"I see." Josephine replaced the glass jar in her holster bag and procured a separate, zippered case. "For the thick-eyelash look, you have two options: tinting or application." She removed both a small black cake and a moistened brush to apply the pigment and a plastic box of spidery lashes and displayed them as though they were a cache of jewels. The tube of adhesive gum came next.
The blonde's eyes widened. She shook her head and sat bolt upright on her chair. A convalescent, revived from the dead. "Ya don't mean you want to glue them on?"
Josephine took a long, deep breath. "How else do you think women get them?" she said. "If there were a drink ve could drink to grow them, I assure you I'd let you know," she said in her Polish-tinged English.
"I just assumed...," said the blonde. Miffed, she reached into her pocketbook and produced a magazine clipping from a crumpled stash. She unfurled a luminous, if wrinkled, image of Gloria Swanson, the Hollywood glamour girl, from the latest issue of Motion Picture
. All lips, pouting like a put-out princess. She had the brow of an Egyptian goddess, the same distinctive beauty mark, and the eyelashes of a jungle cat. "Like that," she said, pointing at her eyes. "I want to look like that for a party tonight."
Josephine's perfectly lacquered blood-red nails grazed the wrinkled page. She studied Gloria's fabulous face, the brow, the lash, the pout.
"Application," Josephine said, returning the image.
"Geez," said the client. "You'd think by now you people would come up with something better than that."
It was her duty, Josephine had come to feel, to tolerate stings and slights like this. But a new thought occurred to her as she prepped the lashes for application, as she meticulously heated and applied the adhesive gum. Her client was right. She often worked the floor to do just that: to listen to her patrons, her clients. And now that she was in New York, she knew enough never to be too far away from what real American women wanted. And so she took in the woman's request with deep reverence, as she knew nothing was more important to her future sales than her clients' needs. Blanche or Betty—or whatever the tacky blonde's name was—was right. It was high time someone came up with something better. Josephine was certainly up to this task. The only problem was that across town, a woman named Constance Gardiner was doing the very same thing.
Josephine Herz was not, of course, the first to invent mascara. But she would be the first to invent one devoid of mess and fuss and to make it available to the masses. As early as ancient Egypt, women found their facial fix. Considered to be a necessary accoutrement in every woman's and man's daily regime, kohl, a combination of galena, lead sulfide, or copper and wax, was applied to the eyes, the eyebrows and lashes, to ward off evil spirits and to protect from sun damage. Most any image of Egyptian gods or goddesses will reveal hieroglyphs, not only on pyramid walls but on the Egyptians' faces. The bold, black lines on the female face lost fashion over the centuries, especially in more re- cent times when Victorian ladies eschewed color of all kind on the face. But it was not long before women craved—and chemists created—a new brand of adornment for the eye. Coal, honey, beeswax—all the traditional ingredients had to be tested and tried. Josephine could smell a market maker from a mile away, and in this, she sensed a new moment for the eye. From Los Angeles to Larchmont, women were craving new ways to look like the stars of the silver screen, new ways to dress, look, and behave in a modern woman's ever-changing role. These women needed a product that would make them look and feel like Garbo or Swanson, something simpler, cleaner, and quicker than the application of false eyelashes every six to eight weeks. These women needed a product that was cheap, fuss-free, and less mess than the old option made from charcoal, which, in the very worst cases, caused blindness.
A NEW FRONTIER
Sydney, Australia, 1922
The heat was unbearable, constant, itchy, and apparently determined to do battle with her skin. It was ironic how brutal the journey had been given that the point of it was to flee a brutal adversary at home. Her mother's favorite phrase came to mind as she grasped the railing of the ship: "Wherever you go, there you are." Were her dear mother here right now, she would also be telling Josiah to protect her skin by putting on her hat. Instead, in a flash of rebellion, she stared head-on into the sun as though the sun itself were her enemy and she would win the face-off so long as she did not betray fear.
Oy vey ist mir
. She could not keep this lament far from her mind as she thought of the distance between her loving mother and herself. The distance increased with every second, along with the ache in her heart. She could practically smell her mother's distinct scent: sweet, earthy, like the kasha and sweet white onions simmering on the stove. The warm, instant relief of being in her soft arms and her lilting voice. She did not need to close her eyes to see the outlines of her home: a medieval town surrounded by water on all but one side, stacked with red brick that fortified it from intervention and escape. Josiah had been held here during her childhood, safe, if confined. Home was not perfect by any means, but the comfort of the familiar is a strong incentive for any incumbent, and she struggled to remember why she had left in the first place.
Of course, she knew why.
This excerpt ends on page 16 of the hardcover edition.
Monday we begin the book THE STARLESS SEA by Erin Morgenstern.