He came in again, I tell Rosie as she prepares my Brazilian. Rosie works at Oasis Day Spa and I’m next door at Mamie’s Cuts & Toys and we both dance Fridays at Babydollz. Once her lease runs out next month we’ll probably become roommates.
Daddy Do-Me? Rosie says, snapping on gloves, but I can’t tell if she’s interested. Nobody’s safe from Rosie’s nicknames. She has this lone, asymmetrical dimple in her cheek that earns her extra tips from regulars. I see why. Rosie is one of those girls who would have stood waiting for me in the parking lot after high school bonfires, waiting with keys spinning around her index finger, waiting, but not to give me a ride. Her hair slicked back in a bun hides her platinum streaks. You’d never know she did anything else but beauty. She swirls her stick in the pot, pulls out her tongue depressor and blows. The hot wax glistens thick as honey as if it won’t hurt.
Third time in three weeks, I say. I’m lying there spread on her table trying not to rustle the butcher paper beneath. A pop star who looks like but isn’t Britney gyrates in knee socks on the TV screen attached to the ceiling. Even though we’re a topless only place our boss Nick insists on the Sphinx so he struck a deal with Rosie to maintain all of us. Sometimes she adds rose decals, dollar signs, hearts and lips. Lightning bolts. Whatever she’s feeling. Jewels glued to the mons look so pretty.
Talking to Rosie I try to act skeeved. She’s my best friend! Nobody goes looking for a freak. Rosie goes hmmmm. But I’m bubbling over. Today, he brought in both of his sons – dirty feet and flip-flops – as if the whole thing were perfectly normal. Militant towheads; they must look like their mother. Neither kid had an appointment. He just left them at the train table pushing cars through the roundhouse, crashing over bridges and water towers, and hopped into the fire engine chair, said would I give him a trim.
Do you think he recognizes you? Rosie says, spreading the wax slowly along my bikini line. Warmth swells from the creases out through my thighs. Even though I’m used to her touch I still flinch.
Doubtful, I say. I cut hair in a 50-pound Elmo suit. I swing from the pole in garters and heels. How would he know we are the same person? Still, I feel something between us. When my set’s over and I work the room, let men feed me garnishes off neon swords, I get the sense, squeezed beside him in a deluxe dream house booth, that what he wants more than anything – there are rules about contact – is for me to stay there and listen.
I’d wait my whole life to hear what he’ll say.
My father hanged himself in the sixth grade. I was snooping for cigarettes and found him tied to the rod in my mother’s closet. His boxer shorts, bunched at his ankles, made his knees seem puffy and sad, like bath loofahs. It was the year of Michael Stipe so my mother blamed autoerotic asphyxiation, but who knows one’s intentions. When I told this to Rosie she wasn’t surprised. All girls have a story. Actually, she said, that was Michael Hutchence.
Like I said, I don’t know a thing about him.
Every week it’s the same: He selects the Sponge Bob smock and I clasp it to him. I lather him up with bubble gum scented shampoo. He shuts his eyes. I massage his scalp and temples, sulfites trapping rainbows; work my fingers in small, rhythmic circles down the tapered slope of his neck. I scratch his part, picking off a few flakes with my acrylic nails. That way, I’m never without his smell. By the time I switch on the showerhead, he’s tenting up through Patrick the Starfish.
Maybe he’s a furry, Rosie says but she’s just trying to distract me. My limited pain threshold has become Rosie’s pet project. Besides, fetishists are the most tender. Rosie presses white cloth strips against me. She rubs back and forth with the pads of her fingers. I brace myself for each rip. She moves quickly. My fists clench. She repeats. On the ceiling rappers cruise by with girls bouncing on car hoods. Rosie folds one leg, then the other, into the number four. I try picturing other things: striped beach balls, Brigantine Castle, Pocono Mountain Lodge where we vacationed once as a family and all got deer ticks, skimming the black-bottomed pool. My eyes tear. As she works Rosie tugs aside this gauzy nothing of a thong she needn’t bother with. None of us even has landing strips, but Rosie says a little modesty never killed anyone.
Before Rosie I was never a girl who had girl friends.
If it weren’t for her I could quit Babydollz, that’s how well things are going well at Mamie’s. Customers never leave empty-handed: magnetic blocks, princess cars, rocket balloon launchers. Her shop reminds me of that red wagon of stickers and plastic spider rings parked outside the dentist’s office, only in this neighborhood parents reward big and pay retail prices.
Call me a pushover but a “yes” nature helps: I never turn down a client. Thrashers and howlers fat on lollipops anyone can handle but the rare grown-up can be prickly. The other stylists, Dora and Hello Kitty, shy away from them even though adult cuts cost double. Mamie says business is all about carving a niche. If she goes through with her franchise I might get to manage it.
But I would never leave Rosie. At Babydollz we swap backstage looks like sisters playing dress-up. Last night I wore her Girl Scout uniform with bona fide patches embroidered on the sleeve and lent her my Sail-the-Slutty-Seas nautical outfit. Her implants are bigger than mine so there was one less closure to snap. It was a good night for her. After Nick’s VIP roundup she drove home in my favorite yellow sweatpants.
Rosie noses my crotch to inspect her progress. She is such a good listener.
In all fairness, I say. She plucks strays with tweezers. The man’s hair, thick and Jewish, grows faster than most four-year-olds. And it’s not like barbershops have children’s play spots. Seriously, what kind of a mother abandons her kids every Saturday? I wince. But get this. While I am combing him out wet, right, before starting the cut, doing my numbers, Elmo’s World and C is for Cookie, he looks up at me – he’s got the widest green eyes – and says how about I Love Trash.
I pause for Rosie’s reaction, hoping for laughs, but Rosie is biting her lip in concentration. She takes my leg and draws my calf up long and straight against her chest, my heel hooked onto her shoulder. She paints wax around the lip of my ass. I hold my breath. There’s no stopping the spasms. At Planned Parenthood screenings when things get bad Rosie thrusts me a tissue and says, please, like you’re the only girl who’s ever had ‘roids.
Creepy, I say, showing my teeth. I worked hard for porcelain veneers and they paid off: Girls like Rosie no longer smash my face in; they want to live with me. Why would I risk that? Rosie suggests we put up sheetrock to divide my one bedroom. She claims she needs privacy, but I know it’s going to be like the slumber party from Grease: oatmeal masks and boy shorts, girls on the couch slurping smoothies and giggling, thumbing through shelter magazines.
If she knew his sadness makes me forget my own she might think twice about moving. He wears plaid. I don’t know what he does, contracts, but I’m not sure if that’s law or construction. Sometimes he brings a friend. Last night he came alone. When I stuck a heel in his lap, he jolted, Holy Sesame. There wasn’t a stitch of red fur on me. I straddled his knees and slid my hands up his thighs and when I sat down on him firm he said I was better than ten years of therapy.
People will say anything but I believe him.
Therapy did nothing for me.
That’s not all, I say, sniffling. Rosie lifts her head and says, oh come on, impatient, only it’s not her wax now that moves me. As I graze his skin with my metal shears his eyelids flutter. He has the most beautiful brown curls. Through my bulky headpiece I hear his children’s voices. Muffled chugs and choo-choos. One is having trouble sharing. Another mommy intervenes. Mamie rushes over with lime green balloons hosting the store’s logo, fastens them in bows to the children’s tiny wrists. Locks fall to the floor gracefully, like kamikaze caterpillars. His is a readymade family. This I tell Rosie: He moans each time I snip. Usually I sweat from the weight of my costume. Today I am barely aware that I’m wearing it.
Who doesn’t have aspirations?
You’re kidding, Rosie says. But I assure her I’m not. After I’m done and he’s blown through and dusted with talc, I run my fingers through his cut to check evenness and style. I hand over the Snow White mirror for him to examine the back of his head. What do you think? I say. He studies his angles, swivels. Shave me, he says, so after all that, I buzz him off like a soldier and he cries right there in my chair.
Hold still, Rosie says through clenched jaw. Her face is in my lap. Almost through, she whispers, heating up my labia. Rosie coaches me through the worst of it as if I were giving birth, as if either of us knew from rings of fire. I oblige. I puff my cheeks. Lucky you, I think. Lucky you. Lucky you, to be alive to feel this.
His sons’ names are Zach and Josiah. They are two and four. People meet in unexpected places all the time. Maybe it’s the franchise talking but couldn’t it be love?
Finally, it’s over. My bare skin tingles pink, as if I’d taken a hot shower. Rosie sprays my cootch with this strawberry stuff designed to decrease sensitivity. Thank you, I tell her. I am brand spanking new.
I sit up to give Rosie a hug and see her face all twisted like she’s the one on the table. Once she tore my perineum. It’s a spool of vessels down there so I bled something awful but it stopped. Accidents happen.
Lavinia, she says, her peeled gloves a shriveled bouquet in her fist. It is not a nickname. Tell me, I say, brightening despite the smell of latex because Rosie says I need to quit being a baby and learn how to take it. As always she is fast and efficient. It is not the full story but it’s what she can manage. I know. Girls are girls.