Her haircuts weren’t that much worse than her sister’s, which is to say they were well worth the $10 charged.   Sometimes when I came into the tiny salon there would be three or four guys lined up waiting for a cut from her sister, while she stood there abashed, her chair empty. It must have been because of her looks, her teeth like ill-fitting dentures and her eyes which grew more melancholy by the day.

I doubted they were really sisters, they looked so little alike. Her sister had hair that had a little flounce, and a personality that matched. She could talk to anyone, especially the guys who don’t talk to anyone. She was short, not trim but solid, and had an evident spark. It was something the men waited for.

So the plain sister beams with delight to see me and sweeps her arms to usher me into her chair as if I am a Mission Street potentate. The uplift fuels several minutes of chatter, until she realizes I cannot understand a word she says other than “Number Two.” Yes, number two. I always get the number two haircut, a little longer on the top.

We listen to her sister talking to the large Philipino guy getting a spiky cut in the other chair. Their conversation veers from formalities into actual friendliness. It’s a kind of island retreat unreachable to us, due to personality and the droning TV.   I remember she once told me her name was Lily. At the time it seemed like she had just donned that name like a hat, trying it on.

“Lily, how were your holidays?” I ask.

“Wonderful,” she says, and that ends the conversation, me wondering what wonderful entails.

The Philipino guy is brushed off, he stands and pays, and sister sweeps the floor. “How are you,” sister asks me, intervening.

“Number One here,” Lily interrupts, insistent, pointing to my sidewalls.


A teenage boy with a whale tattoo settles into sister’s chair. Lily takes her time with me. She’s trying hard to make something out of very little. Normally the longer a haircut takes, the better I like it; my private Idaho would be a barber’s chair in Turkey. But I get a little antsy. It’s almost like I expect Lily’s bad luck to come though her fingers into my scalp.

Before she puts her clippers away, she gives the crown of my head a little massage, trying to tell me something though I’m not sure exactly what.



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