September 15, 2020

“On Waking Up and Strong Desires,” by Kelly Burke

“On Waking Up and Strong Desires,” by Kelly Burke

It is Saturday morning. I woke up with a strong desire to get a haircut. On my laptop I look up local salons to read reviews and compare ratings. I find one that looks promising. It has 4.9 stars and a recent client named Beatrice wrote that the stylists are warm and helpful people. Everything on the website is written in a romantic cursive font like a wedding invitation. I book an appointment for noon. I type out my name, email address, and phone number. Before submitting the form, it asks me to select the length of my hair, long or short. There is no option for medium or other. It makes me wince a bit. Then I begin contemplating the most accurate way to describe the length of my hair. I think about how it lays over my breasts in the shower flat and wet like seal skin. When it dries, my hair loses much of its length. It curls and contracts. I like its natural texture. It feels Mediterranean and sexy like something Bernini and his contemporaries might have referenced. I select long and then submit the form. A chime sounds. It is the confirmation email arriving in my inbox.  

My roommate Anna comes to the appointment with me. We walk through Twickenham looking up into the cashmere sky, wondering when it will peel open and rain. The temperature is pleasant. I am wearing a leopard print jacket that I recently bought from a second-hand shop. It is soft. I have a blue scarf wound around my neck. Anna is wearing a black Adidas windbreaker and sweatpants. She has a pile of textbooks and papers pressed to her chest that she plans on reading during the hair appointment. I am happy she is with me. 

When we arrive at the salon I don’t have to wait. A small Albanian woman wearing a black apron and sneakers shows me to a reclined chair with an attached basin. I place my neck on the cold rim and let my hair cascade behind me. Warm soapy water fills the tub. She scrubs my scalp, massages my temples. She is careless about the water getting into my ears. I wish she would be more careful. Having water in my ear is something that I dread. Anna is sitting on a white leather couch to my left with our purses and coats lounging around her. Her legs are crossed. Her eyes are solemn and downcast, traveling through the textbook, absorbing the material. She looks up from her lap and smiles at me.  

The basin starts to drain. My hair is streaming water onto the floor like an uninterrupted cry. A red towel is draped around my neck and I am being directed to another chair. The whole wall in front of me is a mirror. I look at my reflection and feel good about it. I like my lips and eyes. I like the shade of lipstick I am wearing; it reminds me of plums. With a thin wooden comb, I am asked to find the place in my scalp where the hair parts naturally. I tilt my head down and shake my head. That is all I have to do to find it. It reveals itself effortlessly the way I expect most things to. The hairdresser says that my hair is beautiful and thick. I tell her that it runs in the family, that God indulged during the creation of my maternal bloodline. Then she asks me how I want my hair styled. I pull my phone out from between my thighs to show her a picture of a clear skinned blonde woman with fringed bangs hanging like feathers across her forehead. “Not the color, of course,” I tell her. “Just the cut.” The hairdresser takes my phone into her hands. I can tell by her squinted eyes and scrunched nose that she is determined to give me what I came here for. She hands the phone back to me. The picture is zoomed in on the woman’s forehead.  

The entire appointment takes about forty-five minutes. In addition to the bangs I also ask for a trim and for my layers to be touched up. I keep checking to see if Anna looks restless. Sometimes she is looking down into the textbook. I notice her posture and look away. Other times, when our eyes meet, we pucker our lips at each other. 

Anna and I have been roommates for two weeks. We never went through an awkward stage of trying to conceal our bodies from each other when we changed. We just stripped like children in a kiddy-pool. Being naked with her is natural, liberating even. One day, when we’re a little drunk and severely lonely, I’ll ask her to take Polaroids of me, and then I’ll take some of her. I could probably do it now, but something about letting time pass feels right.  

The hairdresser unclips the apron from around my neck, I watch the wet strings of hair tumble to the floor. A taller, more masculine woman begins sweeping the hair into a dustpan. “Do you like it?” she asks. I comb my fingers through the soft feathery bangs and nod. Then I smile. “Yes,” I say. “I love it.” 

It is raining when we leave the salon. I wrap my blue scarf around my head like a veil. I look at my reflection in the salon’s window. I look virginal and honest like a biblical figure. My cheeks are flushed from the blow dryer’s heat. Anna puts on her hood. We cross the street briskly, avoiding puddles. Anna and I sit next to each other on the bus stop’s bench. Her shoulder is pressed to mine. Then she looks at me. “Bangs are flattering on you,” she says. “Even when they’re soaking wet.” 


Kelly Burke is a young writer from Ann Arbor, Michigan. She has studied in Rome, Italy at John Cabot University and in London, England at St. Mary’s University. You can find more of her writing on her blog titled Bee Abundant.

This is her first feature on The Fictional Café.

On Waking Up and Strong Desires

#friendship#hair salon#kelly burke#short story

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