Saturday girl

The backroom of the hairdresser’s was so hot that one was winded upon entry by the thick brute of blowdryer steam and opaline barbicide. The front room, empty and pale, a mirror to each stool, was considerably colder on account of the large sheet of glass to the street and leaking door, beyond which trickles and scrapes of snow still clung on. In the window a nativity scene shone. ‘Don’t let the dog out!’ a voice called as the door to backroom was opened. Straight away, the dog, a labrador, young and energetic, its coat as crude oil, nuzzled a wet snout into my thighs in search of a nook. I said hello to everyone and walked, labrador leading the way, his tail slapping into everything and everyone, furniture, employee and client, to the sinks at the rear. I waited and the labrador completed a lap around the backroom, ignored, then returned to me; I pet his ears and shoulders; he held his lead in his mouth.
    After a while, one of the women took a seat at the sink next to me, and the labrador leapt into her lap, its tail curling up underneath its body, shaking with joy, licking her jaw as she laughed and commented on her wife’s hair—‘Looks great.’ ‘I’m not just saying that, it looks really good. How about a wave in it?’ ‘A wave, curl or a flick?’ ‘I don’t think I give a fuck.’ ‘I don’t think she even knows the difference.’ ‘A wave is—’ and the hairdresser was interrupted with—‘Just do whatever,’ and three of them laughed in unison as the labrador wobbled and licked, his lead running to the floor.
    I was sad to see the labrador leave. The lesbians tipped and a rush of warm air went with them.
    In the hairdresser’s chair, I was forced to look at myself looking at myself, observing too the flighty pair of scissors and his scarred mouth as it pendulum’d either side of my skull. He opened a heavyset metal door at the rear that backed into an alley shared with other shops along the way.
    The front door dinged about a small flurry of wintery swirls as the client was greeted and led to the backroom. I saw her in the mirror behind me. She passed and was beautiful; a gay French lady in a grand fur coat, her pink nails pushing the hair out about the nape of her neck as a gown was pulled around her slender shoulders. Her daughter took the stool next to me. As the French lady chatted happily and with the sweetest lilt to her tongue, I took to her out the side of my eye. Make her laugh, I thought to myself, and I did. She laughed, too, so sweetly.
    Her daughter sat next to me, polite and patiently waiting for one of the Saturday-girls to attend to her fringe. Just a tidy. The French lady’s youngest, she said not a word or any expression on her face. Meekly she regarded the mirror, and confidently the mirror regarded her back.
    He was the first person I met at secondary school. As all of the new students, only eleven-years-old, gathered raucously in the dining hall, he and I were sat next to each other in silence. His uniform, like mine, was still stiff and new. His ears poked out from his large head. We introduced ourselves to the other. From then on, we were friends. During our education, he was separated from the rest of our class on account of perceived learning difficulties; severe dyslexia. He struggled, yes, while treating school earnestly and yet without a care, as though he enjoyed, for all its time, he enjoyed it. Afterwards, he graduated from a local technical institute with a qualification in building and quickly became employed with a nationwide contractor. While the rest of us were having our experiences at university, he was on various sites around London and the home counties, tough in the mud and puddles between portacabins, the thunder of labour, the banter of fluorescence.
    It was many years later that we were united briefly at the wedding of an old friend. In summer’s dim dawn, it was he, me and a young lady. The two of them were dancing alone on the floor as I raided the bar for the last bottles of red wine. I drank straight from the neck. They laughed in flickers. I threw up in the cab home as they fell in love.
    We rendezvous’d during lockdown and walked along the beach together. It was grey and in no way was I prepared to entertain his company, but he had hounded me for so long that I was pressured by my mother to see him again. A stiffness was in my throat as we took his dog along the sand. He told me that it had ended with the girl from the wedding, that she had desired a fine lifestyle of stables and champagne which he could not afford her, nor could he tolerate her petulance any longer. Now he had met someone older, and was enamoured – struck! – by her. She wanted a child, too, and he was so happy with her that he wanted it to continue. He had finally met what another friend of ours had called ‘The One’.
    There was a photograph of him halfway down a hospital hallway holding the baby carrier. His body tilted one way to offset the weight of his new son; the lights overheard were surely some sort of torture before his new eyes embraced the sun. I wished my old friend—‘Congratulations,’ as it seemed something to say and I had nothing else. His partner posed for portraits, pregnant and nude, photographs taken by her friend, and then they posed with the babe, all the flesh so undulant, so curved and colourful. The last of my friends to have children. Some people have the personality and kindness that suits children: Him, and the mother of my friend Thomas. Maybe I will speak to him in time, ask him how it is being a father. Maybe I will not.
    Maybe I will not.
    A Saturday-girl hurried to the French lady’s daughter with a sharpened pair of scissors hung on the ring finger of her right hand. The fringe was trimmed delicately. Black hair fell in little chunks down the girl’s chest onto her lap. Her expression did not change. She watched. It happened, the cutting of her fringe. Afterwards she went to her mother and asked something in French, to which the mother replied in French, and no one else in the room understood what they were saying.