“I Have Short Hair”
a short story from The Knockoff Eclipse
by Melissa Bull
Anvil Press, 2018
I call a meeting. Chelsea looks at her phone the whole time. Her Facebook’s full of pretty countryside girls. Where she’s from she’s a pretty girl. I picture her in high school. I don’t know what I imagine. Simple, straightforward, nice people in the country? Maybe she was popular and bitchy? I can’t tell.
Chelsea glances up after I finish talking about the schedule. “Oh my god,” she says. “I’m just looking at your jacket. It’s so funny. You must be the only person who can wear that kind of thing.”
The light streams in through the glass walls of the meeting room from across the hall. It’s blinding.
A man in crutches lurches up to the open door and asks us where SEO sits.
Someone finally got a kettle. We get free tea. It’s a good deal. I can drink a lot of free tea. Especially ever since I got colitis and can’t drink coffee anymore.
I woke up late. I almost always wake up late. And then Ben likes it when I spoon him. So I do, and we wind up too hot in the blankets and groping and I jump out of bed looking messed up with no time to spare for styling my hair or wiping off the remains of last night’s mascara. I leave Ben with his cereal, oats, nuts, fruit, coffee, and laptop as I leave, resenting him his day a little, enjoying being outside, regretting having to get up, lying to myself that I can make the 9:42 metro when it’s 9:37 and it takes me 12 minutes to walk to the station from our apartment. I could walk faster, but I get bogged down looking around. The elderly woman who walks her German shepherd every morning by the new bar on Notre Dame. The bearded dad with his two kids in a stroller. If they’re already over the tracks when I see them I’m definitely late. I check out who’s at the cafés, how many cabs are at the stand, how the park is looking, what’s going on in the winter sky.
I get to work and I’m at the tea stand in the hall. Moroccan oil girl comes up to me. “I finally got my glamour pics done,” she tells me, her tone kind of hushed.
The water has almost boiled. I rip the tag off the tea bag, and cut off most of the string, too, so it doesn’t look like a tampon — the mouse’s tail, Ben calls it.
“Glamour pics? Like modelling?”
“But without clothes on. I found the guy on Craigslist. I told myself for years I’d do this, and I just decided now was the time.”
“No time like the present.”
Dunk, dunk, dunk the little tea bags in and out of the paper cups.
“He told me to do my own hair and makeup. It took like two hours.”
“Cool.” Sprinkle in the Splenda. Tap, tap, tap.
“A friend came with me, you know, Roxanne, from work.”
“Safer that way, I guess. I’m sure she’s great with makeup.”
Moroccan oil girl says, “Your boyfriend doesn’t mind you have short hair?”
“He gets pretty confused. Sometimes he thinks I’m a man,” I tell her. Stir, stir, stir.
There’s no mistaking me for a man — not that I don’t covet those lanky Charlotte Gainsbourg androgynous features. I do. My melancholy would suit that bony body, the stubborn set of jaw. But I have the figure of a WASPy mid-century housewife.
“I can see how that could happen,” she says, sympathetic. So nice.
Wrath seizes me up quick. I swallow every sarcastic remark. Force a giant grin. I tell myself I look like the girl who’s supposed to be smiling and inclusive and happy. Cheerleader-style. They get mad if I don’t give it to them. Grin a big fucking grin. It’s so nice being told I don’t look feminine! Love it! I’d never tell her her highlights look cheap and every plastic thing she’s wearing looks like shit. I’m a four-year-old whining it’s not fair it’s not fair it’s not fair. Sip, sip, sip.
Back to the mag, my two screens, light filtering off the highway into our office. It’s eye-hurtingly brilliant, glorious, the highways far below our office, serpenting chrome and asphalt and fast food chains. You can’t hear them. You can just hear the computer programmers cawing to each other like a murder of crows, something they do, and the ventilation shafts whirring, and the social media team in the next room erupting into giggles. One of them says she kissed Corey Haim, once. She asks her summer intern, “Did you ever kiss someone who died?”
We’re always in the bathroom at the same time.
“I could never have short hair like that! I would just worry about not looking pretty, I guess. When are you growing it out?”
I have baby hair. Don’t have the option for long, lustrous locks. There’s no growing this out.
Her eyes, a genuine goodness I’ve rarely encountered. It’s moving, but also it requires that you constantly move towards her emotionally, to explain all the things she doesn’t understand. There is rarely repartee.
“I’m not growing it out.”
“Oh, that’s different.”
“My mom has short hair. She had three husbands.” Probably I shouldn’t have said that. Roxanne doesn’t know what to say. I’m an asshole. I’m a total jerkface.
On Facebook her name is Roxy Almost Famous Monaghan.
Monday morning meeting. My boss says, “I hate women who have short hair.” He says this looking directly at the only out woman on our floor, whose hair is swept up in a glossy platinum pompadour.
“Come on,” I say.
“I knew you were going to say something,” he says, turning towards me and smiling. He thinks he’s being charming.
“You’re the one exception. You can carry off short hair because you’re pretty. I hate it on everyone else.”
It’s so problematic, him calling me pretty in front of the other girl, like she’s not. Him telling me I’m pretty at all. Him saying that at work, in front of colleagues.
Everyone likes her more than me, she’s more likeable, but outgoing in a way that exhausts me. He hates her. I think it’s because she’s gay, because she’s not playing the long-haired princess role.
“Thanks for telling me I’m pretty, Frank,” I say, trying to make a joke of it. My voice is flat. I grin the big fucking motherfucker grin.
“Can you make sure the post about hottest celebrity cleavages goes up today?” I ICQ a Tara in social media. Tara is as birdlike as an Olsen twin. Her features are lost under her sculpted makeup.
“KKK!” she answers.
“Thanks! :-) :-) ”
“I mean NP!! :-) :-) :-) :-) ” she says.
“ :-) :-) ” I say.
“ :-) :-) :-) :-) ” she says.
“You fucking cunt!” I yell at a woman who almost mows me down. She turned left on a red and tried to squeal her way into the highway. She didn’t see me. I have never called anyone a fucking cunt before.
She comes to a stop. We make eye contact. Her face is livid.
I cross the road and go to the Indian diner.
“Lentil non-fried bread?” the guy asks.
“Lentil non-fried bread,” I say.
“You’re wearing a hat to work?”
“My hair looked so bad this morning! I had to cover it!”
“So that’s why you’re wearing a hat? It’s not that cold?”
“Sleaze leads,” someone behind us says to someone else.
“If we were the cast of Community, Jessica would be Annie Edison.”
“You know what she said to me? She said her friends do crazy things, too.”
“Like what? Play Scrabble? Sing in the choir?”
I wish I was in a choir. I suck at Scrabble.
The two rich country girls living it up on the Plateau are talking about me where I can hear them.
I hate looking like such a fucking WASP.
There are worse problems. It sucks looking rich, I wish I looked put-together and rich.
My friend Bethany is a nun. She’s younger than me. A large silver cross dangles over her T-shirt. It’s inscribed with two words: “pax” across, and “caritas” down. Latin for “peace” and “love.” She’s only in town for the morning. We meet at the Tim Hortons before I head to the office. She orders a coffee. A double-double. Which is so normal, considering she’s a nun.
I feel myself slumping. Writer troll posture, we call it at work. My skin is grimy from the highways. She is humble, radiant.
She’s a few stairs in front of me. I notice her strappy green sandals, her yellow circle purse. I look up. I realize I know her. We used to be roommates.
Seeing a friend completely undoes me. I start to cry. At the top of the escalator, I say, “I hate my job.”
Justine and I walk across the highway to grab a coffee at Tim Hortons. She’s startled but sympathetic. She has to get to the auction house before ten.