I arrive on time for my 10 AM cut-and-color, but my new hairdresser isn’t there. It’s New Year’s Eve, I’m newly unwed and I want to party, but I look like hell.
“She’ll be here,” I’m assured by a redheaded stylist on a headphone call.
At 10:20 Barbie strolls in, blonde hair in a tortoiseshell clip, breasts contained in a low-cut red top under a calf-length black cashmere, with the perfect black patent leather slides I’ve been wanting. She is older than she looks.
In no hurry, she does her morning routine, arranging brushes and combs and checking her messages while I wait. By 10:50 I’m in the chair and she’s pulling at my curly hair, studying its creeping gray.
“What do you want?”
“My daughter to be alive, my husband to come home.”
Not hearing a word, she tugs the hair, examines the texture, then leisurely gathers the ingredients of a color recipe from the secret backroom where the chemicals reside.
I’m surprised I could state my wishes so clearly.
Another hairdresser arrives. Barbie compliments her shoes and starts painting my roots with a brush, revealing gray, making small talk.
“Ready for the New Year?”
“You don’t have Jewish hair.”
“My ex does.”
A man enters, cute, my age, takes a seat, opens People magazine with Prince on the cover. He can hear our conversation but salon rule is you talk out loud with the person cutting your hair as if no one else is listening.
Barbie heard from one of her clients that the divorce rate in Marin County is 75 percent. “There are so many good-looking women here, how can men help it?” She stands behind me, checks her looks in the mirror, adjusts her breasts.
“Would you take him back?”
I’m not sure that I would.
“I might.” Unless cute guy is interested.… I look for eye contact in the mirror (forgetting what I look like), but he’s engrossed in how Prince became The Artist Formerly Known as Prince by changing his name to an unpronounceable symbol representing all genders.
Next to me, New Year’s Eve plans: oysters, smoked salmon, crab, caviar.
Mmm, sounds good.
Two seats away, a twentysomething describes her new beau.
“You’ve seen him, the tall one.”
I get this feeling it’s HER, the mistress.
“Isn’t he a little old for you?”
“He’s 45… but he’s really immature.”
If I laugh out loud and no one hears me do I make a sound?
Barbie finishes styling a white-haired elder and starts “blonding” a crone with an oxygen tank. I get steamy, I will have to wait through another person, it’s past 11, I’m sitting here with my roots all wet, plastered to my head, the rest of my wild mane sticking up like a bush on fire, and my husband’s mistress is in the chair across from me looking fresh as her blonde trimmings drop from the scissors and gather like flower petals all over the floor….
Barbie comes by, moves a few hairs around, tells me I ought to call her to go out sometime. She has a lot of fun. She’s hitting 60, can you believe it?
“Of course, I had a great Brazilian facelift so I don’t look like I’ve been through a wind tunnel like some of the women in Marin,” she says and moves on.
The mistress is called by another name, I relax, it’s not HER. I focus on cute guy and note his wedding ring in the mirror. He’s going to his brother’s for
the New Year but can’t stand the brother’s “princess” wife. Why? She has opinions about everything. Barbie holds up the hand mirror and revolves the crone, who looks fabulous blonde, then escorts me to the back of the salon to shampoo me. My neck lowers into the bowl of the sink. Her long fingernails soothe my scalp and the warm water, perfect temperature, rinses. She is rinsing, rinsing; her long fingernails keep just missing the itch in my scalp.
“Everyone died last year,” I say.
“Uh huh,” Barbie says.
“My husband’s father, his mother, and our baby girl.” The truth of that makes me start sweating but the warm water just rinses it away.
“I remind him of death,” I say.
“Hence, the younger woman.”
A towel is draped around my shoulders and I cross the salon for the cut.
“How do you want the hair?”
She blow-dries my hair with a round brush, wrapping my naturally curly hair around the bristles until it’s completely straight.
“You look good now,” she says.
I don’t look like myself at all.
Marianne Rogoff is the author Love Is Blind in One Eye, the memoir Silvie’s Life, and travel stories, short fiction, essays, and book reviews.