CW: Domestic Violence
“Why are you so chipper today?” Gill asks, brushing bleach on her client’s hair in short, efficient strokes.
I smile at her matronly interest in my love life. And her ability to sniff out gossip. “Nothing.”
“There’s something.” She raises an eyebrow.
I sweep the hair on the floor into a pile, ignoring Gill’s piqued interest prickling on my back.
“It’s possible I’m seeing someone.” He has a chiselled jaw and an office with a view of the city. He's alluring and moody. I like him. Would she approve?
Gill waggles her brush. “A new lover, Jen? Come on, spill.”
“We’re taking things slow.” Lots of girls date older men.
She frowns. “His name?”
“It’s early days.”
She opens her mouth to say something that’s probably sensible and boring, but the bell above the door tinkles and a man strides into the salon.
"Is that your one o’clock?” Gill asks, pointing with her brush.
She leans closer. “I trimmed him last month, and he’s a total arse.”
“Joy,” I say, wiping my palms on my apron and arranging my face into something resembling a smile. I catch his gaze.
He saunters across the salon and collapses into the chair, his confidence spilling over the black leather, along with his expansive girth.
“Short back and sides, thanks love,” he says, staring at his phone. He doesn’t greet me. He doesn’t ask about my day. His casual dismissal whispers his truth. It’s not my truth.
I’m a person, too.
He shifts in the chair and my scissors pass uncomfortably close to his scalp. I stifle a gasp and glance around to see if anyone noticed.
And then I see you. In the mirror across from me.
With your green and vibrant eyes. Your black hair cascading around your face in tendrils of carefree waves. You’re new here. You look like a goddess. A woman who has it together. A woman going places. On the up.
He catches me looking at you in the mirror.
“Haven’t got all day, love,” he says.
My cheeks burn at the slight. I draw up his salt and pepper hair in my comb. And I chop it off at the knees.
I fiddle with my earring. It’s itchy, and the weight is pulling on my ear.
Gill raises an eyebrow. “New earrings?”
“From the mystery man?” She pulls a length of foil between her sturdy fingers and snips.
I turn my head, letting my hair cover my face. “He’s not a mystery. He’s just private.”
Gill laughs. “Well, if you can’t talk about who you’re banging, then you have to wonder if you should be banging them in the first place, chick.”
“That’s a bit harsh,” I say, a smile playing on my lips. It’s solid advice.
I tug at the earring. Emeralds set in gold. They probably cost more than I earn in a month. Or a year. I don’t really know. It hurt when the chemist pierced them.
He couldn’t believe I didn’t have my ears pierced. It took the shine off things. Ruined the surprise.
“They’re pretty. They match your eyes.” Gill’s words don’t match her tone.
I stack rollers in the drawer, lining them up like pink fuzzy dominoes waiting to fall.
One escapes and rolls along the floor. I bend to grab it and I gasp.
It’s you in the mirror behind me.
Your green eyes meet mine. You seem different. Older, more demure, the wild parts of you ground off by the harsh reality of life.
You wear your hair straight now. The soft carefree waves giving way to straight lines and hard edges. It’s all angles and rigidity.
I’m not sure I like it.
“Jen. Jen. Bloody hell, Jen.” The noise of the salon dials up and I hear Gill talking to me.
“Can you pass me those foils, please?”
I want to linger. But what would I say? So I give you a brief nod. Yours is efficient, stoic in return.
I pass Gill the foils, my heart hammering. It’s whispering a truth I can’t hear.
“You okay, chick?” she asks.
Her warmth assaults me and I cough, turning my face to hide the tears pricking in my eyes. The sudden surge of emotion surprising. Emeralds set in gold. Fancy dinners. Expensive shoes. But genuine concern?
“Yeah, I’m fine.”
I’m sure I am.
“What the hell, Jen. Are you okay?” Gill rushes to me as I walk into the staffroom.
I glance over my shoulder, but it’s early and no one else is here.
“What’s happened?” she asks, pouring coffee into a Little Miss Sunshine mug. I don’t feel sunny.
“We had a row.” I fish out a tissue from my pocket and blow my nose.
She hands me the mug and leans against the bench, waiting.
“He was upset I didn’t want to give up my apartment.” My breath escapes in jerks and snatches. I focus on snuffing out the emotion. “He’s right though, it’s been six months and I always sleep over at his. I don’t know why I’m dragging my feet.”
I leave out the unsavoury parts of the discussion. Most of the truth will do.
I close my eyes and sip the coffee. It’s funny how it tastes better when someone else makes it.
“What does your mum think of him?”
The question catches me off guard. It tightens around my throat, squeezing the air out of my lungs. I stifle a sob.
“She’s jealous.” It sounds petulant and childish even in the heat of my anguish.
Gill raises an eyebrow.
“She thinks he's moving too fast. That he’s pushy. He’s too much older than me.” I leave out the unsavoury parts of that discussion, too.
The bell jingles and voices chatter in the salon. The clients will be here soon. My heart races and I swallow. I shake my head. Not sure what else to say. Someone once taught me the benefits of silence.
“Jen, if you need—”
“That’s my nine o’clock arriving.” I wipe my eyes and blot my face with the tissue. I’m sure I’m a mess, but I open the door, anyway.
And I see you in the mirror by the basins.
I’m not expecting it. I’m not prepared for the shock. Your glorious black hair is cut into a severe bob. You’re pale. And thin. Your sparkle extinguished, and I wonder, does no one else notice the change?
What’s happened to you?
I walk towards you. Is that a bruise peeking out from under your cuff? Or is this drama just in my head? You see me looking and fuss with your shirt. You deserve better than this.
Gill rests her hand on my shoulder. “Jen, I’d like to talk to you later.”
Joy. I’m going to have fun avoiding that conversation.
“Are you avoiding me?” Gill asks, folding towels by the basin. She says it playfully, but I feel the heat burning on my cheeks.
“No, of course not,” I say, picking up a towel. “I’ve just been busy.”
I have been busy. Avoiding her.
I didn’t think anyone had noticed.
The salon is quiet. It’s nearly closing time. We fold towels in silence.
“I promised myself I’d do this if I ever got the chance.” Gill puts down her towel and stares at me. “Someone did it for me and it was life changing.”
I pause, the towel fluffy and warm in my hands. My stomach twisting, anticipating what’s coming.
Gill sweeps the carefully styled hair off my face and tucks it behind my hair.
My breath catches in my throat and I turn away.
And I see you. Staring at me in the mirror. Just a husk of your former self.
You look at me, your lips parted in shock, eyes wide in horror. Your hair tucked behind your ear, a bruise blushing on your cheek.
I think I’m going to be sick. The shame. The guilt. Any decent person would have said something.
I want to say you are strong, brave, kind, worthy. But I don’t. I turn away.
“I thought so,” she says quietly.
“It’s nothing,” I whisper.
“It’s not nothing.” She pushes me towards you until we’re just inches apart, separated by only the glass in the mirror.
Your green eyes, once so clear and vibrant, muddied with shame and hurt. You twist the towel in your thin, pale hands, with emeralds set in gold dripping from your ears like teardrops. You’re a woman who’s doing it tough.
“He was upset. He didn’t mean to,” I say.
“There’s no excuse for this. It’s not okay.”
The weight of her words rest on my shoulders. I try to wriggle from their truth.
“This happens to other people.”
“It’s happening to you. Let me help you. He hit you. That’s not okay.”
It’s out in the open now. My secret exposed. And the power he has over me shrivels in the light.
Someone noticed. Someone cared. Someone said something. This is not in my head. I’m not crazy.
This is happening to me. Not someone else. Me.
I look in the mirror. This is where you and I meet.
Where I own my truth.
I’m a person, too.
"I need your help," I say.