The Haircut - 001

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Ty sits on the lawn chair, squirming. I gather clippers, comb, and a spray-bottle of water in front of us, moving aside the dishes of our early dinner. Ty's tongue is out, head tipped back to the sky, a bit of strawberry caught on her lip. She laps at the air, making little humming sounds. “I’m a frog!” she says. I think she’s trying to catch a gnat in her mouth.

The sky has just begun to deepen towards evening, and the gnats hang in an unsteady cluster over the sprinkler. Earth sprays in bursts from a busy rustling beneath the rhododendron bushes.

  “What’s June doing over there?” I wonder aloud, then call to her. Her head emerges, ears askew; she looks at me and dives back under the bush.

     “It’s the goldfish,” Ty says, “Kyle’s goldfish.”

     “I didn’t know it died.” I say quietly. Ty looks vaguely at the corner of the yard. I hesitate, tempted to inquire further into the happenings of the fish but decide to let it go. “Ready for your hair cut?” She brightens instantly and sits up straighter on the plastic chair. “Are you sure Ty? You want it all short on the sides and spiky in the center?” She nods like crazy and I smile back at her.

What got the idea in her head was the little boy she saw on the bus. He can't have been more than six. This kid had a Maddox-style cut — all spiky and long on top. She wouldn’t take her eyes off him. After sizing her up he blithely ignored us. Ty continued to stare at his spiked profile the entire ride. The idea that she, an almost-five-year-old, could have spiky hair too seemed to take hold that day. Then there's her step brother Kyle, who she adores.

Kyle is a punk, or so he says — not the way his dad was a punk but more of the way kids go punk now. He got the idea at the mall. Of course Allen encourages him. But Kyle has to have something all his own, and this is make-up, which has somehow endeared him to Ty greatly. He wears heavy black eyeliner applied sloppily around his small blue eyes. The color of his Mohawk changes weekly. He uses Elmer’s glue to mold it into spikes, and smells faintly of crafts at all times. He’s gotten used to me even though he made it clear in the beginning that he didn’t think I was sticking around — “No one puts up with my Dad for more than a year.” But I’m still here.

When I begin to comb out Ty’s hair she becomes very serious. It is silky under my fingers, pale brown like mine but much softer. I let it settle, trying to find the natural part which falls in an S shape on her scalp. Ty looks steadily at the corner of the yard again.

     “Will the raccoons come tonight?”


     “Can they walk on the roof?”


     “I heard them last night.”


     “Yes.” She nods emphatically.

     “Hold still.” I begin spraying a fine mist of water to dampen her hair and keep it straight while I cut.

     “You got me wet!” She giggles.

     “Well, hold stiller.”

     “Like this?” She asks, pulling herself up in the chair, still fidgeting with her hands.

"Very still, Ty."

"Like this?"

     “Yes, like you are.”

I begin to cut off sections of hair. The strands make a feather-like sound as they're caught between the blades of the scissors. Hair drifts onto the lawn, mixing with the grass. As I continue snipping, Ty concentrates on keeping still. Her eyes rest on the top of the fence where we’ve seen raccoons pass by.

     “Can they climb in my window?”

     “No, they can’t get in that way.”

     “What if I leave it open for them?”

     “Don’t do that Ty! Listen, raccoons aren’t friendly. They could bite you and they could have rabies. They’re not like June, okay? Don’t ever, ever touch a raccoon.”

I remind myself to talk about this with Allen. He’s been letting her feed the squirrels in the park and I wonder if this is such a good idea, but I have other things to worry about. How to get the kids to eat greens, how to fix the car, how to call my mother.

I remember how she would stand above me when I was Ty's age and do battle with my hair, trying to comb it out while it was wet from a bath. I didn't realize until I as a teenager that using conditioner made it possible to comb through wet hair without painful yanking and broken ends. My mother had always dismissed conditioner as being full of chemicals; a useless product created by advertising. I would sit under her frantic hands as she yanked at my scalp, trying to tame my hair in a world where, I came to understand, she felt that everything was out of control.

I try to be gentle with Ty as I snip. The top layer of strands is drying, so I spray it wet again. I'm just starting on the second side when I hear the front door slam. A few minutes later Kyle slides open the patio door and wanders outside. His Mohawk is neon green this week, and his slight frame is draped in dark clothing, covered with patches I taught him how to sew on himself. The patches are all of punk bands that he emulates with his own, newly formed band.

"Kyle's here!" Ty announces gleefully.

"Keep still." I remind her.

"Hey Ty-Ty." He says, reaching down to tussle with June. He extracts a mangled chew toy from her and tosses it into the far corner of the yard. June bounds after it.

"I'm going to have a Mohawk, just like you!" Ty states with enthusiasm.

"Really?" Kyle laughs a little in his throat. "Okay, Ty-Ty." He looks at me, surprised. His own appearance has been the source of tension recently, since getting picked up by the cops for fighting. His mother Pam has been the most vocal in stating her displeasure with Kyle's style choices and makes it no secret she blames me.

"We've got leftovers." I point to the table. He helps himself, piling pasta onto a plate. The black stitches along his chin are less swollen than yesterday, but the bruise on his cheek is still deep purple.

Kyle had called us from the police station after the fight, and Allen had gone alone to pick him up. They'd spent the rest of the night in the emergency room when the bleeding on his chin wouldn't stop. There were several versions of how the fight started, but it amounted to kids picking on him and him defending himself.

He finishes the pasta quickly, then leans back in the lawn chair. Ty makes her humming noise and tries to get his attention. He winks back at her. "Do you have band practice tonight?" I ask.

"Yeah." He mumbles, "I've got a ride." After a few moments he gets up, the spiked hair at the back of his head springing back into place from where it had been crushed against the chair.

"Later Ty." He says, as he moves towards the door taking his empty plate.

"Bye Kyle!" Ty calls out.

"Bye Kyle." I echo softly. Ty's charm seems like the only thing that can pull a smile from him these days. That and glitter.

At first it was just the eyeliner and some black polish, but this summer Kyle’s been putting glitter everywhere. It gets into the wash and we all turn up with unintended sparkles on our towels, and from there anywhere.

Ty wants to see the mirror before I’m done. I wave her hand away. The dusk has muted the colors around us, but there's still enough light to see by. Along the sides of her head I trim the last few strands. I’ve left a wide strip down the center. It falls loosely to one side. I run a little gel through it and spike it up, not too tall but just tall enough.

"Okay, you're all set." I tell her, "Go look in the big mirror." She slides off the chair and runs inside. I turn off the sprinkler and follow her. The windows of the houses around us glow with light. I slide the screen door open and flick ours on. June dashes past me. I’m holding the dishes from our haphazard dinner when I feel her fur against my calves. Good old June. Standing on one leg, I slide the door shut with my free foot.

Ty yells some private call from the bathroom, a sound all her own. Like a mix of “Meow” and “Hello” and then she guffaws in this funny way she got from imitating Captain Hook. A sense of well-being fills me as I pad across the carpet toward the open door.

When I stick my head in she’s just staring at herself calmly in the mirror. She looks at her own image, mesmerized.

     “Want to see the back?”

     “Mmmmmmmmm,” Ty makes her all-purpose sound of assent and reaches to take the small mirror from my hand. There should be a catalogue of all her expressive sounds. I lift her up and sit her on the counter. She holds the mirror studiously in front of her face. I show her how to position it, adjusting her arms.

     “See, turn your head.” She does, curiously examining her new profile. “What do you think, Ty bunny?”

She just nods, holding her gaze in the mirror.

[The End]

Annotations and comments

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I like this piece quite a bit, it's very evocative and in particular, I enjoy how the imagery is a major part of the storytelling. I did note in a couple places, the descriptive language isn't as clear as can be, as in this phrase ('Earth sprays in bursts...'). As a reader, it's not easy to unravel that. It's a wonderful image, but I feel like the language is getting in the way just a bit.
Zola, I love this story and characters especially Ty. I attended your reading at KGB bar and that's when I first became aware of 'The Haircut.' I thought your reading of it really brought it all to glorious life. It made it even more enjoyable for my second time reading it here. Thanks.
I also enjoyed this piece...but did not struggle with language getting in the way of imagery. (with the exception of earth sprays in bursts..) I actually thought that some of the verbal linkage almost tends to alliterate the sentence without repetition of consonants. I reference many of the hair characteristics.
I'd like to reiterate what Richard suggested: at times the diction can be uneven. Also, I think the tension between the narrator and mother can be explored. This is a story about mothers and daughters, and it appears that the protagonist is having difficulty calling her mother. Why is that?
should be 'was'