gumbo limbo

(500 words)

Hannah smiled at her reflection, realizing that she could see herself for the first time whilst having her hair cut. With embarrassment, she noticed a touch of silver along the parting of her straight black bob. She winked and admired her vibrant grey eyes in the mirror. Hearing a yap, she patted a small pug-nosed dog. “Hello, Boris.” Moisture from the dog’s cold nose smeared her hand.
She’d entered the small salon – one sink and two chairs – in Sue’s house, Copperwood, gratefully inhaling the indefinable chemical odour associated with hairdressing. Sue’d been on the phone. “Hello love, take a seat, I won’t be a mo,” then she’d left the room.
Hannah noticed five long minutes had crawled past. Finally, the door opened and Sue entered, stony-faced. “Sorry about that love, that was my ex on the phone, he’s not happy.” She grimaced. “Where’s your glasses?”
“I’ve got contacts now.”
“Oh, they suit you!” then, “what are we doing today?”
“Just a wash and trim please.” She’d needed a chat more than a haircut.
She leaned back and felt hot water, stimulating and relaxing simultaneously, surging onto her head. Then Sue’s bony fingers massaging shampoo into her hair.
“What’s the problem Sue?”
“My ex wants the car back. Bastard!”
Hannah smiled as the Star Wars theme suddenly played on Sue’s phone.
“Sorry love, it’s him again, I’ll just be two ticks.”
Hannah closed her eyes, relaxing in the warmth of the small room. She noticed the quiet tick of the clock, realizing the music had stopped playing. The silence became oppressive, soaking into every pore and she felt waves of tiredness sweeping over her.
She must have drifted off. She hadn’t heard Sue return but felt the caress of warm water on her head once more and long fingers massaging her scalp again. She kept her eyes closed, drifting in a twilight state as shampoo was rinsed off and conditioner applied. The odour brought back memories of her aunt’s small salon in Derbyshire. With affection, she remembered Rusty, her aunt’s tabby – his burning yellow eyes, motor-like purr, and his predilection for cheese.
She felt the water stop and a large coarse towel being wrapped around her head. She lay back, trying to rid her mind of sleepiness. After a minute she heard the door open and sat up groggily. Sue entered, looking grim. “Sorry I took so long love.” Then Hannah saw Sue’s face change – startled, open-mouthed and pale. Sue’s fingers, clammy and cold, grasped her arm.
“Denise has been here!”
“Who’s Denise, what are you on about Sue?”
Hannah saw her walk to a photograph where a younger Sue stood by a copperwood tree, laughing. Three pretty, smiling girls sat on low, wide branches.
“That’s Denise,” she tapped the middle girl.
Hannah understood now. She remembered hearing that, years earlier, Sue’s youngest had lost her job as a hairdresser’s apprentice and, suffering from depression, had hanged herself.
“God bless her,” said Sue.
Hannah whispered simply, “Amen.”

Featured in the book, To Cut a Short Story Short: 111 Little Stories

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