The light in the bathroom was dim, an old plain bulb in a ceramic socket precariously hanging from the wall. The light bulb emitted a yellowish glow, only casting visibility because the entire room was white. From its cracking, plaster ceiling down to the dingy tile crawling halfway up the wall from the floor, the room was a monotonous, dirty white. However, the muted light in the bathroom was the least of his problems, albeit, an immediate concern. David Boroughs had more difficulties than the lack of illumination in a space that he spent little time. Except for today, he usually wasted no more than an hour a day in the shabby room, unlike the other rooms of his apartment in which he spent every waking moment.
In fact, on the list of his current dilemmas, he would have placed the dim bulb far behind his lack of employment, of friends, of money, and of relationships, none of which he could see either. Yes, he would have also positioned the diffuse difficulty even behind the terrible haircut that he had just given himself, although the shadowy room had helped cause this new problem. The aging thirty-year old had too much time on his hands. And now a mane of hair on them as well. No one with employment or a wife would try something so stupid, so ill-conceived.
He stared at his face in the small square mirror, the door to a diminutive medicine cabinet, built for a bachelor. A quick smile over his idiotic behavior transformed rapidly into a longer frown. Even under the lack of illumination, he could see the tiny lines around his eyes, burrows of his years digging for something, trenches becoming more evident as they met with the wrinkles near his cheekbones. David had been unemployed for months and the stress and restlessness was becoming evident upon his face. He had dark bags under his eyes from too much sleep, fitful nights caused by his worries over his prospects that spread late into the morning and afternoon. He felt as if he would never find a job or a woman or even a real friend. Even his eyes seemed dimmer, much like the slight shine of the 40 watt bulb just above his head.
His hair was a mess, worse than it had been an hour ago before he had started his styling. With the apartment at 90 degrees everyday and him spending ever grueling hour within it, he had decided that he couldn’t take the heat any longer. So he had begun cutting. A tress here, a curl there, the scissors snipped furiously and clumsily in his hand. Occasionally, he would pause and gawk at himself in the mirror, as if maybe he would come to his senses and stop the madness. Slipping his fingers through his curly mishap, he’d stare at the cut and wonder if it looked all right. But then, he’d notice a clump of hair that was way longer than the locks beside it and a snip and a clip later, that tuft was lower than the hair behind it. Clip, clip, clip. He tugged at the hair, cutting clumps arbitrarily.
He pushed his fingers through the top of his curls, small blonde rings tinged with white, uneven and choppy. He grimaced in the mirror, unhappy with his decision to cut his own hair, unhappy with his decision to move to Seattle. He wished that he could take it all back, if only he could change the shape of his patchy head and pothole filled life. To have the last hour to redo, to have the last three months to recast, he’d do anything.
Squinting at the jagged lines near his right ear, he felt helpless, frustrated unable to correct the situation. How could he fix his hair? What if he had a call for an interview tomorrow? What if tomorrow was finally the day everything changed? What if he bumped into a beautiful woman on the bus? His hair was going to ruin everything. He had to repair it, make himself look better. He began to panic, exhaling heavy, uncontrollable breaths, on the verge of tears. David sat on the toilet his head in his hands, which were growing incredibly soft from his lack of work, ready to cry, but nothing would come.
His back was itchy, with the residual remains of his haircut, poking lightly on every pore. He attempted to brush off the clinging hair from his shoulders, only to garner more from his hands. Loose strands irritated his neck, causing a splotchy heat rash, which he scratched at every few minutes. His head turned in circles, trying to reduce the ubiquitous prickle around his collar. He sneezed, as the hair irritated his nose and eyes. David wondered if he might be allergic too himself; everyone else in the world seemed to be. The bathroom sink, toilet, and floor were blanketed by his hair. He couldn’t remember the last time that he’d had a haircut, probably before he left home.
He returned to the mirror. The same unspectacular aging face stared back at him, except it appeared rather unhappy with the haircut as well. He had to admit that he felt better than he had before this incident; there had been something rather liberating with the experience, maybe just the feel of more air on his scalp, though he believed his hair was still too long. Each cut brought more frustration but was also somewhat cathartic, as he dropped loose clumps into the bathroom sink below. Yet, his haircut looked awful even if he did feel a little relieved. David had no idea how to undo the damage. No amount of styling would hide the bright skin shining through the patches too close to his skull, especially if he could see the white blotches under his bathroom light.
The exercise had begun rather innocently. He had planned to just trim a half an inch from the top. Until he noticed the hair near the back of his cranium was much longer than the front, he was rather pleased with his efforts. Turning his face though, he glimpsed long strands, out of control tentacles reaching all across the rear of his skull. His first instinct was to cease his attempt and seek professional help before the trimming became too botched to repair. Yet, after staring in the mirror for several minutes, sweat still running down his hirsute forehead, he decided that he could finish the styling. David had to feel as he could complete something so that he was successful with just one tiny effort, one everyday experience.
Rooting through his linen closet, just feet away from the bathroom door, with only the dim bathroom bulb to guide him, he attempted to find a mirror. The desperate man found aspirin, cortisone, and fish oil vitamins. He came across sunscreen and suntan oil, both utterly useless in the gloomy Emerald city in which he inhabited. His fingers darted across old razors and small ineffectual band-aids. Anti-fungal medication, talcum powder, cheap cologne, David had everything but a hand mirror; he was forced to look only forward, not behind him. The inability to capture what was out of his sight depressed him immensely. He cursed at the lack of light and slammed the door shut. The linen door latch gave as he stretched out his leg to return to the bathroom. Swearing audibly, he banged the door off its frame. Again, again, and again, the wood creaked and cracked until finally the lock caught.
Returning to the bathroom, David posed in front of the mirror, attempting to calm himself. Why did it have to be so dark in the bathroom? He blamed the haircut and all his other problems on the lack of sunlight in his newfound city. The bathroom was no darker than the gray haze outside. As his hands rubbed the back of his skull, his tactile sense warned him of his mess, the dejected David knew that he had to at least try to even up the new do. Without the guidance of a mirror, red handle scissors in hand once more, he began to grab random tufts between his fingers and tried to gauge their length by mere touch, before snipping away. He had his suspicions that what he couldn’t see was even worse than what he could.
After a few minutes of blind cutting, he decided that he had better take a break before he trimmed too short. He had no desire to shave his head and if he didn’t stop, he might have no other option. With his countenance of late, he’d look like and angry and dispirited skinhead, or rather like any skinhead. He was desperate to see the damage that he had caused to his own head but realized that, having no mirror, he had to find another method to peek. Sticking his tongue at himself in the mirror, he flicked off the light and headed for his bedroom to find something reflective.
His bedroom held little. An old wicker red hamper with loose strands separating from the frame and dirty clothes strewn upon it. A full mattress lay on the floor with an old down comforter, missing a duvet cover, in a heap over his pillows. Opposing the bed, a small TV with a long-armed antenna sat insecurely on a green milk crate. Beside the mattress, an antique maple dresser with a honey hue that his deceased grandfather once owned, towered over his bedding. Digging through his dresser drawers, under the taunts of expensive socks that he had bought to wear to his new, unfound job, he tried to find anything that might cast a reflection. On the top of a dresser, he spied a CD that contained his resume that he had tossed from his laptop in frustration. A slight smile cracked his face, maybe the disc would prove useful after all. He slid the disc between his fingers and hurried off to the restroom
Under the yellow glow of the fixture, he backed his body against the sink, felt the cold porcelain on his skin, and raised the CD to the side of his head. The image was distorted like a carnival mirror and offered no real insight into what he looked like, what he had done. Twisting and turning, he tried different angles of the disc and his body to receive a clearer representation. Useless. He muttered under his breath and felt again on the verge of crying. Irritated, he pitched the CD angrily on top of a pile of hair in the black mesh waste can below the sink.
Storming from the bathroom, he scanned the living room with his head jerking about, not unlike a livid pigeon who has just lost a large hunk of bread to another. Pacing about the barren room across the scratched and stained hardwood floors, he searched frantically for an instrument to help him. An oak rocking chair; an old 70’s coffee table with an ugly inlay of orange and green leaves that his parents had bequeathed him when he left home; an overstuffed, dusty, blue pillow on the floor; he had nothing that could help him. He had nothing at all. And then, David began to laugh. Reaching down to the coffee table, he grabbed something and returned in haste to his salon.
Red dots, flashes of light, the clicks of the aperture, his fingers snapped photo after photo as he twisted his head in every imaginable pose to capture the perfect rendering of his attempts. Laughing loudly, his tones vibrating off the cold bathroom tile, he felt immense relief as he pushed the power button down on the digital camera tens of times. He was certain that he’d be able to resolve everything if he just could see it clearly. David halted for a second, flipped himself off in the mirror, and let the flash burst one more time.
On the wooden chair, in the living room, he rolled the curved legs of the rocking chair back and forth as he flipped through the photographs on the camera’s viewer. His hands sweat nervously, leaving streaks on the camera. The images were only slightly better than the compact disc but at least he could discern a little. It was as he had feared. The back of his head had distinct holes in his hair, nearly down to the skin in some places. He continued to scroll though, hoping that the photos were wrong but he knew after the first couple shots that his worries were valid. He dropped the device to the ground near the chair and began to rock faster, and faster.
After ten minutes or so of mindless rocking, his head thumped with depression, frustration. Leaning back against the rigid spires of the chair, he allowed the tears to run down his face. Tomorrow, he was going to get it together, find a job, hang out in a bar and meet some people. Yes, he was certain that this was all temporary, just a rough patch like the hair on his head. Unconsciously, his fingers ran small circles around the crown of his skull, occasionally, pulling at the larger curls that still remained. Sighing, he raised himself from the chair and headed towards the kitchen for something to drink. He was still incredibly hot and parched; his haircut hadn’t even put a dent in how uncomfortable he felt.
Opening the refrigerator door, he grabbed a glass pitcher of ice tea and placed it on the faux wood Formica counter inches behind him. Out of the shabby cupboard, consisting of veneer and particleboard, David grabbed a chipped white Dunkin’ Donuts coffee mug and splashed the tea into it. Avoiding the jagged edge, slurping down the chilly beverage, not even taking time to taste it, his shoulders relaxed, loosing some of the tension stored within them. He gasped in relief after downing the contents of the cup. Pouring another glass, he sipped at the bitter liquid and glanced around his kitchen. The built-in shelves near the icebox held but a few uncooked grains, pastas, and a box of generic wheat flakes. Against the wall near the small window in which the desperate and unemployed man would stare longingly at the gray Seattle sky every morning, a rickety dark table with hanging leafs sat. He finished his ice tea and placed the mug in the single basin stainless steel sink that was scratched and paint-stained and had aged even worse than the Formica counter encircling it.
Rolling the base of his head against his spine, he stared at the circular globe, the only light fixture in the kitchen, hanging from the ceiling above him. David wondered why in a city so gloomy anyone would place so very few methods to lighten an apartment. Pulling open the door to the refrigerator to return the ice tea, he noticed a blue business card obscured by the pizza delivery magnet that adhered it to the white metal surface. Setting the pitcher on the metal shelving, he didn’t think much about the card until the rubber sealing clung to the closed door. And then, feverishly, utterly jubilant, he snatched the card eagerly, letting the magnet fall to the discolored linoleum floor.
A Cut Above the Rest
1120 Dexter Avenue #112
Seattle, WA 98101
He grinned as he held the card next to his face, slowly spinning it as he stared at the phone number, as if the piece of cardboard were a jewel and he was appreciating the flecks of light upon it. Why hadn’t he thought of the card to begin with? Clara, David only knew her first name, was a pretty young brunette with perfectly bobbed hair that lived on the floor below him. When he had first moved into the building some months ago, the striking women had approached him and had introduced herself. As he tried not to stare at her cleavage which sat snugly in a tight checkered black-and-white dress, she explained that she worked in a salon but on the side, for extra money, she trimmed and styled many of the tenants in the building. If he were ever interested, she would give him a great discount and even come to his apartment,” a haircall”, she interjected with a warm smile. He thanked her, with his eyes humbly downward, and told the young woman that he would definitely give her a call in the upcoming weeks.
After completing the little unpacking that he had, David had hopes that he could ring Clara on the pretense of a haircut, but obviously, his motive was to ask her for a date if she seemed receptive to it. He thought that as soon as he had a job and some possessions to round out his apartment, not wanting to appear as a downtrodden teenager, he would dial her up and see what happened. She was actually the only person that David knew by name in the entire city the first few months. To his dismay, she remained the sole human that he knew by name in the city weeks later.
Unfortunately, he had yet to find work and was embarrassed by not only his lack of employment but his sparse apartment as well so calling her was completely of the question. Occasionally, he would bump into the thin young woman in the hallway as they both emptied their mailboxes. She would welcome him with an eager hello, and he would respond with a nervous greeting of his own. After every encounter, as she parted, she would note that his hair was getting longer and that he should call her in the next few days for a trim. He would always smile and tell her that he’d call her any day now, which he honestly believed. But he never could. Or did.
However, this terrible haircut, this was his opportunity. David was gleeful. His mishap was serendipitous; now, he had to call her to repair his mess and overcome his fears that she might judge him. Perhaps, if they’d hit it off, he could invite her for some spaghetti at his place after the styling . Running to the bedroom, to retrieve his phone beside the bed where he always left it in hopes of an employer calling him, he grabbed the small gray device and flipped open the top. Clumsily, his fingers pushed at the digits, clearing every other entry due to a mistaken key. Finally, he had the number matched to the card in his hand. Impulsively, he touched the pad to Send and heard the canned electronic ringing in his ear moments later.
“Cut Above the Rest. Laura, how may I help you? A terse feminine voice responded. He could hear the low hum of females, laughing and chatting in the background.
Clearing his throat, he spoke anxiously.
“Hi. May I speak to Clara please?
“Let me see if she is available. May I ask who is calling?” the woman answered in a robotic tone.
“It’s David Boroughs.” He answered plainly.
In his headset, the sounds of an unknown classic song performed by a keyboard chimed, as the receptionist had placed him on hold without notice. He nearly closed the lid to his phone, deciding that maybe the endeavor was a mistake. As his fingers closed over the slim plastic top to snap it shut, he heard her voice.
“Clara. How may I help you?” Her tone was pleasant and warm, and he felt hope.
“Hi Clara. This is David Boroughs. ” He replied meekly.
“Hi.” She said awkwardly. A silence occurred. Clara didn’t recognize him. The only person that he really knew in all of Seattle had no idea who he was. His heart dropped. Dejected, not wanting to talk to her or anyone else, he answered.
“I live in your building. I just moved in a little while ago.”
“Oh, sorry, David. I just know so many Dave’s. How are you? I haven’t seen you recently.” Affection and recognition flooded into her demeanor.
“Oh, I’m good, thanks. I have a little problem. I kinda of messed up my hair by trying to cut it myself, and now I have a really bad haircut. I was wondering if I could maybe pay you to come over later and fix it. I have a job interview tomorrow and I can’t go, looking awful.” He responded with only slightly more confidence but still too rapidly. He had improvised the last bit about the interview so that he appeared to be on his way to success if she were able to visit him that evening.
“Uh, yeah. I’m sorta of busy here but I could probably come by later, say seven or so. Whenever I get out of here. Does that work for you?”
“That’d be great. Thanks, Clara. I’ll see you in a few hours.” He declared too eagerly.
“Okay, David. I’ll see you when I get off. ‘Bye” The young stylist hung up the phone.
For the first time since he moved to Seattle, the gray seemed to lift. He was excited. He had plans with a beautiful girl that night, even if it was merely a business arrangement. David was ecstatic that he would actually have some company that evening, rather then another night of trying to pick up fuzzy local channels on his rabbit ears. He walked triumphantly into the bathroom, so that he could prepare for his comely visitor. Everything was going to be all right after all.
His fingers flipped the switch and the dull glow of the bulb permeated within the bare white walls of the bathroom. He smiled warmly at himself in the mirror, beaming pride, outshining the dim light. And then, he noticed just how truly terrible his haircut looked. Clara was going to think that there was something wrong with him. He’d have no chance with her immediately. At best, she would hover nervously over him, trimming here and there, and dashing off as soon as she had finished. Only a madman or drunkard would chop off his hair in such a fashion. What was worse to be insane or an alcoholic? He felt despondent again.
In the kitchen sink, he lightly rinsed the Dunkin’ Donuts cup. Tipping a bottle of Tequila, David dribbled the liquor into the cup until he had slightly over a shot in the bottom of it. The aging man wasn’t usually much of a drinker but lately he had been consuming more of it. He didn’t have to get drunk to make his actions seem rationale but maybe, if she smelled just a little alcohol on his breath , she might find his handiwork more acceptable or even endearing. Besides, a stiff drink might relax him and allow him to relate some charming anecdotes or witty ripostes. From the built-in shelves, just above a box of linguini noodles, he retrieved a tub of generic lemonade mix and dumped some yellow powder into the mug. Stirring in some water from the tap, he lifted the drink to taste. The impromptu margarita was strong and for a moment, he fought back his gag reflex. He sipped it again as he headed back to the bathroom, and it seemed less objectionable to him.
His hand twisted the round knob that controlled the water temperature in the shower. The water spurted and coughed, from the shower head until a steady stream flowed out of it. David pulled the beige shower curtain closed and allowed the water to reach a warmer temperature before he entered the enclosure. He dropped his head backwards and sucked down the tepid drink. The alcohol rushed to his head, and he felt a little wobbly. Undressing, he smiled, slightly intoxicated. His eyes scanned his body; he was becoming fat from the lack of activity. Maybe, he would just talk to her tonight, not try to bed her until he had time to get back in shape. Pushing his clothes into a pile near the door with his foot, he stepped into the pulsing water.
Immediately, the hot jets provided relief as they washed the itchy hair from his back, neck , and face. David felt good. It had been some time since he had actually known this emotion. He was happy, if but for a brief moment. Lathering his body, he began to imagine how the conversation between Clara and himself might unfold that evening. He couldn’t wait to see her face, smiling. Perhaps, she would think the entire affair, hysterical and they would laugh for hours over his stupidity. As the pounding water rinsed the soap off his legs and back, he began to become a little dizzy, probably a result of the alcohol and the intensity of the hot water. David decided that maybe he should vacate the shower and sit down for a second.
As he lifted his right leg over the white porcelain of the tub, his left foot slipped on a combination of soap and hair. He tumbled backwards, slamming his head hard off the metal faucet protruding from the wall. Reaching up, he felt a warm liquid pouring from his head. His fingers fumbled near the wound , found a long clump of hair and began tugging furiously on it as his body slid into the bathtub.
Clara arrived shortly after seven just as she had guessed. Her small hands knocked on David’s door and she waited patiently for him to answer. She was slightly nervous, as she always was when entering new clients’ apartments. One could never tell what kind of person was hiding behind that door. She calmed herself by remembering that she was in her own building and if anything went awry, she could simply scream once, and someone could come to her aid. Moments passed, until the portal creaked open. Clara lifted her eyes from the red carpet of the hallway, gasped noticeably, and uttered nothing.
A rather pudgy middle-aged police officer stood in front of her. His round face displayed no emotion as he asked, “Are you Mrs. Boroughs?”
“No. I’m his neighbor from downstairs.” She stammered at the unexpected sight of a cop and was rather puzzled as to why someone’s wife would need to tap on the door to enter.
“Do you know David Boroughs?” He asked without any humanity in his voice. His red face was flush and sweat collected on his brow, just below his graying hair which protruded from under his blue cap.
“No, not really. I would see him in the hall every once in a while. He called me for a haircut today because I work at A Cut Above the Rest.” She answered, digging for a card in her purse to hand to the officer and attempting to offer as much information as she could to distance herself from David in case he had done something criminal.
“Well, Miss…?” He paused, allowing her to respond.
“I’m Clara Kinsley. I have my ID if you need it.” She replied nervously, producing the plastic card from the sleeve in her wallet She wished that she had just gone home.
“No that won’t be necessary, Miss Kinsley. Here’s the thing. We need someone to identify the body of Mr. Burroughs. We assume that it is him, but no one in the building seems to know who he is, and the landlord has yet to answer our calls. One of the neighbors called us when they heard the showering running for the last couple of hours” The fat cop explained.
Shocked, she responded, “Um, sure. I guess I could.”
The beefy officer led her down a narrow hallway to a dimly lit bathroom. He remained outside since the room which was too small for two people especially a bulging cop and motioned with his hand for her to enter.
“It’s a little dark in there so tell me if you need a flashlight.” The graying officer indicated as he stood patiently near the doorway.
With trepidation, Clara walked into the room. Moments later, she returned, her face slightly pale.
“Is that him Miss Kinsley?” , the pudgy aging officer inquired.
“Yeah, that’s him. I guess.” The pretty young stylist answered.
After the cop thanked her for her help, took a couple notes, and gave her permission to leave, she headed down the slim dark hall towards the front door. As she stood in the entryway to depart, Clara turned and mused to the cop, “It really was a bad haircut.”
Originally posted 07/31/2009