Lipstick in China; The Back of the Head of Beijing | Adriene Lilly

Lipstick in China

I’ve stopped doing whatever it was I was doing and am staring at a white coffee mug with a pink lipstick stain across the rim. I can’t remember anything about what I might have been doing before because I can’t stop staring at the lipstick. I’ve never seen a lipstick stained mug outside of the movies. I didn’t know people still wore lipstick and, now knowing that they do, I find myself surprised that they don’t wear some kind of future-lipstick with stain-free technology.

The mug with the pink lipstick is sitting alone on a table beside the window. It’s not steaming, it’s not empty, it’s just there- holding the lipstick. Behind it, past the window and two stories below there are two figures standing in the street screaming at each other in Chinese. There is a car honking, fireworks exploding somewhere and a tiny dog is pissing on a pile of garbage that’s been rotting in the street. The subway passes, then the train, neither of them disrupt anything. The waitress tells a woman in the cafe that, she isn’t joking, they are, in fact, out of salami. The woman doesn’t understand any Chinese but she laughs anyway because the waitress is laughing. Another firework goes off somewhere. Then another. The people yelling in the street are still yelling but the dog has finished pissing and left the scene. A homeless man without feet crawls up the sidewalk towards the entrance to the subway pushing a tin cup in front of him. The woman is surprised that there is no salami on her sandwich but she’s having trouble explaining it to the waitress. A man on a electric scooter dodges an old woman who’s sitting on a stool saving a parking space. The two people yelling part ways, their conflict is unresolved. Fireworks are replaced by firecrackers and followed by more fireworks. The woman eats a sandwich without salami. There is a high-five somewhere near by. The dog reappears, crosses the street and disappears again.

But I don’t see any of this because I’m staring at the pink lipstick stain against the white coffee mug. I’ve completely forgotten where I am and what I was doing. Maybe I was writing something, maybe I was about to go somewhere, maybe I was ordering coffee, maybe—the waitress takes the mug and the lipstick away and now there is nothing at the table—I go back to writing an email to my mother who lives on the other side of the world where there aren’t nearly as many fireworks.

The Back of the Head of Beijing

I’ve fallen in love with the back of a head, again. What a relief. I’m so glad that I can fall in love. The back of this head has gray hair and a young neck. It’s practicing writing Chinese characters. It’s drinking coffee in a tea shop.

I can’t remember the last time I fell in love with nothing. I do remember the last time I fell in love with a steady gait. This gait would pass my house, back when I was abstractly employed as a property manager. Back when I didn’t have hours or a real boss or a proper pay schedule. The gait would pass by every day when I was having my morning coffee. It was consistent and it wore black sunglasses. I was in love with it. That was three years ago. But now I’ve cast aside the gait and am in love with the back of this head.

It’s no matter though because it has put on a scarf to cover the young neck and a hat to cover the gray hair and has thus effectively broken up with me. What a casual way to end things. Now I’m left here to stare at an Italian movie poster hanging quietly on the wall of this tea shop that sells coffee in Beijing. What a pity, I was so in love with the back of the head that I forgot the entire history of Italian cinema.


A graduate of The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Adriene Lilly now lives and works as a teacher in Guizhou, China. She spends her time studying, writing and the occasional holiday seeking out the most remote parts of the internet.

About TOSKA

Nonfiction for the restless soul. Published online quarterly.

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