Mrs. Habisch’s Hair by Ann Keeling

Mrs. Habisch’s Hair

“Mrs. Habisch.” Mrs. Habisch doesn’t respond. Jeannie Baker wraps the woman’s wet hair in a towel. She tries again. “Mrs. Habisch.” Jeannie taps her on the shoulder. Louder this time. “Mrs. Habisch!” She lightly pinches the back of her hand and Mrs. Habisch’s eyes fly open.

“Is it time?”

Jeannie nods. “It’s time, Mrs. Habisch.”

“Oh, call me Dorothy, please.”

Mrs. Habisch’s heels click toward the dryer. While the machine hums, Jeannie marks the index card. Mrs. Habisch has been coming for over ten years, when she was still an English teacher at Genoa City High School (her English teacher many years ago, which is why she can’t call her Dorothy), and more recently, in retirement. That’s a lot of index cards. In the beginning, Mrs. Habisch came on Saturdays. Monday mornings now because it’s Ladies Luncheon at the church and one needs to look their best when in charge.

A wash, a tease, a style. Each Monday, when Mrs. Habisch deposits herself into the chair, before the wash, her hair smells like the back of a closet.

The timer beeps. Jeannie helps Mrs. Habisch out of the chair.

“Did you ever find something you thought you’d lost?”

“You found something?” Jeannie politely answers.

“The key to my desk drawer. I used to keep things in it I didn’t want my husband to find. An account at Bergdorf-Goodmans. He wouldn’t understand the cost of a woman’s suit. And a letter from my old college friend Charles. It might have been hurtful. I thought about how both men are gone now. That’s what I thought. I mean, if Walter is gone, surely Charlie is as well. But, then, on Facebook? Do you Facebook, dear?”

“I do.”

“I found him.

Jeannie takes the teasing comb out of the drawer.

Mrs. Habisch looks in the mirror. She looks at Jeannie. “Can you make it a little…I don’t know…wild?”

*

It’s been four weeks and Mrs. Habisch is back for her regular. This week she is between a full-dye and a root touch-up. Jeannie has lots of clients like her. Dropped jowls. Wrinkles like hill erosion. Yet there’s something about the hair, the denial of gray. Jeannie makes good money from that need to preserve youth. She’s tired of chemicals, tired of the color range, tired of the time it takes, but she would never say so.

Jeannie asks about her son, Robert. When they were at Cosmetology school together, he gave her a painting of a woman floating in the stars. It hangs in her hallway. He moved to Chicago to work at a big salon, so they don’t talk too often. Jeannie did hear that he was sick.

Mrs. Habisch says that he will see a doctor in Chicago. They need to learn more. She wonders if he is working too hard.

“How is your son?”Mrs. Habisch says.

Jeannie tells her about his newest Lego invention involving slots where coins go to make candy come out. She tells her they went on a trip to see his grandmother in Los Angeles.

“That’s nice, dear,” she says. Then she puts on her headphones. She has started wearing them to her appointments, a portable CD player bulging from her purse. The quiet is nice. Jeannie can plan her afternoon or make lists in her head. Today, Mrs. Habisch reaches forward several times to hit the track back button. When she takes off her headphones, Jeannie asks what she’s listening to. Mrs. Habisch’s wrinkles lift into a satisfied smile.

“Edward and Bella.” The old woman’s eyes twinkle.

“Twilight?”

“Yes. I have the whole series. I got the set from the library. Don’t you know, the author reads it herself?”

Jeannie saw the movie a few years back. She imagines the seductive story as a soundtrack to Mrs. Habisch’s daily tasks of dishes or paying bills.

“Do you have a favorite part?” Jeannie asks.

“Their first kiss. It’s so…so…electric. Her desire. His control.”

“But isn’t the vampire dangerous?”

“Oh, yes,” says Mrs. Habisch. “Dangerous and…forbidden.”

She puts the headphones back on.

Jeannie sets the timer for thirty minutes. She eats her turkey sandwich in the back room, tries not to think about passion and restraint. She hasn’t started dating again since Frank died. But she imagines a kiss like that, where there is nothing but lips and breath and teeth.

*

It’s a Thursday that seems like a Monday. Mrs. Habisch called the afternoon before, anxious, asking for an appointment first thing.

When she sits, her face powder is streaked.

Jeannie has become a popular and trusted hairdresser because she knows what questions not to ask. But Mrs. Habisch looks so distraught, she can’t help herself. “Is everything alright, Mrs. Habisch?”

Mrs. Habisch is quiet. She does not have her headphones today. Jeannie asks if she has finished Twilight.

“Today is Thursday,”Mrs. Habisch says.

Jeannie nods.

“My son is dead,” she says. “You were friends.”

Jeannie doesn’t move. Maybe if she holds still, time will stop.

“You were friends,”Mrs. Habisch repeats.

Finally, Jeannie nods. Hers hands are shaking and she’s glad she’s only styling.

When Mrs. Habisch asks if she will give the eulogy, Jeannie drops the comb.

“I saw a log he kept,” says Mrs. Habisch. “He gave you a painting. You must have meant a lot to him.”

When Jeannie gets home, she looks through her files. She finds her husband’s eulogy, the one her sister-in-law read because she couldn’t do it. She will write one for Robert. She will try to honor his creativity, loyalty, kindness, talent.

She will read it herself.

Ann Keeling received her MFA in Creative Writing from Goddard College, was Editor-in-Chief of the “Pitkin Review,” has had work published in the Seattle Erotic Art Festival’s “literary art anthology,” and won Honorable Mention in several “Women on Writing” fiction contests. Originally from Kansas and Wisconsin, she now lives in Morro Bay, California with her husband and dog, appreciating every single visit from her grown son.

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Art: Marc Chagall Public Domain ALT Marc Chagall painting of a couple kissing in a red room. Both of them are flying and she is holding flowers. I think the couple represent Marc Chagall and Bella Rosenfeld, who were very much in love.

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