The shopping center parking lot was crowded with cars. Would the no-appointment hair salon be crowded as well? My heart sank. In less than thirty minutes my daughter would be waiting outside her high school. There was no time to try another salon.
Today’s off-campus lunch, earned with excellent grades and perfect attendance, was something my daughter looked forward to at the end of each grading cycle. It was a tangible reward for her hard work and perseverance. Over time we’d fallen into a comfortable pattern of celebration. I’d dress up, pick her up, we’d have lunch at her favorite restaurant, and then spend the balance of her two-hour pass shopping. We’d talk and laugh and, if I was lucky, she’d share tidbits about that part of her life spent away from me with her friends and teachers at high school.
I couldn’t be late. No time to cruise the parking aisles searching for a space close in. I whipped into the first empty spot. It’d be a hike, but I had no choice.
I struggled out of the car, ignoring the chill that shot through me as the spring breeze tried its best to lift the wet hair dampening my blouse to mid-back. With my crutch tucked under one arm I limped through the sea of cars, hoping the no-appointment hair salon was having a slow day.
It’d been six months since my last haircut. I’d started a new job two weeks earlier and had been using hot rollers each morning since. Curls disguise ragged ends. But then I’d sprained my ankle and standing at the bathroom mirror fumbling with crutches and rollers had become too much. I needed a cut. Today.
My spirits lifted as I entered the salon. Two stylists were working. Both had clients in the final blow dry stage. Only one customer waited in the chairs at the front. I glanced at my watch. It would be close, but my hair was freshly washed and I wear it in a long block cut (no layers, no bangs, no color, no perms, simple, simple, simple). I’d be in the stylist’s chair for mere minutes. Relieved, I signed in and took a seat. Stylist One ushered a customer out of her chair and beckoned to the lady seated beside me. Stylist Two was spritzing a final holding spray on her customer’s hair. My tension eased away. I was next. I’d get to the high school on time.
From the back of the salon a third woman in a stylist apron stumbled in and made her way to the counter.
“You next?” she asked. I stood.
“Hey, who logged me outta the c’puter?”
“I did,” Stylist One said, not bothering to glance up from her work. “If you’re out in the alley while clients are waiting, you aren’t at work.”
Stylist Three shrugged, pointed me toward a chair and continued to fumble at the computer keys. The tension I’d felt earlier was returning but for a new reason. There was obviously something amiss here. The woman was teetering, her speech strange. Was she troubled in some manner? I’d once gotten a cut from a woman who was legally blind. It’d been a good cut, though the process had been very slow because she’d had to lean in close and peer carefully at each lock of hair before making the cut. I took a seat feeling a twinge of guilt at hoping this woman’s challenges, whatever they were, wouldn’t make me late.
The chair faced away from both the stylist’s mirror and the computer. Nevertheless, I knew the moment the stylist appeared behind me. She sighed and a thick nicotine-whiskey cloud engulfed me. I almost shot up out of the chair, but it was too late. She shrouded me in a hair cape with rough speed. And, enunciating her words with the slurred precision of the inebriated, asked how I wanted my hair cut.
“Simple block cut, two inches off the bottom,” I responded automatically, but my eyes darted to where I’d left my purse and crutch.
A plan of escape that wouldn’t damage my swollen ankle was still formulating in my head when the pointed end of her parting comb stabbed so close to my ear I feared it would slide in and pierce my brain. With inhumanly quick movements she divided my hair and clipped it into sections. Not once did the wicked point of that comb scrap my scalp, but I didn’t find that particularly reassuring. I was no fool. The woman was drunk…with scissors.
I pushed against the chair arm rests, rising to flee. Too late again. Her scissors flashed and hair hit the floor. With frightening speed her scissors flew, snip, snip, snipping with one hand while with the other hand she released sections of clipped hair and combed them straight just in time to feed those ravenous blades. She didn’t speak. My own tongue was frozen with terror, my body held statue-still as sharp metal whirled around my head.
“There.” She whipped the hair cape away, breathing a final nicotine-whiskey cloud over me as I lunged for my crutch. I didn’t bother to glance in the mirror. I didn’t want to know.
I made the long hobble back to my car and arrived at the high school just as my daughter emerged. She slid into the passenger seat. Looked at me. Then looked again.
“Mom, your hair,” she said. “It looks great!”
Yep, I’d gotten one of the best haircuts I’ve ever had from a woman who was completely, stumblingly intoxicated.