I… am not sure what this story is or where it is going, but on my way out the door one Friday evening, something started writing itself in my head and Leslie’s Curl & Dye won’t go away. It’ll probably be a short story… I don’t know. We’ll see where it goes!
Anyhoozle, I wanted to post something new since Sam’s is still revving up. Hope you enjoy and I hope you see more. NOTE: This is a long snip, so grab a cuppa and take a seat!
My favorite time of day was three o’clock. Especially in the summer. Especially on a hot summer Friday.
The front door to the salon was propped wide open in a futile effort to let hot air and the scent of singed hair escape. Heavy bass from the boom box on the counter, accented by the cackle of laughter drifted out into the heated atmosphere, where the air was so still, the power lines sang. I glanced down the row of full salon chairs, each occupant receiving the best hair care that money could buy. At least on this side of town.
“I’m just sayin’,” Earline, the town gossip, offered in not-so-hushed tones. “I heard that she wasn’t living in the marital home anymore.”
“Well, where’s she living now?” asked Dorothy Rae, seated in the chair next to her. In one arm, she cradled a plastic case full of grey perm rods, from which she fed her stylist when she received a tap on the shoulder. “Wait… she’s living with him?”
Earline pursed her lips and hummed, glancing away. Not answering, but answering.
“Ooh, she didn’t wait long, did she? Went right from one house to the other. No stop in between to even get her bearings.”
“Well, why should she? She got a man willing to take her from her husband’s house,” said Earline.
“And a husband willing to let her get taken.” Dorothy’s thin lips twisted into a conspiratorial smirk.
“That’s how young women do these days,” said Angela Evans, mid-press and curl. Her legs were crossed, a pair of pink sneakers peeking out from under the flowing smock with the Curl&Dye logo imprinted across the center. “They just decide they’re done and then leave. They don’t have any concern for propriety, or even being an example to the younger girls out here. It’s not ‘til death do us part anymore. They try marriage on for size and if it doesn’t work right away, just leave.”
“Well now, I don’t know about leaving because it doesn’t work right away. Carl and Macey been married for over ten years. And we all know Carl is a flirt. If he’s faithful, I’m a pink unicorn.”
The entire shop laughed at my half-serious comment on the situation. If the barber shop was where men gathered to bond with other men, chat about man things and dap each other up, then the beauty shop was the same for women. It was where we found solace and camaraderie, and a bit of gossip on a hot day in a full salon.
The conversation moved from the affair between Macey Raymond and Thomas Cayhill, owner and proprietor of Cayhill Hardware, to the annual all-church fish fry, to be held the following weekend.
For a town that only boasted 7,900 residents—and that was during the summer when the snow birds came home— Potter Lake had a church on every corner. Any denomination you thought you might want to be interested in, you could find it. I’d bet a person could visit every church in this town and not run out of churches for a good few months.
The fish fry wasn’t just a fish fry. All manner of food from chicken to fish to pork chops, including the sides and famous desserts would be for sale. The annual event was a fund raiser for the town’s recreation center and an unofficial competition between churches. Mount Pleasant Baptist had “won” every year for the last three years, bringing in more funds than any other church, but there’d been grumbling that it wasn’t fair because they had three times the congregation of every other church in town.
“You all know good and well Cheryl’s peach cobbler ain’t better than mine, but folks show up to buy her out every year. I think Pastor Bell is bribin’ folks to come out and buy up all the food from Mount Pleasant tables.” Earline was getting all worked up again. Her stylist, Tamara, chuckled while pulling rollers from her freshly washed and dried hair.
“You think so?” My client asked, her soft voice riding just above the sound of the blow dryer. “I guess it would make sense if he did, since they never have any food left at the end of the day.”
“Pearl,” I chided, leveling a strong side eye via the mirror at the woman in my chair. “Do not encourage her. She doesn’t have any proof for anything she’s said today. Make that anything she’s said in the last ten years.”
“Oh hush. You just mad ain’t nobody hangin’ on to what you say.”
I chuckle while running my fingers through Pearl’s mane, coating it with moisturizer. “I am not in competition with you, old lady. People buy up your cobbler too, and if I remember, Solid Rock sold clean out of food last year. Now stay still so Tamara can finish your hair. I heard you have a date tonight. Who’s taking you out?”
I heard something about big mouth young people, and then the room darkened. I turned to find a tall figure standing in the doorway, blocking the sunlight.
“Zeke standing in the doorway like he’s expecting an invitation,” said Earline, twisting around to stick her nose in some more business. Tamara tapped her shoulder and she righted herself, giving a slight smile in the mirror. Earline never missed her two o’clock Friday appointment, and though her hair may have turned a brilliant white, it was still thick and lustrous and she was vain about its upkeep. Truth be told, Earline was vain about everything, from her early seventies body that looked early fifties to her pearly white teeth that she was proud to say were mostly hers.
“Zeke, come in, if you’re comin’. We’re trying to get some air through here and you’re blocking the flow.”
I waved him inside and, since he was so tall, he had to duck to enter the salon. Ezekiel Simmons was our resident “salesman”. Anything you needed, from electronics to music and movies, Zeke probably had it in his trunk. I’d scolded him about selling bootleg media and boosted merchandise in my shop, so I gave him the “single eyebrow lift” to let him know I hadn’t forgotten about the warning.
Zeke gave me a slight head nod while a forest green backpack slipped from his shoulders. From inside he pulled various Ziploc bags, some stuffed with cords and cables, some holding devices still in packaging. “Afternoon, ladies. Any of ya’ll in need of—”
Zeke made a point of glancing at me before he finished his sentence. “Legal electronics, accessories, movies, new tunes? I got some of those sticks you put in your TV for extra channels and movies—they call ‘em chromecast or Roku. I got charge cords for your cell phones, your tablets…. I got cell phones and tablets too! Talk to ya grandbabies wherever you are…”
“Now you know you shouldn’t be mentioning grandbabies in a room full of women, Zeke,” Angela chided, reaching for one of the bags. “Some of us are still young and spry. Not all of us are old and tired.”
“Who you callin’ old and tired?” Earline primped in the mirror and smiled at her reflection. She’d even had her eyebrows shaped… what was left of them. “I’m going dancing at the senior center. What are you doing tonight? Warming up the left side of your couch?”
“Who you going dancing with?” Pearl asked. “And Zeke, let me see one of those chargers. You got a thing where I can charge my phone in the car?”
I shook my head at the clatter of voices and commotion in the shop and smiled to myself. This noise, to me, was the sound of success. I’d inherited Curl&Dye from my mother, who’d inherited it from her mother when all the salon consisted of was a kitchen chair and a sunporch. When it was cold or it rained, Grandy couldn’t do hair because the porch didn’t have walls. Eventually, Pop enclosed the sunporch and Curl&Dye always had a steady stream of customers.
After Grandy’s stroke, Mama—who’d studied hair under Grandy, moved the shop to a ramshackle building on the edge of town. It was all she could afford, but since she was the only beauty salon in a fifty-mile radius and ladies still had to get their hair done for Sunday service, she always had a full shop. Women would wait for hours to get their hair done by Lee Palmer.
I took a different route, altogether. Running a salon was never going to be my livelihood, but three years ago, after I ran home with my tail between my legs, I had to do something for money. Since I’d always refused to learn how to do hair past doing my own, I went to the beauty school in nearby Healy, twenty miles south of Potter Lake. There I learned the mechanics of hair care and was eager to bring new techniques and brands to a shop that was still using Dark & Lovely, Blue Magic Hair Grease and Pink Oil – products that had been taboo in the DC shop where I’d been a regular for years.
Just as I’d attained my cosmetology license, though, Mama had started making noise about retiring, shutting the place down. Her busy days weren’t so busy anymore and her numbers were dropping like a brick. Where she’d normally have a line out the door on a Saturday, she’d be lucky to see two or three regulars, elderly ladies who’d gone to Grandy back in the day and only showed up out of loyalty and standing appointments.
I wouldn’t hear of it. Curl&Dye was a Potter Lake institution, as old as the little town itself. I plowed what I could into moving the shop further into town, renting a space and getting the neighborhood men to help me breathe life into a dank, plain room. Bright paint went on the wall, Mama’s old salon chairs got a good clean and polish, and I started recruiting stylists from Healy School of Beauty.
The shop pulsed with new life for a while, but it’s been slowly declining again. Noise, while a sign of good business, doesn’t pay the light bill or the rent or anybody’s salary. It didn’t take long to find out what was causing us to lose clientele.
Guys N’ Dolls, a family salon, had opened up across town on the other side of Potter Lake, with its fancy shopping centers and bigger houses and folks that wear designer labels just to check the mail. Those of us on this side of Potter Lake had a huge bone to pick with Mayor Adams, who’d been enticing businesses to open operations in Potter Lake with a tax incentive, while the same incentive isn’t offered to any of the existing businesses. While we all want to keep the town alive, none of us want it to be large and impersonal, full of Wal-Marts and the like, places that put mom and pop shops like Curl&Dye out of business.
A shrill ring added to the sounds in the air. Since she was the closest, Tamara reached over the partition separating the front desk from the rest of the salon.
“Leslie’s Curl & Dye, Tamara speakin’…. Well, hey there, Ms. Paulette.” She winced, reaching for the appointment book. “Let me see…I can fit you in around five. Five thirty works fine. You want a full set?” She scratched details across the block marked 5PM, then paused. “Oh, a pedicure, too? I got you. See you then.”
Tamara dropped the phone back into its cradle and shot me a withering look. “She’s bringing her ugly feet in here around five o’clock, if anyone wants to do me a favor.”
I tried my best to hold in my snicker, but it didn’t work. The rule was that if you caught it, you took it, unless someone wanted to take it for you. Hardly anyone wanted to take Ms. Paulette. “Got to stop being so eager to answer the phone.”
“Got to stop putting me at this station right next to the phone. If I don’t answer, I get the ugly eye like I’m the receptionist.” She finished fluffing Earline’s hair and handed her a small mirror. “Ms. Earline, make a young stylist happy and tell me how you like your hair and these eyebrows.”
“Well, I think I look right nice,” she declared after a few moments of close inspection. “I bought a new dress and some kitten heels and a pretty red lipstick. My date is going to like looking at me.” The entire shop erupted in laughter, to which Earline paid no attention. Tamara whipped the smock away with a flourish and Earline rose from the chair, little black purse in hand.
“You never told us who you’re going to the dance with, Earline.” I removed the smock from Pearl’s shoulders and offered her a hand to help her stand.
“And I’m not going to, because it’s none of your business.”
“She’s going out with that handsome Col. Davis, the one that just moved here from Healy.”
Earline frowned. “Dorothy, I swear, your mouth is big as I don’t know what. If only your brain was as big as your mouth.”
“It’s not like it’s a secret. Ya’ll been having lunch once a week for a month!”
I hid my amusement at Earline being bested while she and Pearl paid their bill. “Have a nice day ladies, and we’ll see you next week. Earline, I’ll expect an update on tonight’s date.”
“You can expect all you want. Don’t mean you’ll get it.”
“Come on here, old lady,” said Pearl, pulling her friend out of the door and into the sunshine.
“She sure don’t like being gossiped about, but she’ll tell you everything about everyone else,” grumbled Tamara.
“Sometimes she’ll get carried away and talk about you to your face.” I laughed, uncapped a bottle of water, took a healthy swig and turned the volume knob up on the boom box.