Monday, February 10, 2014

The Important Matter of Small-Town Hair

The first thing she saw at Jitney Jungle was Mary Thompson’s bouffant, fresh from a foreign salon. The local barber didn’t do that kind of up-do. Louise kept her shock cropped in electric spokes, and every other mother on Chatham Street had a perm or a bob, nothing as wild as the high-rising twist Mary was now wearing. Just last month she had been no better than anyone else.

“Louise,” Mary called. “Oh, Louise, isn’t it splendid to run into each other here. Frank and I have been out of town all month. We were in Florida, and you’ll have to forgive my hair. I had to have it done on vacation. The style isn’t quite taking to this humidity. Frank says it’s the same there as it is here, but I say the whole world knows Louisiana is hotter than hell. And how is Troyce?”

“Oh, we’re fine,” Louise said. The last thing she was going to do was discuss her husband or Florida or the merits and drawbacks of humidity with this hairstyle. Not when she had business in town.

Mary said, “I heard about what the preacher did. Troyce must be so hurt.”

“He’s the same as always,” Louise said. “In fact, we are going on a trip ourselves. Troyce has said he will carry me to Oregon.”

Louise could push her buggy all the way to Oregon right this second, but the outline of Mary’s bouffant would still flicker before her. Some women have so little to worry about.

“Oregon,” Mary said. “Well, who would have guessed?”

“Troyce stopped there before Korea, said it’s the most beautiful place in the world,” Louise said. Though, now that she thought of it, Troyce might have said Washington.

“I don’t know about Oregon. We’re not so well traveled as that. But Florida has oranges. And it has the ocean and the most wonderful people. Everyone is just radiant. Even Frank had a shine there. It could really set Troyce right, too.”

Louise pushed her buggy back and forth, just a bit. Maybe he had said Washington. He said the place was green even in winter. That trees there never died. You could mow the lawn in broad daylight there, Troyce had said, and never break a sweat.

Mary said, “Well, I’m sure you have to get going. I bet you have a huge supper planned.”

“Actually,” Louise said. “I’m headed to town today. To the Montgomery Ward. My mother needs a new rug.”

“I was just telling Frank the right rug can really tie a house together. Of course Frank wants to hold out for carpet. His mother has had wall-to-wall since 1962.”

Louise looked at her watch.

“Well, don’t let me keep you. Do tell Troyce we’re sorry we haven’t been by the store. Of course we don’t agree with the pastor, but Frank says we have to listen to him anyhow. Word could get around, and then Frank might run out of business, too.”

Louise wondered if they made women this same way in Oregon. Troyce hadn’t mentioned the women. He hadn’t mentioned the women of Korea either, though more than one wife in town had lost their husband to a Korean. Troyce had come home, thank god, with not a word of a single woman. In Oregon, she bet, women knew the right time to shut up.

-- excerpted from my short story "A New Rug"

(title cribbed from a Rachel Kushner line)
(photo grabbed from historical documents)

No comments: