With each snip a chunk of salt and pepper strands fall to the floor. My mother’s head is tilted so I can trim her hairline, but I can tell by the way she is lifting her head ever so slightly that her eyes are shifting upward to watch her chicken frying on the stovetop. I take this as a cue to stop and check on the chicken.
I place my scissors and black comb at the edge of the sink while I rinse my hands. I fork the chicken lifting it to make sure it’s not burning. Since it’s a delicate golden brown I turn each piece in the iron skillet. The grease sizzles, pops, and splatters. I jump to avoid getting spit in the face. I scrape the edges of the pan and place the hot crispies on a paper towel. When I think the coating has cooled enough I drop it in my mouth.
“Maybe I want some crispies, too,” barks my sister.
“Then maybe you should be tending to the chicken while I finish cutting Mama’s hair.”
I see her coffee cup is surrounded by empty sweet n’ low packets and she is tearing open her sixth one. She pours it in her cup, stirs, and takes a swig. She gets up and grabs the fork and stirs around the chicken skillet.
“Hmmph. You didn’t leave me any!”
I ignore her and continue cutting my mother’s hair. I hear the shuffle of my father’s newspaper above the crooning of the country music station he’s listening to.
“I want my hair cut, too.” These are the last words I want to hear. She is the worst customer EVER…and she’s not a customer but a freebie. I roll my eyes at my mother looking for support.
“She really needs a hair cut. It’s way too long and stringy.”
Great. Now I’m stuck, I think.
“Oh, I just want a teensy weensy bit trimmed off.
“You know you look ten years younger with your hair shorter,” Mama gets her attention with this.
She scrunches her face up a bit as if she’s really considering it. “Ok, a quarter of an inch and the dead ends.”
“It’ll take a good two to three inches to get those dead ends. If you get rid of those it will make your hair look thicker.” I figure this will get her since her hair is thin and straight. My other two sisters and I got the thick dark curly hair and she got the silky straight lighter colored hair. She was constantly swinging it to and fro and running her fingers through it; that is if she wasn’t brushing it and admiring herself in front of a mirror.
She wets her hair and slinks herself down in the wooden captain’s chair. I swing my blue cutting cape around her neck and snap it. As I’m combing out the tangles she pulls out a large hand mirror and watches.
As I start to make my first cut which is only a half an inch, she bellows, “No, that’s way too much.” She scrunches up her shoulders and squints her eyes into the mirror like a little girl watching a scary movie through her fingers. She holds the mirror by the handle and shifts the pink frame from side to side to see what I’m doing. I remind myself to breath deeply and fully.
“You’re going to have to put that down if you want me to cut your hair.”
“Why? You know I trust you. You’re the only person I trust with my hair.”
“You’re not displaying any trust right now.”
“I can’t help it. You know how I am. Just a tiny bit off. Ok?”
“I do this for a living you know, a good ten to fifteen haircuts every day…and no one acts like you’re acting.” I prepare to take the first snip again.
“No, it’s too much.”
I let out a sigh, shrug, and barely nip the tips. I do this all over her head and she follows my every step with her mirror and gasps and shrieks with each snip. When I finish, she tells me to go ahead and cut a half inch now. I want to sink my teeth in the hand holding the mirror. I spy the chocolate cake on the counter and decide it’s a better object to bite down on.
“Don’t act like such a baby. Let her cut your damn hair. Take off two more inches. And give me that mirror.” Mama jerks the mirror out of her hand and walks off with it.
My sister whimpers a little. “Go ahead and cut an inch. I trust you not to screw it up.”
Gee, thanks, I think. I look back up at the chocolate cake waiting for me and smile. I take a deep breath and think the hell with it and I snip off two inches. I finish the cut and refuse to let her look until after I blow it dry.
“It feels so short.” She fingers her hands throughout her head.
“Oh, shit! Look at all that hair on the floor.” She bends over and turns her head to look all around the chair.
“Trust me you look ten years younger.” It does take off a few years, but not ten. Still I say exactly what she wants to hear.
Mama and I both tell her how pretty she looks. Her brown eyes sparkle and she smiles and puckers her pouty lips into the mirror I’ve given back to her. I am startled when she reaches out to hug me.
“I love it even though it’s shorter than what I told you.”
I slice myself a piece of cake and close my eyes as the chocolate icing melts in my mouth.
“Maybe I want a piece of cake, too.”
Get it your own damn self, I think as I place a piece in front of her.
Spin Cycle: Hair
Living in the Gap
March 5, 2012 – Taking off the chill
A cool mist settled in the air. The asphalt grey steeples of the only two skyscrapers in my city towered into the sky and drifted into patches of stainless steel clouds scouring the horizon. The atmosphere promised a downpour, a drizzle at the very least. The mall lights were like beacons in the parking lot guiding us to the entrance, a haven of warmth and bright lights. Sometimes we aimlessly wander through the fog of our souls. If we continue to search, we will catch a glimpse of hope beckoning us to safety and light.