Myra frowned into the salon mirror. If Suzi could fix Myra’s hair, partially grown in from a style Suzi had advised against, maybe Myra could begin to feel better about everything.
If you look good, you’ll feel good, she used to tell Jake whenever he was about to leave the house with his shirt half-tucked or his cowlick sprung. Not that he paid attention. Jake had been a beautiful child who grew into a handsome man without a spot of effort. And now see where’s he’s landed himself.
“Hello, Myra,” Suzi said. “What are we doing today?”
“You tell me. It was a mistake not listening to you last time.”
Suzi stared meditatively at Myra in the mirror.
“A clean-up trim and a tint,” she declared.
Myra nodded dubious agreement. Suzi began clipping at the nape. On another day, Myra would have slipped into relaxed absent-mindedness. But today, the pleasure of passivity eluded her, replaced by a strange sense of loneliness.
“You’re a mother, aren’t you, Suzi?”
“Yes. My son’s 11.”
“Mine’s 24. Let me tell you, it never gets easier. They get bigger, their problems get bigger.”
“Did something happen to your son?” Suzi sounded genuinely concerned.
“In a manner of speaking.”
“But he’s all right?”
“Physically he’s fine. You could say that physically, he’s too fine.”
Myra was not one to gossip with hairdressers, parading her life within earshot of the strangers in nearby chairs. But the chairs on either side were empty, and the hairdresser across the aisle was using a loud blow dryer. And Suzi’s face was so kind, so attentive.
“He announced last night—on the phone, not in person—that he’s been dating someone and it’s getting serious.”
“Serious? As in marriage?”
Suzi held the scissors suspended idly above Myra’s head.
“He didn’t mention marriage per se. My husband was on the extension, and he claims Jake didn’t even use the word serious. But I can read between the lines. He always tells us things in pieces.”
The quizzical look was gone from Suzi’s face. She seemed, in fact, lost in private thought. But now that Myra had begun, she didn’t want to stop.
“We haven’t even met the girl,” she complained. “Girl, hah! The woman’s twice his age!”
“Twice?” Suzi said incredulously.
“She’s 40. Only five years younger than me!”
“That’s the first thing he told you about her?”
Suzi’s face showed dismay, a hint of anger. How sympathetic she is, Myra thought. Jake had called Myra unfair, and her husband said she was creating a tempest in a teapot, but here was someone who instinctively recognized the problem, the way any mother with a son would.
“Oh, first there was the usual mush about being in love with a wonderful woman.”
Suzi was slowly combing Myra’s hair.
“Do you want to meet her?” she asked quietly.
“Of course,” Myra replied curtly, though the question had thrown her.
Turning away, Suzi lifted the lid of a glass jar filled with pink liquid, put the comb into it, and replaced the lid. Her movements were careful and precise, as if the task required great delicacy. How could a person be so absorbed in putting a comb into a jar when someone right next to her was obviously spinning in misery?
“Do you think, Suzi, that it would be more likely I could talk him out of it if I refused to meet her? Or should I meet her and be especially nice, then later gently point out the obstacles to him?”
“Which are…?” Suzi folded her arms over her chest, ready to concentrate on Myra’s answer.
“When she’s 60, he’ll still be a young man. And what about children? I’m sure he’s going to want children.”
“Maybe she’s already got children. If she’s 40, she could have been married before.”
“Oh my God, I never thought of that.” Myra shook her head ruefully. “Bringing up someone else’s children… That never works.”
“Never say never,” Suzi warned lightly. “That’s what my mother used to say.”
“But not to have a child of your own…grandchildren…”
“Look at it from the other side, Myra. Your son’s girlfriend must think he’s pretty special if she’d let him become a father to her kid. You should be proud he’s that kind of man.”
“It’s just not what I ever…”
Suzi didn’t encourage Myra to complete her thought. Her hands were moving quickly and surely around Myra’s head, evaluating her work.
“I’m going to go mix the tint,” she said.
In Suzi’s absence, Myra stared out the plate glass window. A pedestrian passed with his dog, three cars rolled by. A woman and a little girl crossed the street. How many of those apparently untroubled people were embroiled in dramas? If any of them glanced into the salon at her, what would they think? She, too, must look untroubled. They might suppose she was preparing for some happy event, a special gathering or outing.
Suzi returned with a sharp-smelling paste in a bowl. She divided Myra’s hair into small sections with pieces of aluminum foil and brushed the paste on section by section. Under the rhythm of Suzi’s capable touch, Myra grew drowsy.
“Didn’t you meet Jake once when he came to pick me up here?” Myra asked after Suzi had been working a while in silence. “That time I was getting a perm and he had to wait?”
“Yes, I remember that day.”
“Well, of course you’d remember. Women have been noticing Jake since he was 14. Bank tellers, shop girls, librarians… Some of them actually flirted with him, a mere child!”
“What would he do?”
“Nothing. Even now, he’s not vain.”
“Solid, would you say?”
“Then maybe you ought to bank on that. He’s not a kid any more, is he?”
“You and me, Suzi—we’re not kids any more,” Myra answered, rallying. “He still needs straightening out.”
Suzi shrugged and went to attend another customer while Myra’s dye set.
The other side. Myra hadn’t considered that before, that Jake’s woman would have opinions, too, including an opinion of her. Suddenly, she felt shy.
When Myra’s hair was done, Suzi gave her a hand mirror to inspect the back of her head. Suzi had been right about the tint.
“I thought I might not like it, but I do.”
Myra went to the appointment desk and paid. She returned to Suzi’s station and handed her a five dollar tip. Suzi thanked her with a smile. It struck Myra that there was something slightly crooked about Suzi’s mouth, as if she’d just come from the dentist and the novocaine hadn’t worn off yet. In the next instant, however, Suzi’s smile appeared perfectly normal. It’s me, not her, Myra thought.
“See you, Myra,” Suzi said as she headed for the shampoo sink.
Checking a nearby mirror, Myra fluffed out the sides of her hair.
“In six weeks, maybe,” she called. Inwardly, she cursed how slowly her hair grew, how long it could take to overcome a mistake.