--HALF THE TIME I AM DRUNK ON MY OWN SCARS
The Right Cut
She cuts my hair with her eye first, squinting against the wispy smoke tendrils.
“You got a problem with combs? A hairbrush? Hygiene?”
We girls should stick together, I think. Anyway, she’s a big woman and could be a lot more judicious who she asks about their issues. She looks away and coughs at another beautician bent over a customer in the chair next to where I’ll be.
She likes hockey, the Everett Silvertips. I want to ask her what kind of name Silvertips is, tell her it sounds like a ballet troupe, but there are all these autographed portraits of the players plastered like a garden arch on her mirror. My own chubby face feels claustrophobic in the glass, as if I’m about to get gang-banged.
She’s got a tattoo that says Tommy in some sort of barbwire font. I can’t take my eyes off it and she notices and gives my head a shove forward to work on the back of my hair. Looking down I see tufts of other people’s shorn manes, as if someone exploded a multi-colored Chewbacca. Then I notice my own fulsome calves and realize I forgot to shave my legs, that it’s maybe been a week or two.
“We’re moving to California tomorrow,” is what I think about saying to the stylist, but I just sort of say it in my head so it hangs their real, even if unheard by anyone but me. “Yeah, Mom’s new boyfriend is taking his real estate test. He has a place with a pool, even though it’s a prefabricated home. A mobile home. Hell, okay, a trailer. We’ll be living in another trailer.”
Her name is Deanne Tilburg and she’s not very photogenic, as far as I can tell. Her certification copy is mug shot-serious and I can’t help but wonder what kind of mother she is, about the dreams she had that might still have a chance to bloom if she’d ever unpack them.
She wets my hair depending on the section she’s cutting. She uses a spray bottle that once contained Windex glass cleaner, according to the label. I figure it’s a joke, something to help her get her jollies off, but then this woman doesn’t really seem the prankster type.
She stops every few minutes. She’s always the one to answer the phone, and she does it in a rush even if it’s never for her. “Donna!” “Patricia!” “Sandy!” These other women have people who want them, brothers and boyfriends, bill collectors.
I’ve never been to church but I know about priests because they’re often in the movies. I used to imagine giving my confession. The priest in my imagination always looked like Bella Lugosi, though, so I clammed right up. Now I start telling my stylist all about my failings, and not just the ones she can see. I tell her about the fire I set, the windshields I busted up with a bat, the things that happened in Principal Lowry’s office. I get pretty explicit because that’s the kind of movie my life’s been so far, vivid and sweaty. The beautician doesn’t respond, of course, since it’s me and her conversing in the garage called my skull.
The music they play in this place isn’t too bad. People pick on Barry Manilow and the Bee Gee’s but there’s an easy vibe inside their pudding, something to cozy up with and not feel threatened by.
Mom’s last boyfriend was a meth head with a portrait of Hitler in his hall closet. He liked metal. Preferred it loud so the walls and floors would shake, an earthquake to muffle all the sins that took place while Mom was working at IHOP.
Now that the stylist is doing the finishing bang trim, I’m seated upright, all head and no body, a bust of some fat girl with a Dutch boy. I don’t really care about how my hair looks, but then you knew that. This is a good position to see Deanne Tilburg full-on, without her being able to stop me. But I’m shy at first and so I study the black combs bleeding in the murky, medicinal water. I wonder how soaking everyone’s sweat in the same glass container is considered sanitary, yet I know as well as anyone that getting clean is sometimes harder than you imagine.
I look at her and she’s looking at me. She has Mom’s nose with the big black pits for nostrils. Her eyebrows are plucked severely and one of the millipedes is missing part of its tail. “It’s all right,” I say, “at least you tried.”
I think she smiles, but then the stink wafts up from behind me and I know she’s just needing a Tums. That’s okay, too, I tell her. I’m constipated nearly every day.
“Well?” she says, offering me a hand mirror but not swiveling me or giving any instructions.
I struggle to get out of the chair, the thing’s so sunken it’s like a seat in a space rocket.
I tip her thirty percent. While I sign, the phone rings and she grabs it as if it’s a snake.
“About time you called,” she says. Her lips are twitchy and her eyes shoo me goodbye. For a moment I consider hugging her, saying it’ll be okay, everything works out the way it’s supposed to, there’s still time—all that crap I’ve always wanted people to dump on me. But I don’t.
The miniature bell lets out a cheerful, Holiday sound when I open the door. “Christmas is going to be different,” I tell the beautician. “It’s going to be better, for both of us.” With nowhere to go, the words bounce around my skull dumb as lemmings.
It isn’t until I’m on the bus and see my new self in the side mirror that I recognize it’s a pretty good look on me. And then I realize, too, that the beautician never even asked me how I wanted it cut, styled. Somehow she just knew.