‘It was so terribly cold. Snow was falling, and it was almost dark,’ the nasally news reporter says. ‘Last night, a group of demonstrators stormed into Madam Scanlon's hair silo and set fire to thousands of unborn wigs.’ The reporter wears a scarf over her nose, and smog billows across the plaza behind her. ‘Today, the blaze rages on, engulfing the city with a sulphurous stench caused by the high keratin content of the smouldering hair.’
She's not wrong. It’s a strong odour, and I have to breathe through my lips to avoid smelling it. The fire service is nowhere to be seen. The government is covering its ears, allowing the world's largest store of factory-grown hair to turn to ash. What a waste.
‘Another kind of fire was burning here last night,’ says Mace with a grin, ‘me and Scanlon did dirty deeds and dirty deals til the early mornin’.’
Eurgh, I should have known. Mace might be a headstrong guy, but he’s incredibly fickle where money is concerned. His climbing into bed with Scanlon—both in the business sense and in the nastier sense—shouldn’t come as a surprise.
The reporter sneezes, and her head jerks violently. She apologises to the camera and resumes her report. ‘Many people are overjoyed at the prospect of growing hair for the first time, but we don’t yet know what has caused this dramatic change. The angry protestors behind me suspect that the government has been tampering with food and beverages…’
Yup. They’re furious. Every curse known to man is scrawled on those placards. Even Director Gretzky gets a mention. Little do these demonstrators know that it was his unwilling acts that encouraged their hair to grow and their rational minds to resurface. As they stride with righteous rage, swinging their flags aloft, their screaming slogans blend into a muddled slurry that the reporter’s nasally voice manages to cut through.
‘…As you can see, these citizens here are in the awkward, itchy grow-out phase, but how fast their hair will actually grow is unknown. In anticipation of rising demand, the government has imposed a significant levy on all haircare goods; nevertheless, shampoo manufacturers have not yet begun full-scale manufacturing…’
Taxes? The swines! They’re trying to keep us down.
‘They can charge us all they like,’ I shout, ‘but they won’t stop us from growing!’
The news team’s boom operator glares at me, then turns his attention back to the reporter, who seems to be wrapping things up. ‘And now, it’s back to you in the studio, Bill… Why yes, thank you for asking. I’m excited to have a full set of drapes and can’t wait to see what colour my carpet turns out to be.’
My lungs are begging for clean air, so I wish the news lady good luck with her soft furnishings and put my hand on Mace’s shoulder. ‘Come on, man, let’s go.’
He brushes my hand away. ‘I’ve got some business to attend to. The madam’s puttin’ me in charge of testin' artisan shampoos.’
‘Steer clear of her, Mace. She’s tapped. Hold off until things have settled down a bit.’
‘Nah, man, she loves my idea for sandalwood beard wax. It started as pillow talk and now it’s becomin’ reality!’
‘Wigs are finished, Lux. Do yourself a favour and get—’
‘They will always be needed,’ I say, trying to persuade myself as much as Mace. He smiles pityingly and strides off to Scanlon’s factory. My confidence melts like a snowman in spring.
On the train ride back, my brain has indigestion. There are upsides and downsides to all of these changes, but I haven’t computed them all yet. On the one hand, the immolation of the hair silo has heralded the hairnaissance in a blaze of symbolic grandeur. On the other hand, I would have preferred to salvaged its contents and have my crew create a bumper crop of mighty fine wigs.
Mace might be following his economic compass as usual, but it does in fact give accurate bearings. Follicular freedom was always going to cause the decline of wigs. Despite having known this all along, I now find myself pining for the days when I corralled rich people’s hair like a righteous outlaw. I can’t predict how things are going to unfold as hair merges into the mainstream. It’s very possible that things could turn pear-shaped. But Mace is right to move on. I can see myself having to do the cockroach—much like him and his new lover—to adapt to the times.
Tove clutches the first issue of The Style Syndicate and begs me to leaf through it with her.
‘Ooh,’ she says, fingering a full-page advertisement. ‘Scanlon has had her nose fixed. It’s a perfect ski-slope now.’
‘Are those cheek implants?’ I ask, ‘If so, she is housin’ some serious silicone.’
In the advertisement, Madam Ariadne Scanlon is pictured leaning backwards out of a misted up shower cubicle, dangling her blonde locks, and smiling radiantly. Three dewy bottles of Coiffure shampoo are edited into the foreground, with the caption: ‘available in three delicious scents—garlic, chocolate, and placenta.’
I spit my tea out. ‘Placenta?!’
‘Yeah. They’re just vegetable placentas. You know, to normalise your PH levels,’ she says, as if it were the most normal thing in the world.
‘But when vegetables are born, don’t they eat their own placentas? It’s supposed to be healthy. And vegetables are nothing if not healthy.’
Tove disregards my attempt to elicit pity for my vegetable brethren. As head of nutrition, I expect better from her.
‘Whatever,’ she says. ‘I mean, look at her hair. It’s amazing.’
At last. Scanlon has found her true calling. A profession where vanity is rewarded. It’s not unfathomable that she would choose to abandon her role as a clandestine wig hawker for that of a glorified hair model. But the speed with which her entourage has made it happen is baffling. The dimensions of her ever-expanding ego are quite something to behold, too. She is what seasoned businesspeople call a cockroach. Adaptable. Invincible. Longevity up the wazoo. I find myself getting jealous, which increases my self loathing by a factor of ten, yet I can’t look away from the glossy magazine. After living in such austerity, the flashiness is compelling.
Tove flicks the page over to an interview with Scanlon, where cherry-picked quotes are shown in bold. She claims that before all of her wigs were tragically destroyed, she had organised for them to be donated to a charity for those incapable of growing hair. Playing the philanthropic angle is a clever spin. Given the chance, she would have milked those wigs for all they were worth.
A further advert lurks on the reverse side, featuring a man with a well groomed beard. It takes me a moment for me to recognise the dapper gent, because Mace doesn’t usually look so sharp. He’s holding his fingers up to his sculpted beard, gazing thoughtfully into a half-moon shaped mirror, a pot of Mane beard wax in his other hand. His own brand. Sandalwood scented. Just like he said.
In the next ad, the money-grubbing couple pose together; strange bedfellows galvanised by their common worship of wealth. Mace looks slick. Scanlon glows in a flowing white gown. They playfully spray each other with perfume. It’s an exercise in saccharinity. They’re selling Gush, a unisex fragrance whose concept and name make me cringe.
‘Are they a couple now?' Tove asks.
‘Blergh… I think so.’
Now that I’ve said it out loud, it’s clear that Mace has gone off the deep end, but I have to move on and forget about it. I try to get up from the table, but Tove catches my hand. ‘There’s just one more thing,’ she says. ‘I saw a job in the classifieds. A position at a charity. I’d be helping people to grow hair.’
‘Oh, wow. That sounds—’
‘I’ve got an interview. Would you come with me to the city?’
‘What exactly is that racket?’ Tove asks. ‘Sounds… Odd…’
It certainly is an unusual onslaught of audibles. Alien to the average ear. Unheard by multiple generations.
‘What are you so thrilled about?’ Tove asks.
‘It’s the sound of people individuating and exploring.’
People's creative powers have resurfaced, prompting them to unearth old instruments from their attics. Moreover, in these early phases, they are courteous enough to limit their amateurish experiments to their own houses. Even so, the shriek of violins, the clatter of pianos, and the twang of guitars bleed from their windows, homogenising every household's heirlooms and forming an aural cavalcade that blusters down the street. It is both glorious and a little unsettling. A pair of teenagers have ventured to their front yard to entertain the neighbours by stabbing at their guitars in unison. I pause to enjoy their playing. Unlike me, their neighbour does not appear to be thrilled by their wild antics.
Tove grabs my arm. ‘Come on, I'll be late for my interview.’
‘Yer rubbish. Give it up!’ the neighbour shouts out of his window.
The boys giggle and continue their atonal shredding. Their neighbour swaggers outside, vaults over to their yard, snatches one of their guitars, and wields it above his head. I rush at the man and pull the guitar from his grip, preventing him from smashing it to smithereens on the concrete.
‘Oi! This is private property,’ the bald man shouts. ‘Get off!’
‘No. This yard, and this guitar, belong to these boys. Now, go back inside, friend.’
‘Back inside? And listen to that racket all day? Yer a buncha hippy scumbags with yer long hair and yer la-di-da noise making sticks.’ The neighbour spits on the ground, and it narrowly misses my foot. ‘And you - you shouldn’t be stickin’ up for ‘em.’
I thrust the butt of the guitar at him. He grits his teeth and kicks it away. He’s built like a barrel. A manic look in his eyes. I know I won’t be able to beat him physically.
‘Shoo, shoo, shoo!’ I call out in a high falsetto, wielding the guitar like a lance.
The teenagers strum a mighty crescendo with their guitars and join in with my incantation. ‘Shoo, shoo, shoo!’ We repeat the refrain over and over, increasing its strength.
The man crinkles his nose. He steps backward, stumbles over, and retreats into his house.
‘Yo, man,’ one of the teens says, ‘thanks for saving our behinds. You're alright.’
I tap the top of my head knowingly. ‘All I needed was the deadliest weapon known to man.’
‘Your hair?’ One of them asks.
‘My brain. The hair is second only to the brain in terms of deadliness.’
Tove pulls at my arm. ‘Lux, come on! I’m five minutes late.’
We jog to a silver-brick building; the offices of the charity Hairway. Tove straightens out her clothes and takes a deep breath before going in. We arrive at the reception area, where she is shown to a large conference room with a window wall running its entire length. I have a blow by blow view of proceedings. I try not to stare, for fear of putting Tove off, but I’ve got nothing to else to look at. I resist the glossy magazines in the waiting room for fifteen minutes while having flashbacks of Mace and Scanlon together, and Tove emerges from the conference room.
We wander at a more leisurely pace back down the street. ‘So how did it go?’ I ask.
‘Can we avoid going past those kids again?’ Tove says, biting her lip anxiously. ‘I’m not in the mood.’
‘Sure. But you looked confident in there. Didn’t it go well?’
‘They said that I can start next week!’
I give her a hug. ‘You really had me going there. That’s fantastic.’
‘It’s going to be an involved job. There are some tough cases, like a seven year old who won’t stop plucking his every hair out. I’ll be in my element, though.’
‘Absolutely. You’ve convinced pluck squad officers to embrace the hairy side of life.’