Copyright © 2003 All Rights Reserved
It was not at first apparent to Andrew that there was anything amiss with his haircut, that it was anything other than a nice haircut, possibly sharp. Indeed, during those first few heady moments that followed his departure from Cheri's Salon de Rigueur, sharp seemed distinctly plausible.
The woman who had cut his hair was not his regular stylist (Cheri), was, in fact, a younger, sexier sort of stylist, with large, soft breasts that pressed pleasingly against his arm as she snipped. She had been effusive about the new style, ran her hands through his hair and said: "I would kill for your wave. Just kill."
"Wave?" he said.
"Just kill," she said.
Andrew inspected himself in the mirror. "Yes," he said. "That looks fine," and when her mouth drooped, he added, "The bangs. You've done something new with the bangs. I like it."
"It'll look better when it dries."
"It looks very nice now," he said. "Thank you."
His scalp felt tingly with the memory of her fingers. His hair smelled of coconut; or perhaps some kind of mild chutney. On the way back to work, he gazed into storefronts and the windows of cars in the parking lot. He felt he looked, if not sharp (and sharp was perhaps pushing it) then at the very least nifty.
Andrew was not a man overly concerned with his hair. He was, in truth, somewhat laissez-faire in this regard, leaving to others -- his wife, usually -- management of his coiffure. It was most unusual, unprecedented really, for him to seek out an unauthorized haircut. Nor could he have said, precisely, what inspired him. He was tucked behind his desk when the whim simply struck him, some vague urge toward touch, alteration. In his own sidelong appraisals, however, there in the parking lot, he felt an odd but definitive twinge of assurance.
His secretary cocked her head, but withheld comment.
He paused before her desk, fumbling with paper clips.
"I've gotten a haircut," he announced.
"Yes." She smiled wanly. "I see."
"A new style," he said.
"When in Rome," she said cryptically, and began clicking her nails on her desktop.
"Yes, well." He straightened his tie.
He spent a few minutes at his desk, fumbling with his own paper clips, then hurried to the men's room.
Higgins, one of the junior partners, found him regarding himself in the mirror.
Andrew reached for the hot water knob and turned it on full-blast.
"What's happened to you, then?" Higgins said.
"What are they calling that?"
"Oh yes." Andrew touched at his bangs. "I'm not sure. I believe it's something Roman."
Higgins, who wore a wispy pompadour, narrowed his gaze. "Rome as in Italy, or Rome as in Caesar?"
Higgins made a noise very much like hurumph. Without so much as urinating, he departed.
Andrew felt water trickling onto his dress shoes. He turned off the tap.
Unprepared to risk the cafeteria for his customary 3 p.m. snack of carrot sticks and iced tea, he visited the vending area and selected a package of mini donuts covered in something like chocolate and a cherry cola. Guilty but secretly thrilled, he skipped back to his office.
His wife did not appear to notice his haircut until they sat across from one another at dinner. And not even then. She was relating a most unpleasant-sounding encounter with a representative from the gas company when she fell unexpectedly (and therefore dramatically) silent.
"Your head," she said.
Her chin puckered, as if she had bitten something rotten. "What have you done?"
"Oh this," Andrew touched at his hair modestly. "I cut my hair. I got a haircut."
"You look like Hitler."
For a moment, Andrew wondered if his wife were joking with him, though, in point of fact, she had not joked with him for some years. As if to confirm her gravity in the matter, she added, "Adolf Hitler." She was not a woman much burdened with tact.
"I rather like it," Andrew said.
His wife frowned. "You weren't due for a cut."
"Yes, I know."
"Yet you went anyway. No discussion, no nothing. And you let Cheri do this to you?"
"No. Not Cheri."
His wife dropped her fork into her endive.
"It was a new girl," Andrew explained. "Tammi. She said I have a wave."
"She said what?" His wife inspected his head and stabbed out a laugh. "You've got about as much wave as a duck pond. Your hair is lank, dear. As lank as God makes hair."
"Not true," Andrew said. He wasn't quite sure what lank meant, but it called to mind an image of droopy wheat, and sounded wrong.
"Oh, please," his wife said, and laughed again, this time faintly, as if to close the subject.
"I'm quite happy with my new style," Andrew said. "I believe it makes me look younger."
Without looking up from her plate, without ceasing the vigorous rearrangement of the food groups placed symmetrically thereon, his wife said: "No Andrew. It is bad. Very bad."
A few days later, at his annual physical, Andrew noticed a young woman looking at him in the waiting room. She wore a peach blouse and black stockings, and made no pretense of reading the magazine in her hands.
"Do I know you?" he asked, after an appropriate time.
"No." She smiled shyly.
Andrew sat very still, his hands dampening the pages of his Business Week. This went on for some moments. He had no idea how many. Finally the woman added, "I was trying to figure out who you remind me of, with that haircut."
Andrew felt -- believed he might actually have heard -- a thump in his chest cavity.
"It's either Sean Connery, or Spartacus. I can't decide."
"Spartacus?" Andrew touched his bangs. He imagined himself in a toga, then her. "Yes, I believe this style is called the Spartacus." He spoke with authority, as if he were before a judge in court. With more authority, in fact, than he exhibited in his capacity as counsel to the wayward and avaricious.
The woman, now leaning slightly in his direction across a low coffee table, laughed. A lavish, percolating sound. In the moment after this laughter ceased and the next words prepared to move forward from her lips, in this moment -- it would not even be fair to call it a lull -- the receptionist called Andrew's name.
Andrew shut the door to the exam room, firmly, and stripped his clothing off. His doctor, Phil, was a short, vigorous man who prodded at him with unrestrained glee.
"Just spent a week in Belize trying to spot a jaguar," Phil announced, digging his fingers beneath Andrew's scrotum, "Damn shy, those cats. Cough please. Yes, and once again. I'll tell you, though, you get down there near the equator and the colors come alive. Okay, let's take a look at those peepers." Using the same hand that had just probed for a hernia, Phil shined a thin beam into Andrew's pupils.
"Now lay down for a moment now. There you go." Phil leaned over him, pressing a pair of thumbs into one kidney. His tie, decorated with a storm of skydiving animals, struggled to escape his smock. He'd had some legal trouble a few years back -- a divorce requiring hasty liquidation -- and Andrew had referred him to a colleague. To celebrate his marital liberation, the doctor had taken up skydiving.
Phil's fingers marched toward Andrew's genitals. These were plucked at with gusto. "Everything working okay down Mexico way?" Phil winked.
"I suppose," Andrew said.
"No use wasting limited resources."
On his way out, having been pronounced "healthy as a horse" by Phil, Andrew scanned the waiting room. The receptionist glanced up from her cubicle. "Did you lose something, Mr. Niles?"
At work, he could hear his secretary hissing into the phone. "No, not punk," she said. "There's no spikes or anything. It's just real ... yeah, sort of." Then she laughed.
Other secretaries, and a few clerks, peeked into his office, darting off just as he looked up from his desk.
His wife had already made a new appointment for him, with Cheri, who was said to be incensed with Tammi and intent on taking measures.
On Friday, his secretary greeted him with a look so smug he felt an immediate compulsion to punch her in the nose. Before he could do so, she handed him a pink message slip. "Judge Rubin wants to see you," she announced.
Judge Rubin was not, in fact, a judge, but Andrew's boss, the last surviving senior partner. He was, more precisely, the former appellate court judge under whom Andrew had served a clerkship some 20 years earlier, a man celebrated for his level demeanor and wisdom, an attribute burnished -- Andrew privately held -- by his staunch refusal to articulate a full thought.
"Come in, boy," the Judge said. He waved a speckled hand at the undersized furniture arrayed before his desk. Andrew struggled to divine which seat he was supposed to take. He settled uncertainly onto the couch to the old man's right.
"Yes," the Judge said. "Good." But something clearly was not good, as the Judge continued to wave his hand, while his eyes flicked from side to side.
"Perhaps I should move a bit closer," Andrew suggested. He moved to one of the antique hard-back chairs.
"Yes ... well ... Let's have a look at you."
Andrew smiled. He straightened his tie.
"You have always been a steady employee," the Judge began. "Niles. It's Niles isn't it? Yes ... well."
"Thank you, sir."
"And now ... with this Intel case ... Yes ... You can't put a price tag on the stalwart ... Frankfurter told me that himself ... We dined together, you know ... In the commissary ... Quite a mind ... Fond of sauerkraut ... A bit overly if you ask ... Flatulent ... But a judge's judge ... Helluva jurist ... As I was saying..."
"Going well, sir, I believe. Judge."
The Judge's head snapped up. He appeared on the verge of saluting. "Yes?"
"Oh. I was just speaking about the Intel case, sir. It seems to be going well."
"Yes ... The pretrial motions ... Interesting ..."
"Thank you, sir."
"Complicated issues ... Fraud and the like ... Alleged fraud ... When's it set?"
"Next week, sir."
"We'll do well, I think. Our case is strong."
The Judge cleared his throat, an elaborate exercise that seemed to involve pistons. "Customs," he said. "... A solid fellow follows ... Consistency ... In all matters ... Before the bench ... Domestic accord ... A lasting peace ..."
"Yes," Andrew said.
"One must know where a fellow stands ... Who you're dealing with ... Appearances ... And the like ... " The Judge's palm rose slowly from his blotter and landed on his scalp with a dull smack, as if heaved there. Then, perhaps remembering he had no hair, he lowered it to his desk. His eyebrows hitched. "Have I made myself ... In some sense ...?"
Andrew said, "Yes. I've set an appointment."
"Well ... Good ... Good to take care of that ... Today."
"I'll see to it. Thank you, Judge."
The Judge jerked upright again. His eyes loomed behind his trifocals, startled and horse-like. "Niles? ... What are you doing here?"
Andrew nosed his car into traffic. He checked his watch, noting with some consolation that he had left himself plenty of time. At a stoplight, he turned to the car beside him, from which youthful music thumped.
He could see a man and a woman staring straight ahead. The man, strapped into the driver's seat, kept stabbing his finger in the air. His lips tensed. The woman, closer to Andrew, had her hair in cornrows. Cornrows with colored beads at the end of them.
As if she sensed herself being watched, she turned to Andrew. And as she did, in this motion of her long, white neck, he saw the beads turn with her, hurled through the sunlight, sparkling momentarily, directing her attention away from the man who was yelling at her, and toward a silent but devout admirer.
Andrew was a man not well acquainted with tranquility. He would hardly have been able to describe the feeling, as they gazed at one another for that single moment, before the light turned green. It seemed less a feeling as an absence of other feelings, a space cleared within him and made miraculously available for his own use.
Andrew's scalp buzzed slightly, and he felt a discernible rise in body temperature. He loosened his collar, and turned onto all the streets he recognized as necessary.
The doctor's receptionist was surprised to see him.
"We don't have you down for an appointment, do we Mr. Niles?"
"No," Andrew said. "I needed something else. The number of another patient."
"I can't give those out."
"Yes, I see. But perhaps you could leave a message for her?"
The receptionist glanced up at him, at his hair, and cocked her head. She seemed ready to tender an excuse.
Andrew placed a finger to his lips. With a great serious calm, nearly a sense of confidence, he said, "If there is a problem, I can speak to Phil about this. He will understand, I think. I need to get in touch with a certain young lady. I believe she has something I left behind."
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Steve Almond's story collection, My Life in Heavy Metal is out in paperback. His next book, Candyfreak: A Journey Through the Chocolate Underbelly of America is about obscure candy bars. It will be published in spring. For a full accounting of his various perversions, check out his website.