I escort William to my station.
“Make it look like two weeks ago, Nora.”
He’s my only regular client. If his former stylist hadn’t severed a fingertip, I’d be back in Chicago. Luckily, William prefers to look unchangeable. A hyper-regular—he’s in here every two weeks.
“Thanks for finding time for my wife. She rarely even touches her hair.”
I don’t tell him that although it’s Saturday, I have no other appointments. Instead, I say, “No worries, William. Anyone can find time when necessary.”
He likes that and sits taller. William wants to hear about me—rather than talk about himself. Or sit quietly. So I tell him about the bad-neighborhood art gallery, and my two paintings there.
How, he wonders, did I come to subsidize my artwork with haircuts?
“Someone complimented my manual dexterity.” When I was waitressing. “And I applied to the Precision school.”
I don’t say that the Precision school sent me to France for “international” status. Or that I met my boyfriend Alan there, attending a sculpture festival. Since we moved to New York, I’ve paid the rent. For a while, it didn’t matter that Alan’s sculptures were too important for day jobs. He had me half-convinced, in love. But it matters now. Two people can’t live on one man’s haircuts.
“The Precision school. That’s why I chose you, Nora.”
“They say you can’t get certified until you can do it in your sleep.”
William laughs. “Sodium pentothal before final testing?”
“Bet they haven’t thought of that yet.” I hand him the mirror and turn the chair.
“Perfect,” he says, tipping me a huge amount and calling Pratibha. “Ready, sweetheart?”
Three minutes later, drugged, narcolepsy—not even! Wormholes? Rabbit holes? Who knows? Apparently, I chopped off three lustrous lengths, on top and the sides. It happened so fast even Pratibha was lulled. Before shrieking, “What the hell?”
Recovering, I see this beautiful young woman, fingering bristly patches like wounds.
“Nobody will ever notice,” I try.
But the damage is obvious. Pratibha has such great hair. “Maybe twisted up my mistake won’t show.”
“My husband likes it down.”
What husband wouldn’t?
Half-measures would look awful, which she realizes. And seethes. “Do your damn Precision cut. We’ll hate it. But it will appear intentional. Ugly on purpose.”
The Precision cut looks spectacular on her. “It highlights your eyes. And neck.”
“Don’t make me laugh. William!”
He glances at her and his cold face bobs near mine. His hand swings up and I flinch. Cursing, he backs away. I return his tip and they race out. Becca in front is saying, “A problem?” and manages to retrieve Pratibha’s apron.
Three more minutes: sickening, prickling skin. In the restroom, I vomit, rinse my mouth, splash my face—my reflection wavering in the mirror.
Tonight, I’ll phone my parents for airfare.
Coat zipped, I tell Becca, “I’m done. I’m gone.”