Irene Servillo + Ella Hickson

Hair

Of all his clients she was the one that Salvo made time for. His fingers ached from how quickly he’d snipped at the previous customer. He held his coffee cup close to his chest and watched with some small pain as she arrived,

“Ciao”.

She offered her white cheek and he greeted her gently. Salvo thought he felt the cooling touch of metal. She lowered herself into the chair before him and Salvo pumped the pedal, bringing her brittle globe within his grasp. He tucked a wayward strand behind her ear and felt the tender puckering of surgery, he winced. He looked at her reflection and raised his eyebrows in request. The pale face stayed set; decorated only by the thin pink crescent of the smile that had been stapled over her sadness.  There was no point in asking her what she wanted; she didn’t speak, she had never spoken.

Salvo drew his scissors from his belt and stopped. He closed his eyes a moment and let his hands fall on her thin shoulders. He did not want to begin. Each week, in the days before she arrived Salvo allowed himself to believe that he could help her. He would fill himself up, kettle-like, with ambitions for her relief. He wanted to tell her that the head and heart were different things – fixing one would not mend the other. He told himself that he would cut no more, would bleach no further, but somehow her sadness held him mute.

Salvo gritted his teeth and began his work. The strands were fried and brittle; she frayed between his fingers. As he worked he wondered who it had been that had stopped wrapping these curls around his fingers, who had once placed a loving hand on the crown of this head, in a time when loving had allowed for flaws.

Each stroke of the colour brush plastered more thick and stinking bleach onto suffocating strands of new growth. The plastic colour packets screeched as Salvo pulled apart their sticky jaws. He worked as he had worked a hundred times before but now his eyes were moist, his fists were tight. He couldn’t go on.

The colour bowl clattered to the floor with the brush thrown after. The thick and purple paste spattered the salon; up gowns, on shoes, on skin, bleaching and burning in every place it settled.

“I’m sorry” he mumbled, as droplets formed in the corners of his eyes, “I won’t do it.”
The white woman, her face taught, her hair blanched, her eyes only a little wider than before, looked up at the crimson man above her;
“The head and heart are different things – fixing one will not mend the other.”

He poured his words like wine but she simply stared. His wet eyes and crumpled face lit some small light in her, but, quickly, she snuffed it out, for she did not want to look there. The white faced woman rose, meringue-like, and turned upon her stylist. She offered him no more than the smile that was already stapled there. She bent to the floor, her arms emerging like slim carriages from the black tunnels of the salon gown and scooped the purple paste into her well-kept palms. Salvo, who had retrieved the bowl from a dumb-struck attendee, offered it to the woman. She scraped the paste from palm to bowl and returned to her seat. The salon sat. The salon stared. Slowly, like a feline stretch, the salon took up its chatter once again.

Salvo, released from spying eyes, returned to his task. He loaded his brush like it was a tiny boulder and heaved his hand to action. At the moment before the brush touched down, a hand appeared, it was her hand – her soft palm on Salvo’s thick wrist. She held him in his moment –

“I do not want to fix it. Cut it off, please, cut it all off.”

After the buzz of the clippers had given up its grip on the air, Salvo went to the window.  He held his coffee cup to his chest and watched, with some small pain, as the bare head ducked away into the car.

Snakes

He was sitting at his computer. Sitting on his sitting bones, that’s what the HR team had said, sit square on your sitting bones. Imagine that there was someone pulling you up by a thread, imagine that there is a coat-hanger through the back of your shirt, pull your belly-button in towards your spine, place your feet squarely beneath your knees. That’s what the HR poster said. He rotated stiffly toward the notice-board. He could see his form reflected in the wall of windows and he compared it to that of the toned, green and grinning man on the poster; it would have been a long game of spot the difference.

He undid himself, crumpling back into a comfortable stooped snake and rotated back toward his work – he stopped. As he’d spun past the wall of windows he’d jabbed his feet into the floor and fixed his eyes, wide, on a point in the near distance. He looked manically left and right – everyone else was still working, a sea of poor posture snapping away at computers, so stooped that not one of them had straightened up to see – this.

Across from the office was a small church, he went there at lunch sometimes, just to sit. Between his chair and the church was a hill, rising up, quite steeply, from the car-park in the basement of the offices right up to the front door of the church. It looked like a hill from a story book, like snakes and ladders; climb up to God, snake down to commerce – it made perfect sense to him.

His thighs strained with the force of the contraction, the nail on his index finger was digging into his palm, producing a small drop of blood, rolling now onto the dark canvas of the chair – he was unaware. He stared; he had been staring, now, for four seconds.

In the fifth second the fragile body of the air-born child crumpled into the cobbled road.

There were three seconds more, before the world had time to make their feet work, before a mother screamed and a driver cried, before numbers were dialled, before help arrived. In those three seconds a small snake of red worked its way out of the nose that sat on the pale, small and silent face. The snake slid slowly down the soft cheek that lay gently against the cold stone.

A man, in an office, stood and watched this crimson snake. He took two steps forward and pressed his nose and hands against the window pane. His were the only eyes in the world that watched the first drop roll from the white cheek and splash a tiny splash of red upon a dark cobble. He watched as if he were inches away, as if he were close enough to touch the cooling cheek, close enough to be in the shadow of the spire of the church at the top of the hill, where he went at lunch sometimes, just to sit.