by Susanna Solomon
My name is Doris. I do hair. All kinds of hair- short, long, layered. I make curly hair straight, and straight hair curly, and I turn brown hair to honey and blond hair to mahogany. Oh, and I do highlights and asymmetrical cuts, my scissors flying. The women leave my chair transformed.
I do magic, they say. But all the time I am snipping, washing, folding foil, every day I listen to and am inundated with stories, stories of the human heart, stories of grief, happiness, anxiety and excitement. I clip, I hear, I nod and say “hmmm” periodically as they chatter on. All the stories are packed into my mind, stored and locked away– but this one story of this one customer, seventy-year old Mrs. Hamilton, this is a story I must tell.
When Mrs. Hamilton came into my shop Wednesday last, I was prepared to hear her complaints about traffic, prices, snotty shopkeepers and her staff; I’d been hearing these laments for years. When she marched through the door, her eyes wild, she was wearing a green jacket, purple skirt, and mismatched brown shoes, one with buckles, the other with laces. As a woman of a certain age, she usually paid close attention to her appearance; today I was a bit confused about her choice of clothes.
She stomped her feet. “Doris,” she said, “My hair, cut it off. Every strand.”
“Now, now, now, Mrs. Hamilton.” I helped her into a chair and looked at her curls that I’d set a few days before. Her face was full of crow’s feet. She had lines along her brow, around her mouth, and brilliant blue eyes which flashed whenever she experienced anger or pleasure. She was wearing her favorite pearl earrings and peach lipstick.
“What seems to be the matter, Mrs. H.?” I asked, fluttering out her smock and laying it over her slender frame.
“I hate my hair,” she complained, her lips tight as she looked into the mirror with determination. “My body’s going to hell, I can’t get my shoes on without help, and I creak when I get out of bed in the morning. Get me ready for the grave, Doris. I’m going there anyway.”
“You’ll be cold without any hair, Mrs. H.,” I cooed, bringing her over to the wash sink where I smoothed her scalp with shampoo and patted her head dry with a towel. She moaned as I massaged her temples.
Back in the chair again, I slowly ran the comb through her thin hair. I never pulled, never made my customers wince. Today I was extra careful. Mrs. Hamilton opened and closed the clasp of her handbag repeatedly until I asked her if I could put it on the counter. Still, with her hands free, she fidgeted, her fingers making knots in her lap.
“I’m all alone now, Doris.” She grasped my arm. “My husband’s left, my children moved to Hell, gone to Nova Scotia. Just me and my little dog, Fred, and he’s got mange. Can I bring him in?”
I looked at her face in the mirror.
“Well?” she persisted.
“We don’t have products for dogs, Mrs. H.” I pretended to snip at the back of her head. “Now, really, I can style it anyway you like.”
“All of it. Off. Now.”
I pressed my hand to my heart. “Oh, Mrs. H., your hair is your prettiest feature.”
“Brings out the blue in your eyes, ma’am,” I lied as I added a few more snips in the air. “Hair attracts the opposite sex.” Like I would know. My own hair was down to my waist and didn’t help me at all.
I smoothed my hands over her head. “You’ve got a bumpy scalp, ma’am.”
“So, who cares?” She harrumphed. “Mr. Petit, down at Sage’s, he wouldn’t care about my lumps or bumps. Lucy wouldn’t mention a thing. Just who am I supposed to impress, Doris?” she asked, hands fluttering again.
“Yourself, ma’am,” I offered. I glanced around the salon, looking for Beatrice – she had a smooth way with the older clientele. My eyes landed on an elderly gentleman, relaxing in a chair by the front window, Beth Ann running her hands through his thick, white mane.
“How ‘bout him, Mrs. H.?” I mentioned, pointing in the mirror. He glanced at Mrs. H. and smiled.
“Oh!” she exclaimed. “Doris, quick. Do something. Make me beautiful. If he sees me like this for too long, I’m doomed.”
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