The Women at the Salon

Submitted for Contest #33 in response to: Write a story set in a salon or barbershop.... view prompt

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Mar 20, 2020

General

“My mom likes my hair out of my face.” She pulled her hair back in the mirror to show the hairdresser. “But she’s dead so let’s give me some bangs.” Then she let it go.

The hairdressers do their own hair when there are no appointments. They talk to one another or to the mirror like they were the hairdresser and the customer. One dons her gloves and paints her hair in a deep red. She does this often enough that her partner never knows what hair color they’ll come home with. They wait underneath the hairdryers flipping through magazines like everyone else.

“My husband and I went to the Anne Lamott reading last night. I just bought two tickets and we went. Sold out, we’re walking in and I see zero men. 99% women. Once we sat down, I even had a woman lean over and ask me how I was able to drag my husband to come. I just told her that I bought the tickets and he came along. But I was thinking about it and then told him, I said, “Howard, if anything were to ever happen to me, you find out where this woman is touring and you show up and you take your pick.” He got a kick out of that.”

“Saturday’s a good day for a funeral. No one gotta get up tomorrow.”

“Well, there’s church on Sundays, Meryl Jean.”

“Yeah, well no one gotta go. He’ll still love us if we sleep in.”

“What kind of funerals are you going to go that late?”

“It’s still a party, sweetie. We just celebratin’ sumthin else.”


This woman’s name is Kelly. And you will imagine her as your best friend from elementary school, before boys and girls really liked each other and could just be friends. So you picture her, or at least what you can make up of her from what you remember of her nine-year-old self mixed with the pictures she infrequently posts on Facebook. And you’ll see her no matter what physical description I give her. Or you’ll see your ex, the one that left you not because she stopped loving you but because she got a good job in a place you can’t simply drive to. Or you’ll see your mom’s best friend. Yes, the one that got divorced when you were a kid and watched you grow up, touching your shoulder whenever she got the chance. That’s Kelly and she’s sitting in front of the mirror and she’s getting her hair colored so “she can become a new person.”

“Well, I figure that you can tell a lot about a person if they describe something as gray or silver.”

“Honey, that’s a dumb theory. Some things are just gray and some things are just silver. Her hair over there, gray. These expensive ass shears, silver. Don’t make it complicated.”


“So it was in one of those community centers where all of the doors have signs on them for all the different kinds of groups. Alcoholics Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous, Women’s Sexuality Support Group, Chronic Pain Sufferers, even classes on meditation. I find my door but you know what they did? You know what it said? Grieving Windows.” She laughs and shakes her head so much that the hairdresser has to stop cutting. “Instead of widows. And you know what they did? They obviously figured it out or someone told them but, instead of printing out a new sign, they just crossed out the ’n’ with a red pen.” The woman keeps laughing. “It was really quite funny and made everything a little lighter in the room. Someone even made a pane/pain joke.”


She can measure the amount of time it’s been by the length of her hair. It’s been four inches since she called off her engagement. Before that, it was six inches and highlights since she got a promotion. Before that, it was eight inches since she moved here and found a salon she liked.


“And, I don’t know, I think I’m gonna break up with him. I mean, I think he’s getting too serious and we’re just gonna leave for college in a couple months. Yeah, I think that’s best.” The girl had a voice that always seemed to waver as if she was always working something out.

“Ah, love is always wasted on the young. And on the ones that usually don’t deserve it à la the young. But we probably need those ones. So we can see who does deserve it. Even if they still don’t get it.” The woman getting her hair cut next to her chimed in.

“Okay, lady, I don’t know what you’re talking about but I love my boyfriend. I think we’re gonna be together forever.”


I watched the woman on her phone. She was the type that never looked up or made conversation, glued to her screen the whole time. I could do anything to her hair and she wouldn’t notice until it was time to pay. But she always got the same thing anyway: long layers throughout and face-framing layers below the chin. She made the rounds on social media but she would always go back to the weather app. I saw her check on Chicago, Oakland, Miami, Fargo, London, and Seoul. While cutting in the silence, I imagined they were all the places with people she loved. Family, friends, and lovers. That she knows when she loves them when she wonders if it’s sunny where they are. She will know when it’s snowing in Chicago. And she will hope you are bundled up today. I thought this extremely sweet but then realized it was extremely sad. She was nowhere near the people she loved. I thought this and then thought that, maybe, she was just curious about the weather in other cities and hoped it was the latter. 


“You don’t get a fucking gold star for not being an asshole, you know? Sorry for swearing but you know?”


“Little Lucy died in October and I’m still finding tufts of her fur in June. She was a collie. Those things shed like crazy. If it wasn’t dirty and a little sad, they would look like puffs of cotton or patches of snow. They’re all over the garage, even stuck to my license plate, can you believe that? She loved rubbing against the sharp corners to scratch herself. I just haven’t had the heart to go through it with a broom and dustpan.” The hairdresser goes through the room with a broom and dustpan as the woman speaks. She takes the spray bottle she just used on the woman’s hair and goes around to water all the plants that are always green.


Her smile dropped when the hairdresser gave her the mirror. First, the tears were silent. They welled in her eyes and threw themselves out like they were jumping from the roof of a building. Then, they became sobs that shut everyone up and turned everyone’s shampooed heads to her, rattling the walls. The hairdresser was still. She didn’t know what to say. She had given the woman everything she wanted. The woman cried like it wasn’t a bad haircut but the worst haircut. But not even that. The woman cried like someone had died. And what everyone in the salon, all looking at her with a fresh cut and color, didn’t know was someone had. Her husband had passed away right next to her last night but she had this appointment set and thought he would want her looking her best for his funeral on Saturday. 

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