishes her sentence, ‘unless you need me, obviously?’

          And Jude says, ‘Of course not, no, I’m fine.’ Says, ‘You’ll be proud of me. I’m going out for a night on the tiles.’

          Amy says it’s probably best not to call it ‘a night on the tiles’. Says it gives it away that she’s not that young. Amy tells Jude about her own plans for the evening: she and her friends are playing their version of the TV programme Come Dine with Me. They’re all off to Lucy’s for seafood risotto and Death by Chocolate. She’s taking a bottle of vodka and some fizzy orange, and is hoping term will end before it’s her turn to cook.

          ‘Sounds fun,’ says Jude.

          Amy says, ‘Your voice sounds funny. Are you sure you’re okay, Mum?’

          Jude laughs too close to the mouthpiece and it goes all crackly.

          ‘Mum?’ says Amy. ‘What is it, Mum?’

          Jude says, ‘I was trying to put on some eyeshadow.’

          Amy says, ‘What?’

          And Jude says, ‘I was concentrating so hard I pulled a funny face.’ She does an impression of herself trying to talk with taut lips: ‘See?’

          ‘You don’t wear makeup, Mum, what’s going–?’

          ‘You know what they say about a change,’ says Jude.

          ‘No. Look Mum . . .’

          ‘Good as a holiday.’


          ‘A change. It’s as good as a holiday. Or is it a rest?’

          ‘Is someone there with you?’

          ‘Here? Why would there be?’

          ‘Is there someone to help . . . with your face?’

          ‘I have worn make up before, thank you.’

          ‘Mum, just don’t . . . don’t overdo it, okay?’

          ‘What was it they all used to shout after your Aunty Sheila?’ So much foundation. The wrong colour for her pale complexion.

          ‘You know when you’ve been Tangoed.’

          ‘That was it.’ Jude laughs again: the hysterical kind.

          ‘Are you sure you’re okay, Mum?’

          Jude wipes her eyes with the back of her hand: ‘Chill, Amy, I know what I’m doing.’

          ‘Don’t say chill, Mum. Please. When you’re out with your friends tonight, try not to use any words you think are in.’

          ‘What, like safe, sorted, wicked?’

          ‘Right. Don’t use any of those.’

          ‘And am I okay in fishnets?’ Jude smiles.

          ‘Don’t even joke. What colour?’


          ‘Your eyeshadow.’

          ‘Just grey. More than one shade though. I believe it’s called a grey palette.’



          ‘Not too short.’


          ‘Only asking. Anyway, I need to get off. I’m supposed to be there in an hour and I still haven’t straightened my hair.’

          ‘Okay, darling, love you.’

          ‘Yeah, and you. And, Mum.’

          ‘What is it?’

          ‘I’m glad you’re . . . I’m glad you’re, you know.’



For your eyeshadow, use a cream powder formula, and, for hooded eyes, use light, bright colours to prevent a sunken look. Stop the colour just short of the end of your eye to achieve a lifted, wide-eyed effect. Use a soft kohl liner above and below the lashes, and do not forget to blend blend blend. 


Tom asked her. Jude was supposed to be mentoring him as this was his first teaching position, but when she’d been granted extended compassionate leave, the Maths teacher, Kathleen, took him under her wing. When he first said they were going up to Blackpool, Jude thought he meant a school trip. Thought she must have misunderstood the invitation when she realised it was a staff night out.

          ‘Kathleen’s coming,’ he told her, but Kathleen wasn’t even forty.

          ‘I really don’t think–’ she started, but Tom refused to take no for an answer. Said he’d help her pull a toy boy. She laughed at that. Felt the unexpected pleasure in the tug of her cheekbones. When she thought about it afterwards, she realised it was that, that made her agree to come.

          ‘And don’t forget your slap,’ he said, ‘it’s going to be a big one.’

          She waggled her finger; told him off for being cheeky. Quietly asked Kathleen later, was she a bit too old for makeup, did she think?


Jude’s the first to arrive. Worries she’s got the wrong place. She knows it’s what everyone says but it really is full of kids. It’s the first time she’s turned up at a pub on her own; not since she was a teenager anyway. She orders a glass of wine. Doesn’t know whether she’ll be able to pay with coins or will need to use a note. She finds an anonymous table and tries to blend in with the wallpaper. It’s okay, no one approaches her. All the young people are busy with each other. Jude will just finish her glass of wine and then she will leave. It’s a stupid idea anyway. She checks her eyeshadow in her compact mirror. Wonders whether she should have stuck to brown. She snaps it shut. Scans the perimeter for any of her colleagues. Accidentally catches eyes with a girl: smudged mascara, red lips, dark curls. They both smile, and the girl starts coming over.

          ‘See you’ve already started.’ It’s Kathleen, motioning towards her glass. ‘Can I get you another?’

          The girl tucks her hair behind her ear as she walks straight past.

          ‘Hey? Is anyone in there?’ Kathleen waves her hands in front of Jude’s face.

          ‘Sorry. What? No, thank you, no. I don’t think I’m staying that long.’

          ‘Don’t be ridiculous,’ says Kathleen. ‘That’s a gorgeous dress, by the way, where did you get it?’

          ‘Oh, thanks,’ says Jude, ‘Just a shop in town.’ She’s about to explain which shop but Kathleen heads off to the bar.

          Then Rachel from admin turns up and Kathleen comes back with the drinks. Then Paul arrives, then John. Tom turns up last. Calls it, ‘Fashionably late’. He gets in a tray of shots. ‘To get the party started,’ he says. The tiny drink smells like the cola mix from the soda stream maker they bought for Amy’s tenth birthday: when Richard had first tried to drink from the narrow glass bottle, raspberry blue pop had spurted all over his beard. Jude realises just in time she’s supposed to knock it back.

          John orders a round of drinks. Jude pays for the one after, as she wants to make sure she gets one in while she can still remember what everyone is having. Kathleen calls her ‘Judy’. The flash of anger is exquisite. When it’s just the two of them Kathleen asks how everything is. And Jude says, ‘Fine.’ Says, ‘Yes, everything’s okay, thanks.’ Says, ‘What are you having next?’

          Kathleen says, ‘I should probably have a Coke.’ And Jude says ‘One shot of vodka or a double.’ Kathleen laughs. Says, ‘I’ll have what you’re having.’ She scrabbles in her bag for a twenty-pound note. Tom comes over. He’s sweating. Says, ‘I’m thinking cocktails.’ Jude says, ‘Wicked idea.’ Thinks about Amy. Thinks about getting a frozen margarita. Tom suggests a pitcher: Sex on the Beach.



Avoid using lengthening mascaras and go for a product that is fat, full and lush. Apply to all your lashes; even the little ones, as this will create a more youthful ‘open-eye’ effect. Stay away from coloured mascaras: these are great for twenty-year-olds but are not suitable for the over-forties.


Just after Richard died there was nearly a time with one of his colleagues. His wife invited Jude to dinner. They didn’t live far away so she’d walked round to their house.

          ‘I hope you like fish?’ the wife said. Jude smiled and when the wife frowned she started to try to explain the joke, but halfway through she couldn’t remember why it was funny, and Richard’s colleague had to fill the silence with an anecdote from work.

          The salmon fillets they fed her were plump and perfect, and the carrots and peas shone with such a brilliant glaze that it made Jude wonder if she might be in a dream. The dessert was a multi-coloured children’s party creation that the wife calle ‘kitch’. Jude smiled and managed a mouthful. Said she wasn’t feeling too well. At first she refused his offer of a lift home, but the wife persuaded her. Didn’t she know there were bad people about these days, even in a neighbourhood like theirs?

          He pulled up outside her house. Put his hand on her knee. He said he was sorry about Richard. How the best ones always go first. Said she must be feeling lonely. Told her he’d always found her an attractive woman. He eased her legs apart and inched his hand up her skirt.

          She thanked him for the lift and reached for the car-door handle. It would have been easy to let him follow her in.



Opt for matte blushes with peach or pink undertones that add a youthful glow to your skin. Apply, with a brush, to the apples of your cheeks. This will emphasise the eyes; drawing away attention from droopiness in your jowls and wrinkles on your neck.


They end up in a nightclub. It reeks of perfume. Beer dregs. Breath. She’s never known one smell of anything other than cigarettes. Short faux-leather skirts and black stockings flit past. Girls in bras meant to be tops, and a shimmery backless dress with hardly a front in it either. Everywhere, tall tall shoes – platforms and spikes; some easily six inches. The DJ, a leggy bouffant blonde with thick makeup and long sparkly lashes.

          ‘Jude, you do realise it’s a gay club?’ says Kathleen.

          ‘I didn’t just step off the ark, you know.’ Jude surprises herself. Amy had brought a lesbian back for the weekend in her first year at university. She’d warned Jude beforehand; make sure she told Dad not to ask about boys. Jude had been surprised at the girl’s beautiful blonde hair. Richard wasn’t sure whether she and Amy should sleep in separate rooms. Jude had managed to persuade him that she really didn’t think Amy was that way. When she'd gone to the toilet in the middle of the night she’d stopped outside her daughter’s door for a quick listen. Opened it just a crack and tried to make out how close the girls were sleeping in Amy’s double bed. She thought about creeping in. But what would she say if one of them woke? Decided she’d tactfully bring up the subject the next time Amy came home. Would remind her daughter she was always there if ever she needed to talk.


‘You okay for a minute while I pop to the loo?’ Kathleen says.

          ‘Of course,’ says Jude. She pretends to concentrate on her drink.

          ‘Well, hello, you,’ comes a voice: a tranny, Richard would have said. They’d once been invited to Funny Girls with a group of his colleagues. She’d Googled it first. Told him it sounded harmless. Just like a cabaret but with men in drag. Richard said it didn’t sound like their kind of fun. She’d rubbed his shoulder, and said: ‘I don’t know, I can see you in red stilettos.’ He’d laughed and asked if she thought he had the calves to pull it off. Said there was no way she’d get him in a place like that.

          ‘Hi,’ she says, wondering if the man is someone she knows ‘out-of-costume’.

          ‘Hey, sexy lady,’ he says. ‘Nice dress.’

          ‘Thanks,’ she says, still unable to place him.

          And then he says he’s never seen her here before. Wonders where she usually goes on a Saturday night.

          Jude’s face flushes red. She’d assumed he must be gay: thought they all were. Realises he’s as good as asked her if she comes here often.

          ‘I . . . I . . . I–’

          Kathleen comes to the rescue: ‘She’s with me,’ she tells him, placing an arm round Jude’s shoulder.

          Jude feels her body go rigid but tries to make it seem natural: says, ‘There you are,’ and pats Kathleen’s hand.

          The man purses his lips, exaggeratedly. Shrugs one shoulder and turns on his heels.

          ‘Just in the nick of time,’ says Kathleen.

          ‘Thanks,’ says Jude, twisting away from Kathleen’s grip.



Apply lip pencil to the outer edge of your lip line instead of the inner edge. This will make your lips look fuller, naturally. Change your lipstick colour: many women continue to wear a lipstick that looked great on them twenty years ago but no longer suits their lip size or skin tone. Use a sheer lipstick and opt for a colour that brightens your face and complements your makeup look.


She touches up her makeup in the toilet mirror, encircling her lips in a coffee-coloured pencil the way the woman on the YouTube video advised. Her lips are tinted purple from the red wine, but under the UV lighting they seem almost blue. She wonders whether this was the colour of Richard’s when she’d tried so hard to breathe life back into them. Wonders why she can’t remember. Hopes it’s because hers were crushing them. Hopes she’s not forgetting his face.

          Amy said she was stupid for calling an ambulance. That was the exact word she used.  ‘He was DNR, Mum. You know it was what he wanted.’

          Jude didn’t tell her daughter that the decision to attempt resuscitation had nothing to do with signatures on a form. When he’d reached across their bed she’d shaken his arm off. Mumbled something about waiting till morning. Rolled over. It took her a few moments to work out something was wrong.

          His eyes had flinched when she’d banged on the light switch. They were crazy: desperate: ‘Jude,’ he’d mouthed. ‘Judy.’

          The only way to help him was ply his drowning lungs with her air.


When she’d fantasised about his dying moments she’d imagined he might slip into a coma first. That she’d hold his frail hand as he lay there, whisper that it was okay to go; that this was his time and he shouldn’t worry about leaving her. That she’d check her watch from time to time as his breaths diminished. Then, finally, when after a minute or two or five without inhalation, she’d kiss his still-warm forehead. Close his glazed-over eyes and tuck his sheet in neatly. Sit for an appropriate amount of time – say fifteen, maybe even twenty minutes – before calling the doctor’s surgery to break the terrible news.


‘You going to be long?’

          A smudge-eyed girl appears in the mirror behind her.

          Jude turns to face her. ‘Sorry,’ she says. It’s the girl that smiled at her in the pub.

          ‘You’re not following me are you?’ she says, suddenly panicking it’s come out wrong.

          The girl hunches her shoulders as she grins. It makes Jude want to grab her in a hug. Hold her. Jude fumbles in her bag for a cigarette, just to stop her hands from doing anything involuntary.

          ‘You can’t smoke in here, you know,’ says the girl.

          ‘Thanks. Yes, I know. Thanks,’ says Jude.

          ‘It’s upstairs.’

          Jude must look confused because the girl says, ‘The smoking balcony.’

          ‘Oh,’ says Jude. And, ‘Thank you.’ And, ‘I’d better get back to my friends.’



Learn how to re-apply your makeup every decade. Just as important as when you initially learned how to apply makeup as a teenager, it’s vital to learn the right technique for your age in order to look and feel age-appropriate at all times.


 ‘On your own?’ It’s the girl from the toilets.

          ‘It’s too hot in there,’ Jude says. She attempts a smoke ring. Doesn’t quite get it right.

          ‘Take it off,’ says the girl, nodding at Jude’s cardigan.

          It sounds like the obvious answer. The girl places her hands gently on Jude’s shoulders and slips the cardy from them. Jude could stop this. Could pull her arms forward to prevent it leaving her body. Could decide not to let the world see her batwinged arms. But she lets the girl take it and hang it on the back of a chair. Jude draws deeply on her cigarette. Blows out a wisp of smoke. Her eyes are wet. She wafts her hands in front of them as if the cigarette is to blame.

          ‘Would you like one?’ she asks.

          The girl nods and Jude lights it for her with her own. It’s a long time since she’s felt this intimate with anyone but Richard.      

          Tom struts over. ‘There you are! Coming for a dance?’

          Tom’s probably gay. Jude can’t understand why she’s never seen it before. What would Richard think if he’s up there watching? She turns back to where the girl was standing, but the space has already been filled by a punk and a woman dressed as a ballerina. The back of the woman’s pink tutu is resting on Jude’s cardigan. She knows it would be easy to reach past. To say, ‘Excuse me,’ and point. She turns instead to Tom. Removes the straw from her drink and downs it. ‘Sure,’ she says and follows him, the flickering strobe making his movements seem robotic.

          The tempo slows and a glut of bodies floods the dance floor. Tom’s no longer next to her. All around her, arms are raised, fingers finding each other. She feels hands at her waist and turns to look behind her. It’s the girl again. Jude pretends not to notice. Isn’t sure whether she’s preparing for some newfangled Conga. The girl moves towards her; presses her pubis into the small of Jude’s back. Nuzzles into the crook between her neck and shoulder. Apple shampoo catches in Jude’s throat: sticky sweet lip-gloss, and mints. She feels her cheeks blush. Feels the heat creep downwards to her chest. Lower. Is glad of the darkness. She searches through the haze of dry ice for familiar faces, but the fog is blinding. Takes the girl’s hands from her waist and pulls her closer. Closes her eyes. Dances.

Rhoda Greaves is a Lecturer in Creative Writing at Birmingham City University and an Associate Editor at Short Fiction magazine. Her stories have been commended or shortlisted in several prizes including the Bridport Short Story Prize, Manchester Fiction Prize, Bristol Short Story Prize, and the Aesthetica Creative Writing Award, and have been published in various literary magazines and anthologies including LitroShort Fiction, the Bristol Short Story Prize Anthology, and the National Flash Fiction Day anthology A Box of Stars Beneath the Bed. You can follow her on Twitter @rhodagreaves.