October 11, 2005


She was his hairdresser to begin with and at the end too. She liked to do his hair, she said, because it had such interesting tangles. At first he disliked how long it took her to do a haircut – did she think he didn’t have anywhere else to be, anyone else to see? Then he began to feel that he didn’t have anywhere else to be or anyone else to see. He couldn’t believe that someone so pretty was paying such attention to him. Her thighs brushed him as she moved around the chair where he sat draped in a gown dotted with hair clippings. Her breasts brushed him as she leaned forward to snip his top locks.

He could talk more freely to her than anyone he’d ever met, but only about silly, gossipy stuff or about his past loves and losses. Concerning how he felt about her, he was tongue-tied. Couldn’t tell her how beautiful he thought she was. Couldn’t tell her how much she was starting to mean to him. She put his past to rest with knowing putdowns of his exes, whom she’d never met. But when he tried to make a joke about how close her body was to his, she froze silent, took his money with an outstretched arm, and turned away as she said she’d see him next time.

His shyness and her changeability kept him from asking her out. Whenever he had gathered his courage to do so, she was sure to bring up one of her prestigious male clients – the local tycoon who gave her stock tips, the governor’s aide who’d invited her to a formal dinner – as if, telepathically, she knew what he was about to ask. How could he compete with them? And what was with her, that she had so many male clients?

Then one day as she was powdering the back of his neck, she asked, wide-eyed and laughing as if surprised at herself, if he wanted to go with her to a comedy club, where some has-been from an old television series she liked was performing.

“You’re the only person I would go see him with,” he told her, and a cold, disapproving look came over her face.

At the comedy show, she glowed with laughter at the corny, crude jokes of the outmoded comedian. Sitting beside her, twirling his hair into knots, he worked up the nerve to say something.

“Tonight I know the difference between dazzlingly beautiful and radiantly beautiful,” he said. “Because usually you’re dazzlingly beautiful and it blinds me and keeps me away. But tonight you’re radiantly beautiful and it lights my way and warms me.”

She couldn’t put on her cold face when he said that. He gripped her hand tight and laughed at terrible jokes through the rest of the performance.

They were lovers for eight months. But he sometimes disagreed with her, and sometimes loudly, and she had never known anyone to do that. It really started to fall apart when she told him that his old Japanese sedan was too stodgy and he needed to buy something new, with style.

“I’m loyal to this car,” he said. “Wouldn’t you want me to be that way with you?” But she didn’t get it.

After they split up, he tried several new hairdressers in succession. His hair never looked right.

One day a few years later, he met her on the street and she told him she was getting married to a simple, good, local man someone with a butch cut who wasn’t even her client. “That’s great, congratulations,” he said, and told her he had been married for a year to someone kind and honest and true, someone who didn’t play games with him.

“Well, come in for a cut sometime,” she laughed wide-eyed.

So once again he goes in every four weeks and has her cut his hair. It’s shorter now and less tangled, but she takes even longer than ever to give him a haircut because they have so much to talk about. Each month, it is the thing he looks forward to most. They can talk and laugh about everything under the sun except their eight months’ romance. He tried to wisecrack about it once and she froze up. Instead they talk about whether she should leave her boring simpleton husband or whether sex is important enough to keep her married.

He gives her solemn half-baked advice and rubs his good marriage in her face.

He would do anything for her, he thinks. But he’s pretty sure she would never ask. He likes it that they have become staid, predictable old friends.

That’s his version of it, anyway. If you asked her, she would give you an entirely different picture.