The flowers don’t care a whit about pandemics. And bless their glorious little hearts for that.
About six years ago, I did that thing women of a certain age aren’t “supposed” to do: I stopped colouring my hair. Soon afterward, a female acquaintance of similar vintage felt compelled to provide a report, which she delivered with a combination of concern and competitive glee, on the number of shady interlopers congregating in back, suggesting I was overdue for a salon visit.
Going au naturel, so to speak, evokes an astonishingly visceral reaction. How dare I actually choose to do so? After all, the right shade, savvy marketers purr, will make all the difference. You will still be you, but a better you, defying the slings and arrows of Mother Nature and Father Time through a shimmering, multi-dimensional forcefield. If it doesn’t work out, just pick another colour. With a little effort, a fair bit of cash, and a slightly itchy scalp, you can not only look glam, but also fight the clock!
Do not curse me, manufacturers and purveyors of hair-colour products, for I’m sure I kept you solvent in my many years of trying to keep up appearances. And not just for grey coverage, but style. More than once I left the salon with something far too dramatic, acquiescing to the whims of stylists and, after wincing repeatedly at my reflection, sought a home remedy to tone it down. The result was usually odd with copper highlights. Then I’d wash it multitudinous times to fade it, tie it back and vow to never do the same again.
Until I did. There’s something mesmerizing about what happens in that salon chair, whether it’s sitting primly while adorned with a crown of foil – a look that could easily be mistaken for an attempt to receive alien radio signals instead of highlights – or the subdued calm induced by tightly bundled plastic wrap for colour processing. Call it the magic of anticipation; the promise of crowning glory.
I attempted to rediscover my natural colour in my 30s, thinking I’d just get it back to “normal” and leave it alone, scouring the aisles of permanent and semi-permanent hues for the ever-elusive match. During this Holy-Grail quest, an intriguing new trend surfaced amongst younger women as they took the shades once designed to ease women into senior citizenry and inverted them, showing brunette, ginger and flaxen roots atop greyscale locks. At first, I thought it was a bold feminist statement, but I ultimately realized it to be no different than the incipient expressions of individuality my friends and I experimented with in our teens. Back then, lemon juice and sunshine were all you needed.
Despite the pleas and thinly veiled disdain, I’m sticking to the plan and avoiding the telltale stripe that is a recurring side-effect of colouring beyond a certain time. The first two years were moderately dreadful, but with a modicum of patience – all right, an abundance of patience – you, too, can discover and embrace your authentic shade after years of colouring. Mine turned out to be chocolate brown with a touch of auburn and a growing luminescence. But there’s nothing wrong with a bit of bling.
Apple blossoms in spring. Glorious!
She found herself at the same corner again. Again, for the third time in a week. Perhaps it was fate…or, more likely, her own design; her own desire to go back.
Things were different then; then, when she felt anxious to move on. Or had she been anxious not to move on? Had she looked for reasons to remain unchanged, even while feeling desperate to change?
Then, she’d looked at the men her own age and simply couldn’t see the point. To her, they were young and beautiful and boring. She looked elsewhere. They weren’t her professors, after all. To them, she was young and beautiful and bored. She took their tuition. Methodically.
She wondered where they were now. They might be pushing up daisies. One even tried to marry her, woebegone his grand romantic gestures couldn’t melt her cynicism.
She climbed the ladder instead. All in for twenty years. And now, there was nowhere to go. Nowhere but back to this corner.
“Excuse me, ma’am,” the voice said. “Do you need directions?”
She turned to find an earnest young face, stylishly bearded in the way they did that now, looking back at her. “I suppose I do,” she said, and smiled. Funny, she thought, he doesn’t look boring at all.
He seemed to Jane, through her covert glance across the train aisle, like a seasoned Willoughby, posing in a sharp blue suit and tan shoes, trench slung over his shoulder. She shifted her gaze higher, only to find wolfish eyes already locked upon her, lingering like a question mark. The blush immediately swept her skin and she turned away.
He was clearly no Mr. Darcy. Perhaps a Wickham? A Willoughwick? A Wickhamby? Everything about him was W, and she knew she should curb her curiosity. Though he’d given his seat to someone, she reckoned it was just for show. He looked better standing, and knew it.
He moved immediately in front of her; close enough she had to cross her ankles under the seat so their legs wouldn’t touch. She sighed emphatically, and he eased out of her personal space. Still, she wondered if he could somehow hear her thoughts; wondered how many virtual locks he’d collected in his comings and goings. He glanced down at her, slyly, exposing a dimpled half-smile as he left. Decidedly Wickhamby.
A work in progress…
…past alley garages spray-painted with noise…
…reminded him of a Margaret Atwood poem… “everything | is getting in …”
Steve shifted his toes as the wave took the sand beneath them. He knew he couldn’t do this much longer. He knew what the neighbours must think. But who were they to judge? Where were they that morning?
He remembered where he’d been, of course. Lingering under the summer duvet like a lazy bastard. She’d tried to get him to go with her; to join her daily ritual. But he’d groaned in response, throwing a t-shirt over his face to block out the dawn. She’d sighed and teased him about being a lazy bastard, and slipped out of the room. He’d mumbled a promise to make coffee, and promptly fell back asleep.
The pounding woke him. Like when his dad used to slam his fist on the wall to stop the noise. He rolled out of bed and went to the door, calling for Lexi along the way.
His neighbour Jill stood on the front porch, her face crumpling as her eyes met his, clothes dripping water in a circle around her. “I’m so sorry, Steve,” she whispered. “It’s…it’s Lexi. Sam is with her.”
“What?” he asked, confused.
“Lexi!” Steve bellowed, pushing past Jill and scrambling down the steep path to the lake. He rubbed his eyes, trying to erase the scene before him.
Sam knelt beside Lexi, holding her hand. Steve let go of his breath, thinking she must be all right…it was okay…she was all right. He staggered across the beach to them, deafened by his own heartbeat.
“She must’ve slipped and hit her head on the dock,” Sam said, wiping away tears. “Do you know how long she was down here? How long she might’ve been in the water? Oh, Christ, Steve! I am so sorry!”
Steve blew smoke into the damp November air, his feet now fully numb at the edge of the lake. When he stared long enough, he could see her skin sparking in the water, her smile merging with the waves. His mermaid.