The Housewarming

The Housewarming

The salon smells like Italian flowers on a fresh mountainside, where grapes grow in vines and the sun shines on high peaked crags of ancient rock. If they could turn this fragrance into a perfume Single Girl would wear it every day for a more vivacious life. Her days are less in bloom lately, more comprised of wet floundering, at least until she is able to fall on the couch while the low-slung sun slips down over the side of the earth, and the hypnotic rays of the TV lull her to a mediocre stupor of comfortable numbness.

This is life at the moment, not happy, not sad, just existing. She blames the winter doldrums.

Single Girl’s hairdresser is perky as usual. But then, the hairdresser gets to live on the Italian mountainside and not on autopilot towards a horizontal position at the end of the day that includes chips or cake, and realty TV shows about Yacht staff.

The hairdresser bounces around the chair, checking in with small talk, while Single Girl sips black coffee and tries to accept what the bad florescent lighting has done to her face.

This is life at the moment, not happy, not sad, just existing. She blames the winter doldrums.

They talk about bangs, side bang, sweeping, layers, tools. The hairdresser looks at Single Girl into the enormous mirror. “Don’t let anyone use sheers on you. Has anyone used sheers on you?”

Single Girl nods, offhand. Certainly that must have happened at some point. She was once very poor in the city because she spent all her money on booze and drugs. She went to $5 haircut places that were run by Vietnamese women who never spoke English. Once, after a 24-hour bender Single Girl stumbled into one on the way home – it made sense at the time to get a haircut. But then she promptly passed out in the chair. So, it wasn’t the best haircut she’d ever had. Overly sheered and definitely lopsided, but it fit in with her punk rock lifestyle at the time.

This hairdresser didn’t have to worry. After mixing up the colour while Single Girl jangles her boot-clad foot to the indie-pop music over the speakers, the hairdresser deftly slaps on the dye, smearing brown into speckles of gray. It only makes sense to cover up Single Girl’s age with the resources available. She’s been told she has a young face, so she feels the need to maximize this until the day everything starts caving in.

She isn’t sure why she bothers anymore. The bells and whistles no longer seem necessary, but psychologically it feels better to hide the truth, and mask the edges. Soften the filter. She wants to stay fresh against the reality of day-to-day grime. Staying fresh = $160 plus tip.

“Are you going out afterwards?” the hairdresser wants to know.

Single Girl refrains from guffawing in response. Says that yes, maybe she would.

“Are you seeing someone?” the hairdresser wants to know next.

Single Girl shakes her head and the hairdresser stops slapping the colour brush around for a moment. “Seriously?”

Single Girl shrugs; it is not an unfamiliar conversation but it’s one that’s gotten old.

“Why are you single, you’re a good looking woman?”

“I haven’t met anyone I like more than myself,” she deadpans.

The hairdresser cracks up, but Single Girl is just being honest. Whenever she’s honest people laugh. She can never understand why she is so amusing to other people.

“That’s fantastic,” the hairdresser says, massaging Single Girl’s head with the brush. It’s soothingly cool. Like a cold cream facial for her scalp. A cold cream facial full of chemicals. Chemicals that smell like Italy in the summertime.

“Narcissism seems to suit me.”

“So you’re not even dating anyone?” the hairdresser asks again, unappeased.

She thinks of the man she’d last slept with, an old friend from high school that she had bumped into at the grocery store a few months back. He’d moved to town with his family.

“I am kind of seeing a guy,” she offers. “He’s freshly divorced, so it’s not serious.”

“What’s the deal?” the hairdresser asks, pressing for more. Single Girl glances into the mirror, watching the other paint and debating how much to spill. She opts for the Reader’s Digest version. “The first time we slept together, he fell asleep and started snoring.”

“Uh oh,” nods the hairdresser, with an ‘oh girlfriend I feel you’ attitude.

“It sounded like action movie special effects,” she continues. “I didn’t want to deal with that level of noise for eight hours, so I woke him up and told him I was going home.”

“You did not.” The hairdresser widens her eyes.

Single Girl watches a young girl getting prom curls in a chair across the room behind them, through the mirror. She shrugs. “Why should I have to suffer?”

“What did he say?”

“He seemed fine with it at the time, but I haven’t heard from him since.”

“Oh, that’s silly. It’s not like you owed him anything if you’d just started dating. How recent was the divorce?”

“Four months ago,” says Single Girl, scratching her elbow – the one covered in a magenta flower tattoo. “I’m starting to think that he can’t handle casual.”

“Well, I’m a single mom so I have the opposite problem,” says her hairdresser, then deftly changes the topic to instructions for letting the dye settle. She leaves Single Girl for a half hour as the colour works its magic.

The teenage girl is getting her hair done for her graduation, flush faced and eager; life just boundless optimism spread out as far as the eye can see, offering only possibilities. Single Girl picks up her phone, and tweets: “Shoot for the moon, because life failure is the secret to a comfortably bitter middle-age.”

The WiFi is patchy, so she drops it in her purse again and goes back to watching the young woman, thinking of her own graduation. Her grad date showed up in a monster truck. Single Girl’s dress had been so tight she didn’t have the room to hoist her leg up high enough to reach the running board, so her parents had to lift her up to the cab. His name was Chad. He gave her a gold ring with two hearts in the centre that she pawned in Vancouver for weed money. She thinks he owns a fireplace store now, in the same hometown, has acquired a couple of kids.

The song in the salon changes and she considers her date’s snoring. Is it unrealistic to assume that a freshly divorced single dad be comfortable with a causal relationship? Single Girl had thought this casual business would be much easier than it was proving to be. But she can’t cope with the snoring. Her ex snored like a chopper and that was a relationship she had thought was headed for marriage. In love, she laid with the snoring every night. It was like she was on the front lines of war, gritting her teeth through endless hours of deafening noise. Turned out her ex had enough issues to fill a shipping container, which really, she should have seen coming given his former background. Despite being rehabilitated, his was a whole other story she wasn’t ready to re-live. The snoring seemed to trigger that emotional exhaustion. She just couldn’t do it again.

Her hairdresser shakes her out of her revelry, sometime later. “Let’s rinse you out.”

Single Girl follows the stylist to a sink, and lowers herself into the cushy black chair. Beneath the spray of warm water the sounds of the salon are drowned out, muted in calm porcelain stillness. Afterwards, scrunching hair in a small blue towel and then leading her back to the chair, the hairdresser says: “So, I’m going to a party tonight. My friends just bought a house that’s basically a farm; it has a yoga studio and everything. Fifteen acres.”

“Nice,” comments Single Girl. The two often talk about homes on the market, as want-to-be homebuyers it is a topic that offers common ground.

“The property is worth $750,000, but they got it for just over $300,000.”

“What?” Single Girl is shocked. “How is that possible?”

Her hairdresser has a funny expression, silent as she rummages through her tray for scissors. Then she says, “Well, it’s a story.”

The hairdresser flips clumps of wet hair deftly, swiping at it with her scissors, and elaborates on the background of the property. A wealthy man and wife had been the previous owners. The man was an investor of some kind, and had purchased the property as a gift to her. She was a certified yoga instructor, and the home was by all accounts, built to be his wife’s “dream house.” As well as the yoga studio, there were horse stables, floor to ceiling fireplaces, and all the fanciness. Then, before they’d moved in, the wife’s husband found out that she’d been sleeping with another man, and he completely lost his mind.

“He trashed the house with an ax and tar, before shooting himself in one of the bedrooms,” says the hairdresser bending down towards Single Girl, as though afraid someone might overhear. “Tar! Can you believe it? Where do you even get tar?”

“Did he die? In the house?”

The hairdresser nods, trimming and talking with the deftness of one skilled in the art of multi-tasking. “He axed everything. It’s this amazing log home, and he just smashed through the logs, the walls, the appliances.”

Single Girl mutters in awe, imagining a fridge hacked up with an ax. She pictures a crazed Jack Nicholson.

“He wrote ‘liar” and “whore” on the walls in TAR,” says the hairdresser again, with emphasis. “My parents knew him, he seemed normal.”

Single Girl thinks on this statement: “He seemed normal.” Don’t we all, she wondered, until that moment when we don’t know the normal way to respond? What leads to faulty decision-making? What is it that turns day-to-day chatter into white noise, canceling out the voices of reason with blind rage and the white-hot splintering anger that ruins lives? It seems to her the common denominator is love. There’s always that lurking dark side – fragile, chaotic, brutal.

“So, they bought the house like that?” she asks.

The hairdresser nods, pinning hair to the top of Single Girl’s head and making her look like a drowned cat. “Of course! The realtors had to show it the way it was – can you imagine how much it would cost to fix all that up? It was a disaster, which is why it was so cheap. Well, that and the fact that he…”

The stylist’s voice drifts off as she snips, while a happy-go-lucky banjo-driven tune beats out in a snappy rhythm from the stereo. She imagines a fresh faced young realtor, in a suite one size too big, walking couples past the sliced up fridge and tarred rage across the walls. He strains for a positive spin to the psychotic scene. “It’s a bit of a fixer-upper”! Single Girl has trouble looking past the heaviness. “And they’re okay with everything?”

The hairdresser nods. “I mean, they got it for half the price,” she says, matter-of-factly. “They’ll clean it up and make it really nice. They’re farmers, hippies, they already brought in a woman to wave that stuff around, what is it called?”

“Sweet grass,” offers Single Girl.

“Yeah, they used that,” says the hairdresser, aligning slick hair between her manicured fingers. “Anyway. That’s where I’m going tonight! We’ll have a good juju housewarming.”

Single Girl wants to know more details, but the only remaining bit of story the hairdresser has left is that the woman and her new man have since left town.

“No doubt,” mutters Single Girl. And then after a blow dry, her hairdresser is done. She checks the final look in the mirror and nods in approval at the new shine, as the floundering retreats more once beneath the surface.

Read On The Plane.

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