Hair and Hearts
Alison J. Littlewood
I paused in the street, distracted by something I had seen from the corner of my eye. Then I realised it was my own reflection, caught in a shop window, squeezed into a narrow gap between the dry cleaner's and the bakery.
For a moment, it had looked as though I was already wearing my monkey suit. Jackie had insisted on full top hat and tails, the works. I could have sworn I'd even seen the white rosebud in my buttonhole, all ready for the big day.
Then it was gone. Just a guy on the street in a jumper, well-worn it's true, but my favourite. Narrow, wire framed glasses. And the hair.
Maybe she was right. It was a bit long.
Jackie was always saying it. Actually, the last time she mentioned it, she'd also told me I should grow up. Act my age. Be responsible.
I grinned at my reflection. I was getting married, for God's sake. What did she want, blood? But still, I supposed I should get it cut for the wedding, at least. Just this once. I looked up. The shop was a hairdresser's called Hair and Hearts. I pushed open the door.
It was dark inside, and smelled of shampoo and hair lotion, some old fashioned kind. Pictures hung everywhere: not your usual fashion models in frames, but little snapshots of men and women that didn't look like models at all. Some of the photos were creased, some torn. Happy customers, maybe. The personal touch. I liked that.
"Cut and dry, sir?"
The hairdresser, tall and spindly, held out one of those black gowns to put over my shoulders. He looked like your traditional barber, ready to give me a close shave while making cheeky comments about something for the weekend.
But still. I couldn't walk out now.
The hairdresser put a hand on each side of my head, just above my ears, and straightened it. He caught my eye in the mirror, or I think he did; it was hard to tell without my glasses. He'd slipped them off when he washed my hair.
"Put your head in my hands," he said.
It seemed a strange way of putting it, but I nodded anyway.
He didn't talk. There was no polite chit - chat about holidays or weekends or whether I was getting a new look for anything special. He just tipped my head this way and that, teasing sections out, droplets and cut - off hair flicking into my lap. I couldn't see how it looked, and in the absence of conversation my mind wandered.
I drifted back to the first woman I thought I might marry. Sarah, she was called. She had a loud laugh and wore her hair big. Although, to be fair, it was the eighties. It was probably different now.
The hairdresser took strands of wet hair between his thumb and forefinger, as though musing on what he'd done so far, pulling them out smooth.
The bottom drawer had scared me off. She showed it to me once, the way she was filling it with tea towels, tablecloths, even curtains for God's sake. So she'd be ready when she found the one, the perfect man, and the perfect house to go with him. I could hardly look at her after that. I could hardly...
Then it was gone.
One moment, she was there. The next, I couldn't remember her face, her hair. Her hair had been... I shook my head, confused. Whose hair?
"Still, please," the hairdresser said, steadying me with a hand to the back of my head. Then he rocked it to one side, his own tilted, although I couldn't see his expression.
"No," he said. "Not that one."
"Nothing, sir. It just needs a little more off. I can see it now." And he returned to combing out my hair, snipping off a little here, a little there.
After - I don't know, the first one - I played the field. There was a string of girls, fun, parties, music. Who had been first? Amanda, that was it. Then Natalie, although she was a one - off, just a one night kind of thing. She had been taller than me, and - or was she the little one with the brown hair? Or red. And her name. No, it wasn't Natalie, it was -
But I couldn't remember. It was as though each face, rising to the surface of my memory, popped there like a bubble. One moment there, the next gone. Vanished. Erased.
Wedding nerves, I thought. And it was good, it was right, that I should forget the others, wasn't it? So I could concentrate on loving Jackie.
The hairdresser had stopped snipping and was pulling out lengths of my hair again, as though thinking. I wished he'd get on with it. But still, it would be worth it: Jackie would be happy.
Gorgeous, slender, athletic Jackie, with the laughter in her eyes. Her eyes. Green? Grey? Hazel? With a start of guilt, I realised I couldn't remember.
But her figure; that, I thought, I could practically trace in the air with my hands. She was slim from running a couple of miles each morning. My hands on her waist felt like they'd stretch all the way around her body.
And she was so careful about her looks, always drawing people's gaze when she walked into a room. I loved the way men would glance, sidelong, pretending that they weren't really watching. But they were. And so was I.
"That's it," said the hairdresser, in triumph. "I think we've got it, sir." He took out the dryer.
About time, I thought. Was he just learning the job, or what?
Anyway, I was thinking of Jackie, the way she'd walk into a room, swinging her hips. She was thin, wasn't she? Or shapely. Anyway, whichever, she'd draw stares from everybody. And the way her blonde hair hung down her back.
Or did it? Hadn't she had it cut?
Maybe she'd dyed it, too. Red? Brown? Reddy - brown?
Jesus. I put up a hand and rubbed my eyes. It must be the fumes in here, the lotion he was working into my scalp, right into each strand, hard now so that my head rocked back and forth.
"Everything all right, sir?"
I realised I'd buried my fingers in the hair over my forehead. I removed them and the kneading continued.
At least I'd look good for the wedding. I wouldn't look stupid when I stood next to -
Oh for God's sake, now I couldn't picture her at all.
Her voice though, that was clear to me as my own. The slight huskiness, when she said the vows, that would be - no. That had gone, too.
But her smile.
Crooked? Wide? Toothy?
Her, though, her personality. She was so much fun, always making me laugh.
Or was that someone else?
The way she touched me.
The way she made love.
Gone. Gone. Gone.
I felt -
I felt weird.
The hairdresser worked like a madman, now, attacking me with the brush, grabbing sections of hair and pulling them, waving his dryer in the air. His antics drew my eye, although the detail of him was lost; there was just this manic movement, wild limbs, a tall, spidery shape dancing in the mirror.
Then he was still.
Slowly, he put down the hairdryer. And the brush. He locked his hands, pushed his fingers outward, and popped his knuckles. Then he picked up a mirror and held it behind me.
"Just a sec."
I grabbed my glasses from the counter and slipped them on. Blinked.
There was a man in front of me with a short, smart cut. He looked older somehow, more mature. Someone who might work in accountancy or banking. Responsible. But with a blank look in his eyes, like someone a bit lost. I blinked. The man in the mirror blinked back.
I realised the hairdresser was waiting for a comment.
"Great," I said. "Just the job. Thanks."
I stood. He slipped the cover off my shoulders and swiped at me with a brush. The frayed jumper didn't look right with the new cut. Perhaps it was time for a new one. Or something better, maybe. A suit. Should I buy a suit?
"Was it for a special occasion, sir?"
Ah, here it was at last. The hairdresserly chit - chat.
"No," I said. "No, I don't think so."
"Very good, sir."
I opened my wallet. That looked a bit scruffy too; a white line snaked through the leather at the fold. I tsked.
I flipped it open, looking for notes. In the inner compartment was a picture of a girl, smiling. Blonde. Glamorous. I had never seen her before in my life.
"Is everything all right, sir?"
I looked around. Snapshots of women and men covered the walls. Some were creased, some torn. Some were bent a little at the corners, like this one.
I looked from the picture in my wallet to the walls and back again. "I think perhaps this picture..."
No. It was ridiculous. But how else had it got into my wallet? "...I think it must have fallen in," I finished lamely. I slipped the photo out and showed it to him.
"Ah. Yes, I see, sir. I think it probably has."
"But how..." I looked up at the walls again. Perhaps it had fallen off, and I'd picked it up without thinking. But put it in my wallet? I mean, that was just weird.
Anyway, the hairdresser didn't seem to think so. He put out his hand and took it from me, smiling.
"It happens, sir," he said. "Believe me. It happens all the time."