The door chimes tinkled like breaking glass as I entered the salon. The swish, of a broom upon tile and hair, stopped.
“Can I help you?” asked a bubbly voice, muffled by the curtain separating the waiting area from the interior.
“I’m looking for a wash and haircut.” I let the door close, and yanked off my knit cap. My blonde curls tumbled onto my shoulders in a heap of knots and frayed ends. Standing in the artful gloom created by stain glass bulbs dangling like heavy blooms from the steel ceiling, I scrunched the troublesome mess.
A thud echoed from behind the curtain, and a petite woman with a pixie hairdo appeared between the velvet folds. Her black attire nearly made her fade into the shadows cast by the doorframe, but her marble face beamed like a full moon, complete with navy-blue lips stretched in a feline grin.
“Oh, looks like you need it too!” Hopping down the step leading into the back, she dipped behind the receptionist’s desk. She clicked on the mouse while dwarfed by the lone computer monitor and stacks of leather bound books. “Just let me check my schedule.”
“Thanks.” Gripping my cap, I swallowed the sudden hope of an imminent customer, and swiveled to absorb the brief foyer.
Empty, leatherback chairs lined the walls while shelves of various hair products reached toward the ceiling in a rainbow collection. All of the bottles carried labels, but I didn’t recognize the usual brands. The titles appeared in a sloping font, like some calligrapher’s manic scrawl. I neared the closest wall, but the hairdresser let out a little squeak and I turned back.
“How perfect!” She radiated with a broader smile. “I don’t have another appointment until 4.” Rounding the corner, she pulled one edge of the curtain, and gestured toward the entrance. “This way.”
I glanced at the gaping maw, tinged with glittering hints of light. My imagination offered frightening sources for the illuminations, but I shook my head. Willing away the childish notions of medieval contraptions waiting in the dark, I returned the hairdresser’s grin, and followed her indicating hand.
Rows of dressing room lights glinted above two mirrors, each bulb replicated upon all of the reflective surfaces like watchful eyes. Both chairs sat empty, but one faced a bare counter, unoccupied by the usual tools cluttering the opposite station. The hairdresser clicked on the monitor as I entered, causing the more chaotic of the two workstations to brighten. As I neared the associated chair, my boots squeaked upon the pristine tiles, the screech ricocheting on the metal and glass as the lone noise in the whole salon.
“Do you have anyone else working here?” I asked.
“No. Just me at the moment.” She set a sign on the desk and I caught the last word, “Later”, in the same flowing script as on the bottles.
“Have a seat,” she said, closing the curtain, and blocking sight of the exit.
Ice filled my stomach as the snowy sidewalk outside vanished behind the thick fabric. The hairdresser, however, floated by wafting with confidence, seized the chair’s headrest and spun the seat toward me.
“Feel free to hang your coat there.” She pointed toward a hook I hadn’t noticed beside the mirror. Then, humming a ragged tune, she set about aligning her combs and brushes before investigating the drawers and retrieving an array of clips.
I figured leaving now would only be rude and so I shrugged out of my coat. I hung the bulky layer on the hook, and stuffed the pockets with my hat and scarf. When I turned back, the hairdresser ceased her awkward melody, and tilted her head to the side, like an inquisitive bird. Her eyes, like glass, marched over my hair.
“Yes, exactly,” she whispered as if speaking to someone else. After a visible shiver trembled up her body, she met my eyes again. “Sit, sit.” She patted the rounded armrest and with a titter, dove into another drawer, her humming returning.
I watched her digging for a moment, and then, feeling gawkily tall in the small room, perched myself onto the swiveling chair. My reflection stared back for only a moment before she spun me, so I faced the monochrome wall instead. I nearly jumped as she began prodding my nest of hair with needle-like fingers.
“So,” she said, jabbing and tugging, “how did you find my little shop?”
“My brother lives in the neighborhood. He mentioned noticing your store.”
“That’s excellent. We’ll have to get him in here next.”
“Yeah,” I said, convinced he’d give this place one look and start running.
Her first pass over my scalp ended and she draped me with a drop cloth as heavy as a protective X-ray vest. My stomach descended like a stone and I gripped the lip of the chair, fighting off the feeling of being trapped. Her off-kilter humming resumed in full force, setting my teeth on edge as if she had scraped her nails down a chalkboard. When she gripped my shoulder with a vice-touch, all my apprehensions gathered together with a single demand to leave.
“You know what?” I wiggled out from under her hold and stood, trivially towering over the smaller woman. “I just realized I need to go. I…have another appointment.”
Her smile switched off like a light. “No, you don’t. That’s a lie.”
I offered her the drop cloth even though my gut told me she wouldn’t accept. My gaze, however, was drawn to the scissors in her hand, each leg snapping together and then apart like slow clomping jaws. I froze as the light gleamed along the sharp edges.
A petrified second passed between us before she laughed a rapturous shriek. Her smile rebounded with sickly-sweetness.
“Sit,” she said.
The command watered my knees, and I plummeted back into the leather with the drop cloth weighing down my lap. She stroked my hair while the scissors clicked by my right ear.
“You came to get your hair done,” she whispered, “and you’re not leaving until I’m through.”
Locking my gaze on the inky brick, I hoped whatever came next, she’d at least be quick.