I love history, and this week I dropped Anne Boleyn into a modern mall. Here’s what happened.
“May I help . . .” I stuttered as I turned, taking in the veiled woman just as her stiff and extravagant gold brocade ballgown knocked over a display of Lancôme perfume samples. She held a hand to the veil at her face and looked furtively right and left.
“Am I safe?” she stage whispered. “I’ve come so far to avoid being recognized.” She fluttered her lashes and blinked, clearly expecting me to identify her anyway.
“Department stores are generally safe, if a little soul-sucking.” I cleared my throat. “Are you by chance headed to a Renaissance Faire or a theater of some—”
“No Questions!” she said imperiously.
“Okay, I’ll play. What can I do for you?”
She stepped closer, speaking low, “Well . . . do you have anything to sort of, uhm, freshen me up?”
“This is a makeup counter, we specialize in “freshening up,” but I can’t do much over that veil which, if I’m being honest, sort of ages you.” Clearly alarmed, she immediately jerked up the long veil, smoothing it back over her headdress, exposing a pearl choker with a gold B hanging from the front that lurched a little eighth grade for my taste. I looked at her steadily, and she looked at me, sizing me up, probably reading my total lack of recognition. Her face relaxed, and her shoulders slumped ever so slightly, revealing a person I knew well, a woman who needed me to make her feel beautiful.
She leaned in conspiratorially, “The truth is, my boyfriend is getting cold feet. I mean I know he loves me, I have stacks of letters, I mean absolute piles, but lately he’s been going on about his wi—this other woman. She’s nothing to look at, I’m telling you, has a daughter with a face like a pig farmer’s wife. No sense of humor either, can’t even pull off the one about the one-armed tax collector.” She waited for me to smile, but I had missed the reference, and could see my intelligence fall in her estimation.
“Well, you’re a somber one,” she went on, running her eyes across the sample palettes on the counter, and brushing her finger across a shimmering blush. “What’s this,” she asked, holding up her finger.
“Midnight Rendezvous, but you may like a warmer tone better, like Burning Desire, plus it comes in matte, if you don’t want to sparkle.” I brushed a little on her hand to see how it went with her skin tone. “Do you want me to do your face?” I asked, holding up a makeup wipe, like friends at a slumber party. She nodded, allowing me to settle her in a chair and drape her shoulders before wiping her clean and testing foundations. She sat very still at first, then started to squirm.
“I’m better looking, and I make him laugh,” she pointed out, in case I’d been too dim to catch it the first time. I smiled, concentrating on my work as she watched my progress in the mirror, memorizing every stroke, and lifting her hand to touch the corner of her eye, smoothing tiny, tiny crow’s feet. “Even a beautiful woman can use a little freshening now and then.”
“You’re not exactly old,” I said, feathering Burning Desire across her cheekbones.
“Of course not, it’s just with the pope being such a pain, and people calling me the Great Whore—I mean, not me. I know some women get called that, and I bet it really hurts their feelings. Besides, who’s to say that pope’s all high and mighty anyway. He was definitely born on the wrong side of the blanket. How can he actually speak for God when nobody knows who his mother is? Don’t you find that strange? Isn’t the mother usually obvious?”
I paused before starting on the eyeshadow, asking her to close her eyes.
“And don’t get me started on Tom More,” she added. “Marching around acting like the pope is all knowing, and openly, I mean openly, saying Henry’s not fit to head up the Church of England. Henry, that’s my boyfriend, I don’t know if I mentioned, but Tom just doesn’t get it that old woman can’t give Henry what he needs most in the world. That’s my ace in the hole. I still have a chance; I just need something to freshen me up. Help Henry get over those cold feet.”
“What is it you want?” I asked absently, finishing her face with a dusting of powder and removing the drape.
“To be queen, of course,” the DUH ringing in her tone.
She stared into the mirror, examining her face from all angles. “That will do nicely. Just the thing.” Abruptly she dropped her veil, the brief intimacy vanishing between us as though it had never existed. She quickly gathered her purchases, three of everything I offered, plus two deluxe sets of premium brushes. “Just the thing,” she repeated softly, taking her bag and fluttering away.
“Queen.” I was looking her right in the eyes when she said that word, so I knew she meant to be queen of something. I shifted uncertainly on one foot and then the other, unaccountably worried as I watched her disappear around a corner. “Don’t lose your head,” I whispered.