UtS 15 ms photo  Levi

Extra-Firming: Night Cream

Miriam Mandel Levi
I am a trusting sort. When the weatherman forecasts rain, I take an umbrella. When a mayoral candidate promises to build speed bumps on my street to slow traffic, I vote for him. I sincerely believe that the new, improved Bran Flakes will taste better. Sure, I’m disappointed at times, but I don’t lose faith. Trusting as I am, though, I draw the line at anti-aging cosmetics. I just don’t believe those creams reverse the effects of aging, reduce wrinkles, or tone skin. So you can understand why I was skeptical when I walked into a pharmacy and a cosmetician tried to sell me skin firming cream.
        For several days before my Clinique moisturizer runs out, I store it upside down to coax the last lotion down to the mouth of the bottle, then I stick my finger through its neck and scoop it out. I also scrape the sides of the bottle where the lotion resides with a cotton swab. This ritual may sound cheap but at ninety dollars a bottle I’m not wasting a drop. When I’ve extracted the last milliliter, I tuck the bottle in my purse and head to the pharmacy to replace it. I take the bottle with me so there will be no mistakes. I want the yellow lotion, number two, for mixed skin types. The saleswomen at the cosmetics counter try to sell me other brands but I don’t give them the time of day. I don’t care if their suggested products contain anti-oxidants or other new skin repairing ingredients; I’m loyal to my company. My mother and sister use Clinique products too; there’s something to be said for keeping it in the family.
           I show the saleswoman my bottle and she retrieves the identical one from the Clinique shelf. I am on the verge of paying for it when a large saleswoman I don’t recognize sidles up to me. She is tall and dressed in a bright red pant suit which clings to the ballooning contours of her body. A thin black belt encircles her middle like an equator line on a globe. Her dark hair is pulled back tightly to reveal a wide and swarthy face. Her skin is like well oiled leather, her makeup expertly applied. She looks like she’d be more at home selling power tools than powder puffs.
           “I used to have skin like yours,” she says, “but look at me now.” Had her situation improved or deteriorated since she looked like me? “The moisturizer you’re buying is good if you want to maintain your skin, but what you need is repair.” She almost shouts the word repair. I look around to see how many people have been enlightened as to the regrettable state of my skin. “This is what you need.” She picks up a bottle from the table of items on special and holds it at eye level between her thumb and pointer.
           “Clarins, there is nothing like it. It will do wonders for your face.”
           “Thank you, but I think I’ll stick with what I have.” I’m not one to switch loyalties at the drop of a hat.
           She exhales through pursed lips and puts one hand on her hip.
           “I’m telling you; you will not believe the difference it will make.”
           I take the bottle and read the small print—Clarins Whitening Repairing Night Cream for dark spots. I’m taken aback. “But I don’t have dark spots.”
           For a split second her composure breaks, then she rallies. “Of course not, not that particular cream, this one,” and she picks up the adjacent jar without missing a beat. “Clarins Firming cream. You’ll love it. You’ll thank me every day.”
           By this point, she has lost all credibility. Another customer might brush her off, but I’m Canadian and we’re known for our good manners. “How much is it?’
           She pulls a small calculator out of her pocket and punches the numbers with her long purple nails. “Ordinarily one hundred and sixty four dollars, but today you can have it for twenty percent off. So that would be,” she moistens her red lips with her tongue,” a hundred and thirty-one fifty.”
           “I’m sorry, that’s not in my budget but thanks anyway.” I’m not going to get into a showdown with her over a moisturizer, so I slink away leaving my un-purchased bottle of Clinique on the glass counter. I figure I’ll bide my time in the shampoo aisle, then return to the cosmetic counter when she is busy with another customer.
           I reach up to a high shelf to take a bottle of Herbal Essence conditioner. For dazzling, shiny hair—that probably isn’t true either. I toss it into my plastic basket, turn toward the deodorants, and there she is again, blocking the aisle with her wide girth.
           “I know it’s expensive, but you can pay in up to four payments. Believe me; you could look so much better than you do now.”
           I chuckle at the offense but am not amused. I will have to dispose of her in order to purchase my Clinique or flee the store without my moisturizer. “I’m really not interested but thank you for your help.”
           I move on again, this time down the aisle of vitamins and supplements. She turns back, and it seems I’ve finally shaken her. I’m not taking any chances on another encounter, so I take my conditioner and calcium with vitamin D to the checkout counter. I’ll come back for the Clinique another day. Waiting in line, I look for a chocolate bar to assuage my frustration. A whiff of her sharp perfume, and she is upon me again.
           “Look, I can understand you don’t want to spend the money, but take this sample. It’s only ten dollars. What’s ten dollars? Nothing.”
           She holds out a small, white tube with a gold cap—Clarins Extra-Firming Night Cream. Extra-firming? Is there another cream called just plain firming that is not sufficient for my condition? I put out my hand to take it. You have to know when to concede defeat.
           “You’ll be back to buy the full bottle.” Flashing a victory smile, she swivels on her black heels and is gone.
           Her hard sell must have got to me because that night I apply the cream. It is rich and mildly fragrant, and I fall asleep dreaming of luminous skin. The next morning, when I look in the mirror, I think I look just a shade different. I meet my daughter in the kitchen making her lunch for school.
           “Do you notice anything about me?” I ask casually, cocking my head.
           She pauses, the peeler in her hand, and studies me. “Yeah, you look younger, less wrinkly.”
           “Are you serious? Did you know I tried a new facial cream last night?”
           “How would I know that, Mom?”
           My son comes into the kitchen, helps himself to a bowl of cereal and sits down at the table. I stand next to him.
           “Notice anything about me?’
           “Mom, you know I’m not good at that stuff.” He spoons a mound of Quaker Squares into his mouth.
           “Just look at me for second. Do I look different?”
           “Okay, fine; I guess, you don’t have as many wrinkles.”
           “Come on. Did someone tell you to say that?” Was this a conspiracy? Had she recruited my very own children to make the sale? I ask my husband the same question.
           “You got your hair cut.”
           “No.”
           “New earrings?”
           “I’ve had these for twenty years.”
           “They’re nice.”
           Over the next few days I apply the night cream religiously, using just enough to achieve the desired effect but not too much to squander my samples. I stare at my image in the mirror. Maybe I do look just a bit younger and more radiant. If this cream works, the possibilities are endless—whiter teeth, silkier hair, and fuller lips.
           The cream begins to dwindle. I squeeze the tube, coaxing the remnants out with high digital pressure. I press it against the edge of the vanity, then finally cut it open with a razor blade to salvage the last drops. You wouldn’t believe how much more was in it. Finally, the cream is finished. I throw the tube in the garbage, then pluck it out again. You never know. There are half price sales.
           I begin the next day without my Clinique or my Clarins. I have to go to the police station to track down a recalcitrant man who hit the side-view mirror of my car and refused to give me his insurance details. Fortunately, I had the presence of mind to write down his license plate number so the police could track him. I sit across a metal desk from the police officer as he calls the offender.
           “Hello, Mr. Burgess? Sergeant Nash here, police. Listen, I have an elderly woman sitting here in my office. She says you hit her car and didn’t give her your insurance information.”
           Elderly?
           The officer tells Mr. Burgess that by law he is obligated to give me his insurance details and, satisfied with the offender’s response, hangs up the phone. I thank him for his help and walk out of the station down the gravel path to my car. I think I’ll get the Clarins after all. Maybe I’ll get the neck cream, too. I hear it works wonders for sagging skin.