It wasn’t the first time she wanted to take one home. They always stood so nicely behind the chair, discussing the basics, her history, likes and dislikes. Then when the ice broke they dove in, lifting it by the handful, saying how rich and thick it was, and such a lovely silver. And they all said it matched her blue eyes, though one used the term “brought out.” Her hair brought out her eyes. All that attention warmed her heart.
And believe me, this was a heart in need of warming.
It’s not a hard-luck story, let’s be clear. Sid did okay in life, financially speaking. God knows it didn’t hurt to be the only child of a cold, ruthless social climber whose only interest was making money.
Eddy the Plume, she’d called him. He wrote the most awful novels — bodice-rippers, manly men with swords in hand, cheesy characters worming their way into innocent, hungry hearts. And Eddy knew all about that. Boy, howdy! Sid’s mother fell for him like a ton of bricks. Sid did, too, the minute her baby eyes could make sense of what they saw. But Eddy cared only for the page and slapping down his words — smack, smack, smack — that typewriter of his made one hell of a racket.
He was gone, of course. Lung cancer got him. Sid’s mother was in the ground, too. Poor thing lost her marbles early on as these things go, and the money Eddy left got spent on her care, some fancy-schmancy place in Connecticut where everyone smiled and spoke softly. God, it gave Sid the creeps, so she quit going. Didn’t matter. Mumsy was completely clueless by then.
Not all the money went. Sid knew a thing or two about investing. Well, her first husband did.
Billy asked if she’d be wanting a trim. He was new. Sid liked his looks, all long and lanky. Nice hands, of course. That was a must. He talked about his cats. A man who had cats had a good soul. She could picture him eating dinner with her in her comfy kitchen. Until the wine hit bottom and he saw the look in her eye. Then he’d bolt. Or not. The ones who didn’t wore thin after a while. Sid didn’t have as much patience as she used to.
–No trim, Sid said. Leave it long.
–When was the last time you cut your hair?
–Only enough to keep from sitting on it.
He took her to the shampoo bowl. He led the way. That was the custom, acting as a guide or escort. Trouble was, she was slow. Damned hip complained with each step. And she saw no need to rush anything anymore. Where had it gotten her, all that rushing? Slow or fast, it all gets you nowhere, at the end of the day.
Billy had heard about Eddy the Plume from the guy that used to work there. Billy was an aspiring writer, and loved tales of success. When he mentioned this Sid said that as far as she could tell — never having written a word in her life — the thing to do was just to start and not stop until you wrote something somebody wanted to read.
Had her dad told her that?
No, she figured it out all by herself. Besides, it only made sense, right?
He leaned her back into the bowl. She asked him to please put another towel down to pad her neck a little more.
–I’m a pain in the neck, she said.
–Oh, not you’re not. You’ve absolutely splendid!
–Billy? We’re going to get on like a house on fire!
She was a sucker for the smallest touch of admiration. She had low self-esteem, always had had. Her second husband had used it to his advantage. She was going through a period of personal liberation. Not doing the dishes, or cooking, or cleaning, though these tasks fell to the hired help. But up to then she’d supervised, made sure it got done to his standards. When she declared that she wanted a bigger world, one beyond the walls of their home, he told her that world would eat her up. Hadn’t it already? Is that why she’d come to him in the first place, weary of the insults and criticisms of her husband number one? And there he was, no better. Maybe worse. She threatened to give him the boot. He left on his own. He’d found someone else. Someone mousier. That was his word. He used it affectionately, as a compliment. What woman would want to be mousy? Unless she sought the company of a rat. Which he was.
All the men in her life, married or unmarried to her or to someone else (she got around there for a while, quite the libertine) had one thing in common: they adored her long, thick hair. When the honey-blonde she was born dulled and threaded with gray, she grieved. On her head youth slipped away. Then it slipped from her body, but not from her mind. She was grateful. She was free of vanity. Who was there to look good for anymore? The boys she brought home came out of curiosity. And because she paid them. Yes, paid. There is was. The vulgar transaction. Why not? Men rented women all the time. Sometimes they kept them for a while. Sid didn’t keep the boys long. They got restless. She got bored.
Billy asked if the water was too warm.
It was, just a little.
He corrected it. She imagined her hair floating like silky weeds in a lake, disintegrating, becoming the medium it lay in. I am becoming you.
One of Eddy’s heroines declared that to a man who’d just raped her. Well, okay, it wasn’t actually rape. She consented. With his blade to her throat. Then what does she do? Swear that her heart will always be his. Right.
Sid had taken her share of shoves from dear Eddy. If she interrupted his writing, or talked back, or didn’t move fast enough when he wanted her to do something. Mumsy tried to protect her, but she wasn’t good at that. What was she good at? Crying. Pleading. Turning cold and steely, even to Sid.
Billy asked how she got her name.
–It’s short for Siddhartha.
–No. For Sidney, Australia. Before he found his voice, Eddy was a merchant marine. That was his favorite port of call.
–Sounds like quite a character.
–You don’t know the half of it!
Well, at least she’d lived well, once he’d left the world. She traveled, sometimes with her husbands, sometimes alone, sometimes with her best friend, Joann. Oh, Sid missed Joann. Went down in a two-seater on the side of Mount Shasta. They didn’t find the wreckage until spring. Joann knew the score. It was she who told Sid to dump her husband number two. Joann’s daughter Pat was still around. They hung out. Pat was a lesbian, and Sid found her excellent company. The girl knew her wines, too. They haunted wineries when Pat was between acting jobs. Her roles were always bosom pals, the ones you went to with your troubles. Pat’s girlfriend left her last spring, and Pat had been falling apart over at Sid’s place for about a month. Sid told Pat to find a useful occupation, so Pat offered herself to the local animal shelter, but that proved to be grief of another kind, seeing the ones nobody wanted, or rather grief of the same kind, when you got right down to it.
Billy wanted to know if Sid had any autographed copies of her father’s books.
–I’m afraid not. I gave them all away to local libraries.
–What a beautiful thing to do!
Billy massaged in the shampoo. It smelled like perfume, only richer, with an overlay of coconut. He took his time. He had good fingers.
Sid had burned her father’s books in the backyard of her Malibu house, on the stone patio she’d just had installed. It was so new she hadn’t even set up her outdoor furniture there yet. She didn’t like the idea of burning books — it made her think of the Nazis and that novel by Ray Bradbury — but her rage was stronger than regret. Because she didn’t have any gasoline to pour over the pile, though she knew she should have some on hand in case the big one hit and she were mad enough to take her car on the road through the chaos, she used single malt Scotch. It was her father’s favorite drink, which made it appropriate. He’d bought her the bottle because she never had it when he came to visit, and the reason she didn’t have it was because he so seldom came. Even so, its absence, the two times he crossed her threshold, was enough to make him send her a bottle from a distillery in Scotland. The shipping charge alone must have been huge. She emptied the bottle over the books, and threw down a lit match. WHOOSH! She thought for a moment of those cooking shows where someone demonstrates how to ignite alcohol and pour the flaming sauce over something sweet and tasty. The book pile was substantial; the flames rose. Then her dingbat neighbor charged through her yard dragging a hose and screaming, though nothing was in danger, no trees nearby. Afterwards, when Sid offered the woman a drink thinking it was the least she could do, she got a lecture on the evils of just one flying spark. The whole neighborhood could have gone up. Didn’t Sid know they were all on a high fire alert?
The next day the gardener looked dolefully at the wet, pulpy black mass, and shoveled it all into a wheelbarrow, then dutifully shoveled it all out again into her yard waste container. He put a bunch of dead vines he’d been meaning to cut on top, so the driver, who was known to snoop to make sure people weren’t disposing of prohibited plant materials like invasive ivy, wouldn’t know. Sid considered his thoughtfulness, and gave him a handsome tip at the holidays.
Billy worked in the conditioner, taking time to really massage her scalp. Oh, it was heavenly! What was good sex compared to a skilled scalp massage? She closed her eyes, willing his hand to move down the back of her neck and find that knot on the left side that never loosened. Getting old was a real bitch. Isn’t that what Eddy liked to say?
That man had been born old. Never had a good word about anything, even when success and money came. If anything, he got nastier. For someone so full of hate, he wrote about romance and love convincingly, and women fell all over him. Mumsy knew, of course, and pretended not to care. Sid didn’t know for a long time, and when she did, she cared a lot, so much so that she got in his face about it.
Oh, the things she called him! Such deliciousness. She was what, 24 at the time, 25? And being pursued by a young man who raced cars for a living. It turned out he was after her money, or Eddy’s money, to be specific, and how Eddy learned of that Sid still didn’t know. But he yelled right back at her, calling her a moron and an idiot, a fool who’d never be worth anything to any man except her bank account. Then he said she didn’t know anything about being a woman, a real woman, because she took after her mother, and just look at that bag of bitter demands!
Sid swung at him. Yes, she did. And missed. Old Eddy was fast on his feet. He got her by the hair and dragged her out of the room. He pulled so hard that she had a huge lump on her scalp for weeks. Not long after he wrote a novel about a young woman who escapes being scalped by Indians in the wild west by agreeing to marry the chief’s son. Sid never entered Eddy’s study again.
When her mother began to lose it, Sid looked for places to put her. There were wonderful facilities in Southern California, but Sid wanted Mumsy as far away from Eddy as possible, hence the opposite coast. Which also meant being away from her, alas. Sid and her husband number one lived in Topanga Canyon after the Tate-Manson murders, and their tenure there was shadowed by terror every time they heard a car in the driveway. Her husband number two was a director of B films and had a place in Malibu, the place Sid still had, so when Eddy started falling apart from lung cancer, his house in La Jolla sat empty. And sat, and sat. He wanted Sid to sell it for him. There was a woman he wanted to give the proceeds to. Sid didn’t budge. Eddy met his maker, and the same day Sid listed the house. She sold it for fifty under asking because it needed new floors and kitchen cabinets. Still, she cleared a bundle.
She helped Pat get through school with that money; she helped Joann buy a house. She gave a grand here and there to the countless boy toys whose tales of woe moved her tender heart. She bought a car for one of them; retired student loans for another; even paid to spay the cat of one sullen, soulful waiter she picked up in a Mexican place in Tarzana where she went after getting her teeth cleaned. When you have money, you are never alone for long.
Billy rinsed out the conditioner, helped her sit up, gently wrapped a towel around her hair, and led her back to his station. He was describing his roommate’s habit of never doing her dishes, or taking out the trash, and the racket made by the bird she kept in a cage she never cleaned. Billy wished the roommate and the bird would take flight. Then he chuckled at his clever words.
–Where do you live? Sid asked.
–Santa Monica, but I used to live in Venice.
–Show me a place in a LA County that’s a bargain.
Sid said she’d be looking for a tenant to occupy her guest house after the first of the year, if Billy was interested. He asked where that might be, and when she said Malibu, she could see in his eyes what fun it would be to live on the beach.
–Kinda far from work, though, he said.
–I’m sure there are salons there you could hit up.
–Then why don’t you go to them?
Billy combed her hair with a plastic comb whose teeth were thick and wide. Now that she’d made her offer, his hands were less gentle, as if he were suddenly in a hurry. He asked if she wanted him to clean up the ends, or if he could just blow her dry.
Sid stared at her reflection. She looked like her father, though less as she’d gotten older, as if the sorrow he’d caused her had slowly rearranged her face. Why not let the transformation continue?
–Cut it, she said.
She brought her hand to her chin.
–Are you sure?
–You’re not in a hurry, are you?
–Of course not.
He began taking a bit at a time, then larger chunks. Sid’s hair lay in silver arcs on the tile floor. She’d never appreciated how it sparkled. She wanted to lift in her hands, now that it wasn’t hers anymore, and feel it the way others had always felt it.
It’s just hair.
Billy kept working. He leaned, came in close, stood back to assess, then cut some more. He was really into it now.
Her head felt as light as her heart.