Finger-tapping is my 'tell'. If I were a poker player, my opponents would spot my eyes burning from across the table, seeking out the backs of their cards. I am drawn to the queens’ heads, to what grows from their heads, to the place where their hair finally arrives. How far has it gotten? My gaze moves back from their temples and down their backs as if by instinct. These women are royalty. Plaited, wound, twisted in knots, unfurled and dangling... it doesn’t matter which. My finger wiggles down toward an impact point, a counter, a leg, a railing - any place I can tap and send the nerves rushing from my body in a single finger. I am in the presence of a true-life queen.
Angel is the checkout clerk, twenty-six or so, with a pink and wildly freckled face and marks continuing down her neck and arms - most of all, a thick, healthy rope of gold-blonde hair down her back. With each visit I hope she turns around, or moves to the side; and when she does, I am amazed at the shine and length of her hair. "You decided to do this," I think, "something in you finds this pleasurable, as I do. That brain in your skull neglected to cut the fibers growing from it, and now you have an extra appendage: wavy, strong, and beautiful, covering almost the entire length of your body." I have fixed the exact length, with all the assiduity of a true fetishist (taking into account the inches lost in the braid) to the backs of her knees.
This is no fiction - she does not covet me; no miniature version of myself resides behind those tiny, bloodshot eyes. We will not meet in a hotel, we will never work together and we will never date. She is beautiful, but she is not my creation. She is real. Her hair and her grocery apron are joined in my mind, one indistinguishable from the other. I cannot picture her without it.
Angel wears a pin centered with a photograph (presumably) of her baby. Her husband... I imagine him dark-skinned, tank top, a small moustache... perhaps he’s a security guard or waiter, bringing in money for their child. Is it the name 'Angel' that makes me think of him this way? In the summer she spreads aloe on her sunburned face and shoulders, and her braid dangles down her unclipped uniform. She stands at the bathroom mirror and complains about the tall stranger who tried not to stare. Her husband guffaws from the other room.
Towards midnight she loosens her hair, which drops in healthy streaks to her thighs. But in a flash of pale, cleavage my own body fills with blood and my imagination drops its wanderings. Not having her is too unbearable. Separating the woman (whom I do not know) from the hair is a difficult task; I mouth the most despicable phrases, imagine the most foul orifices and sickening blisters, sweat, disgusting bursts of hair, callused palms, coarse skin... and I apply them all to Angel, shorten her hair with mental shears and with it the impulse that made her grow it. In the line ahead she passes groceries above the criss-cross of red scanning lasers.
The old woman ahead of me asks, "how long did it take you to grow your hair?" I squirm and tap my finger insistently on my jeans. "Eight years," says Angel, almost in a whisper. She is proud of her creation but fears the attention it brings. I do not look over, but fix my eye on several comfortable ceiling lamps, cereal boxes, magazine covers. My neck twists around like rubber. I move as if to straighten my tie (I wear no tie). Tap, tap, tap - my fingers flutter across my jeans. I imagine she’ll run her hands down the braid, or shake it out and bring it to the front of her uniform, or throw it all loose, saying, "it’s hard work, but it feels great." I smile to myself at this fantasy, which crosses in a second and then is gone.
My hands shake and I clear my throat. I am a normal man buying lunch - a regular Joe with regular tendencies: pixie haircuts, mini-skirts, and supermodels. Angel thanks the older woman and turns to me, picks up my food in a trance and barely utters "hello." Her eyes are evasive. "Hi," I squeak.
"The total is five-ninety-nine... out of twenty..." My change falls neatly into the tray, and after "thank you have a good day," she hands me the receipt and is careful not to touch my hand.
Thank you for your hair, your long beautiful hair. I stand before the exit and fold my money. What are these phrases I mouth to myself ? Your hair is so long... why did you have to grow it? Do you like being a woman with long hair? Shake it out, feel it, feel that you are a woman with long, long hair. Take advantage! Why do I think these things? My face burns with embarrassment. I am thinking pornography. I am an ugly, despicable monster.
That evening Angel and I are lovers again. I’ve noticed the last foot of her braid is always undone. Clip the last foot and you would still have a perfect, even abnormally long head of hair, but this is her first attempt at growth, preserved in a loose tail at her knees. Perfect. One evening in November her hair had threatened to come loose from its braid-strands of gold bursting from her pink temples, like the golden rays of sunset hitting the fragile skin of baby birds. How did such a consumptive, unhappy complexion sprout such a waterfall beauty? This is the fountainhead of tonight’s dream.
You meet me in the parking lot after your shift. You know I’ve been watching. You try to tell me you love race-cars, that you hate classical music, you break out when you eat meat, you have terrible gas and you can’t stand people who lack fashion sense. We will fight constantly, you say. Your hair won’t matter. Attached to your head, your messed-up head, it will cease to interest me.
I tell you to hush, and my imaginary Angel is suddenly quiet. She turns her back to me and fans out her arms above her head, and the red lights of the supermarket illuminate the diamond-shaped gaps between her arms. Her fingers work like a pianist’s, weaving apart the hair, making it dance and shimmer in the light. It is a glorious gold curtain. Oh, my sick young darling. Come here. Angel backs up and her hairs covers my clothes, my arms; I can smell its rich perfume and feel its weight against my legs.
I pique and lay in silence. My bed is hot and drenched. This is a funny game... who might lay beside me now, in this darkness? Pink skin, blonde hair covering the bed, freckles, moles, unshaved legs... maybe we’ve had a fight about money, and just made up. Angel my girlfriend, Angel my wife...
But there is no one beside me. You and I will not live happily and successfully. We will not have loving, daily hair rituals. I will not watch your hair grow, like the hands of a clock... Domestic Bliss is not our end. I have too much to do, too much life to live...
So we will live in a place where I am king and prisoner
of this desire. In my head you'll stay, my Angel, in supermarket apron
and with dangling braid, pivoting briefly to offer a glimpse of your secret,
like a deck silently revealing its hand.
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