:: excerpt from a previous project, set in 1924 ::
Half circles of raven hair, coal black and soft as a feather, fell rhythmically on the black and white barber shop floor behind Margaret’s chair. She watched, involuntarily biting her bottom lip and clenching her hands on the chair’s armrests until her slender knuckles appeared white against the skin. Her hazel eyes, bound by heavy black eyelashes, flashed in the mirror as the shears, poised in the barber’s right hand, drew back and forth across her hair like Hazel’s bow on a violin, precise but in every particular direction. The hairdresser’s solo intensified, switching from shears to comb to round brush and back again, sometimes two and three at a time as he lulled Margaret’s locks into submission. Then, at the turn of her chair the symphony ended.
Margaret patted the harsh, horizontal bangs that blended into a center part. Her straight hair began at the earlobes and tapered to chin-dusting strands in the front, a severely angular style that mimicked its wearer’s personality. The cut chiseled away her more time-worn features, re-sculpting the pronounced cheekbones and jaw line reminiscent of her youth. She beamed at the tarnished, gold-plated oval mirror, tossed a few bills onto the white countertop, and sprung, nearly skipping, through the disorganized establishment’s door onto the sidewalk.
The breeze caressed her bare neck, recalling the faint touch of roving fingertips, fingertips softened by experience yet hurried in lust. Sparse trees flung golden yellow and persimmon-tinted leaves from their vibrating branches. They floated, held aloft by the cool, crisp air before plummeting to the ground where Margaret crunched them underfoot.
The city streets bustled with people, some embarking on their future, some trying to make it through the day, some, like Margaret, looking for a place to reinvent themselves. She saw her reflection in a storefront window and compared her hair with the dozens of passing women. Each head bobbed with some variation of her cut and for a fleeting moment she regretted the uniformity of it all.
Two long-legged, heel-clicking steps bound to the curb. Chauncey held open the car’s door, a smile stretched across his face. He drove her to the nearest department store where the gold and glass double doors opened, beckoned, to her. She picked up designer heels by the handful, running her fingers along the satin straps and uppers. She found the nearest salesgirl and requested a fitting room and their newest collection in her size. The salesgirl returned minutes later with a cup of coffee and an armful of dresses.
Margaret waited for the salesgirl to leave before taking a flask out of her handbag and pouring more than a few drops into the cup. She took a long drink.
She spent the next several hours as curator of a wardrobe she would have judged obscene not four months earlier. She exited the establishment in a sleeveless coral frock and cloche hat, her arms and neck dripping with fine jewelry. Two salespeople carried dozens of heavy bags, her pockets thousands of dollars lighter.
“Good day, Ms. MacColl,” the taller salesman stepped back onto the curb.
– M. Ray Hall