Call In to Neck Shave

Colleen Rothman

A phone notification suggests it’s time for my hair appointment, around the corner from the café where I’ve been scrambling to finish my email. I’ve spent an hour, sandwiched between errands, struggling to find the words. I chew a hangnail, swig lukewarm tea, and save as draft. I wish I could phone in the haircut. Nobody told me a pixie would be so hard to maintain.

My stylist, Renny, has tangerine hair today. Back when it was green, she’d recommended an undercut: Let’s get rid of all this weight. I’d blindly complied. It took forever to find someone who could handle my thick, wavy mess. The ones in my price range are usually too young to know.

Renny breezes through anecdotes—her side gig as a figure-drawing model, motorcycle road trips, meeting her boyfriend’s new girlfriend—with an easy confidence I lacked at twenty-two. Do you want to see skin? she asks, her ribbed tube top under overalls a throwback to the decade she was born. My clippers are on the lowest setting before you’ll see skin under hair. I shake my head at her reflection. Like her outfit, there are some things I could never pull off.

She’s flying to Portland tomorrow, she says. I tell her I’ve been wanting to go. 

I thought you were planning a trip there, she says.

Yeah—to visit a friend.

You showed me his Insta, remember? Lumberjack poet? Get it, girl.

It’s not like that, I say.

Dude, your husband better watch out.

He knows him, I say.

Knows about him, I mean.

I don’t think my friend wants me to visit, I say.

What kind of friend doesn’t want you to visit? she asks.

Tufts of hair fall onto the cape.

Oh, she says. So his wife doesn’t want you to visit.

How does she know?

It’s not like that, I say.

I had one of those, she says. He was texting me all this stuff about how I made some hidden part of him feel less alone, but whenever I saw him around, he totally avoided me. I think he got off on having a secret.

I don’t think so, I say. This guy’s a good dude. Coaches T-ball. Three kids. Raised super religious. No sex ‘til marriage, that whole thing.

I hadn’t asked. How easy it is, in writing, to open up to someone you don’t actually know.

Uh huh, she says, my wet bangs between her fingers. And she knows you exist?

My mind scrolls through snippets shared—over email, voice memo, texts during his workday or while his wife was at bible study. Simulacra of conversation, though real enough to keep me awake some nights, unraveling threads from knots left behind. I’d misinterpret, he’d forgive. I worked hard to un-feel feelings, like trying to scrape a squirt of shampoo back into the bottle. Yesterday, another email arrived. You’re an exceptional reader, the body said. A brilliant and inspiring mind. Then I opened the attachment—a new poem.

We’re friends, I explain. He says he’s always been clear with me.

Renny laughs. Yeah, so later, he can deny by saying, I’ve always been clear with you. Dude, I know this guy.

So much for a break from my spiraling mind, cutting and pasting and cutting and pasting until my request for clarification is sufficiently vague. Early on, I’d asked to talk by phone. It didn’t seem weird. My dad corresponded with artists all over the country—long letters requiring extra postage, late-night calls after my mom went to bed. They were together thirty-four years. But when the poet disappeared, then returned with a hard no, I felt like a secret. Turns out I liked feeling that way.

I slide my hand up my neck. The soft buzz bristles against the grain, like I’m petting a cat the wrong way. Renny doesn’t charge me. I give her a ten anyway. It feels strange to leave without something changing hands, but I’m not sure what’s appropriate anymore.

There’s a library nearby, thank god, so I don’t have to buy more tea for WiFi. I retrieve a pouch of fruit snacks from my purse and reread the last line of the draft that never directly asks what I most want to know. I’d kept it easy breezy, eschewing caps, as he does.

ok i just got a phone alert to *call in* to my neck shave down the block, so that’s my signal to stop typing!

It’s still truth, though not quite. I change nothing and hit send. I’m cool—like my undercut. I can hang. It’s not lying, I tell myself as I lick my bleeding cuticle. He’ll never know the difference.

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Colleen Rothman’s short fiction has appeared in Wigleaf, matchbook, Jellyfish Review, X-R-A-Y, Okay Donkey, Bridge Eight, and elsewhere. She lives in New Orleans. Find her on Twitter @colleenrothman.