BY JENNIFER AUDETTE
Carla’s office at Salon Beyond is a dark alcove of damp towels and a drain perpetually clogged with hair. After seven years of looking down, she’s learned the geography of foreheads. Her fingers know the topography of scalps. From her lather-worn hangnails she sucks dots of blood. Eight stylists rent chairs in the narrow space upfront by the windows. They almost never share their tips.
“You’ve been here a long time,” clients notice.
She’s saving to finish up cosmetology school, pay for her state license, rent her own chair.
“You must really love it,” the women say.
Truth: she doesn’t know what else to do.
The men who come in–and there are quite a few–she is sure, come to be touched. Moaners and sighers and silent smilers. She learns to curve her body just so, to avoid their open eyes, their flushed cheeks aching toward her breast as she leans to adjust the hot water. “This better?” she asks.
Truth: they are the ones who leave her tips.
Some nights Carla dreams of hairs looped and twisted around her fingers. She pulls at them and flails her hands to flick them away. They wrap tighter, grow thicker. Blood pounds beneath her fingernails.
She wakes. On her phone she searches for videos of men doing things in high-def slow-mo: skateboarding, skiing, boxing, big-wave surfing. She learns the lingo to find their captured pain: wipeout, fail, knockout, bail, bite, eat, slam. She watches ankles falter, wrists bend terrible angles. A punch lands. Spit flies. Eyes roll. A body skips like a rock down the face of a wave. There’s beauty in the way men twist and turn, the way they seek gravity’s center before they sense it’s hopeless. Carla waits until they realize. She taps pause. She holds them in the blink of awful knowing. She hits play. In slow motion, she watches them fall.
Jennifer Audette lives in Vermont. Her short fiction has appeared in The Front Porch Journal, Tin House’s Open Bar, Stoneboat, Crack the Spine, and Fiction Fix. Her review of Ben Lerner’s 2014 novel 10:04 is at Fiction Writers Review. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org