Chapter One – Harry’s Hair Stop
It’s hard to build a business when your clients keep dying. Take this morning for instance. Harry—he’s the owner of the salon I work in—handed me a note. My 10:15 canceled. Last minute. And I couldn’t even get mad at her. She was dead.
I waded to my aqua-blue, faux-leather chair through a sea of gossip, dumped my patent leather purse in the cupboard under the lighted mirror, and sat. My reflection stared back at me, wearing an annoyed expression. I adjusted it to solemn.
I felt heartless. Honestly, I liked Trudy. She was one of my favorites, but when all your clients are seventy-five and over, you can’t let yourself get too attached.
Maddy glanced my way and batted her eyelashes, quite an accomplishment considering the amount of mascara she coated them with. “You heard about Trudy?”
I nodded. “Third one in seven months.”
“It’s going around.”
“I’m starting to feel like a jinx.”
“It’s not just you, sweetie. We’ve all lost at least one.”
“Imogene.” Harry’s smoker’s voice bounced off the checkered linoleum floors and yellow walls. He only called me Imogene when he was with a client.
“Yes, Harry,” I said.
“Can you take a walk-in?”
My spirits lifted. Maybe the morning wouldn’t be a total loss after all. In the mirror I saw Harry, hips swishing dangerously close to Camille’s shears, coming toward me. Behind him was a fragile looking, white-haired lady—guesstimate eighty-five. I sighed.
“This is Imogene,” he said to her. “Don’t let the tattoo fool you. She’s one of our best.”
The white-haired lady eyed the Rosie the Riveter tat on my right bicep. A frown formed on her face. I don’t think she approved, but she hiked herself into the chair with Harry’s help.
“So what can I do you for?” I immediately regretted the stupid expression. I’d picked it up from my grandmother’s boyfriend, Phil. He’s a walking cliché. A nice one, but still, he’s contagious.
The woman patted her short curls and said, “I need a toner. My hair has gone brassy.”
Ah, a blue-hair. She must have moved to Orange County from a small town where they still turned their seniors into Smurfs.
A half hour later, my new lady wore blue hair and a grimace I believed was intended to be a smile. “Very nice,” she said, and handed me a tip. Five percent—which must have been the going rate in the forties. I loved my seniors, but most of them were stuck in the past when it came to tipping. I couldn’t imagine how I was going to afford my own place at this rate.
I had an appointment to check out a studio after work. It was small, one room and a kitchenette. Fingers crossed, I might be able to swing the rent. I had a little nest egg put away I hoped would be enough for first and last and a security deposit. My monthly income at Harry’s was inconsistent, what with the increased attrition and all. Consequently, I still lived with my grandmother, which was a whole other problem.
After the Smurf lady left, I walked to the front desk to check on my schedule. Harry was on the phone. “Of course, of course,” he said. “She’d be honored. Harry’s Hair Stop is honored.”
I hoped I wasn’t the she he was referring to. My experience with Harry had taught me if honor was being offered, payment wasn’t. “Genie, darling, I have a special event for you.” I was the she, then.
“Yes?” I said, cautiously optimistic. Special events could be lucrative.
“Gertrude Rosenblum requested you for her funeral.”
I stared at Harry, who didn’t look up from the papers he was shuffling. I had the impression he was avoiding my gaze.
“Trudy is dead,” I said.
“If she wasn’t, she wouldn’t need you for her funeral, would she?”
“I’m sorry, Harry. I don’t understand what you’re saying. Am I supposed to style the pallbearers? Her family? Trim the priest? What?”
His eyes finally meet mine. “No. Trudy wants a wash, blow dry, and her makeup done.” I’d heard about stylists taking funeral gigs, but I’d never known anyone who did it.
“You’ll be overseen by one of the mortuary staff, and they’ll prepare the, ah, Trudy, for you. She requested you, Genie. It’s an honor.”
I wished he’d stop with the honor stuff. “I don’t…” I didn’t know how to end the sentence. I don’t feel comfortable? I don’t know how to do up a corpse? I don’t want to? All were true.
“Genie.” Harry shook his head, disappointment etched into his features. I hated it when he called me Genie. No one but my grandmother was allowed that level of familiarity. “You wouldn’t deny a woman’s dying wish, would you?”
Why did he have to put it that way? He waited for a beat and, when I didn’t respond, said, “Good. You need to be at Greener Pastures by five on Friday. The service is Saturday morning—open casket. I’m counting on you to make Trudy look her best. The funeral director said we could put business cards by the guest book.”
I tried to swallow, but there was no moisture in my mouth. Then a vision of a mailbox with my name on it entered my mind. I managed to rasp out my one burning question. “How much?”