Mrs. Pompidou was troubled again. The traffic jams in her hair were becoming quite the nuisance. When Mr. Pompidou passed, it was quite beside her to know how to deal, what with all the gridlock among her roots, the accidents on the bridges and arches of updos whose structures were collapsing under her aged, weakening hair. She needed a miracle, she needed a sculptress with an investment in lacquer and confidence in engineering with a certain “je ne sais quoi” to ease her troubled mind. She missed her beloved Henry who would wrap her hair in the evenings and help her sit upright in bed in the mornings, blowing on her curls and byways to get the traffic flowing again, making appointments for her when it was time for repair. She had found little respite from her sense of loss and spent some time in the mornings by her rotating fan, remembering his gentle ministrations.
She was 80 she didn’t mind telling Molly Popkins who wheedled and fussed over her at the Curling Salon. Dear Molly, whose hair was more like a train slightly derailed, one half of her hair cut short and the other suspended in free fall, a giant blue waterfall. Mrs. Pompidou had read in the magazine she picked up from the grocery every week that there was a lot less respect for symmetry in hairstyles these days. “It’s too matchy match” complained the world super model whose middle aged body looked more like a woman of 20, the middle aged model who donned her belly button in a very public self-promoting lingerie clothing line. “Matchy match” had become an anathema though Mrs. Pompidou had grown up in an age of classic architecture, an age in which jarring others with a sense of disproportion was impolite at best, insane at worst.
Yet Leyla Pompidou has decided to disturb the salon with her own sense of immediacy, of a worsening crisis on her head. There was a part of her that was even a little happy to create her own train wreck when she showed up unexpectedly, her rusting Chevrolet sputtering forth protest, and Leyla, tiny body and all purse, nails, and hair, clomping across the hot Florida asphalt in her cream block heels. She liked the effect it created when she pulled the door to its fullest, hyperextending it as if it were a double joint, stirring the bells to jangle in shrill alarm.
This was critical, the way she entered, the way they all started, for her hair could never be allowed to relax and they should all be on alert. She had felt the ghost of her Henry speaking to her from his portrait over the mantel, telling her to please stay the Leyla he had always known, his “petite chou” and she would be damned if she was about to let him down now. It was in her hair, French tips, and screaming orange lips she would remain despite the waterfalls around her, the sloppily drawn glosses, unnatural colors, despite Molly Popkins’ lectures. “It is time for a change, Mrs. Pompidou,” she would say and so Leyla was deeply suspect of the sink, deep conditioning treatments, long toothed combs like saber tooth tigers threatening to take her starch.
She was able to freshen her French tips with Mrs. Byrd while she waited for Molly to help her, Mrs. Byrd who understood, whose age Leyla guessed to be around sixty and whose husband had died trying to trap nonnative game in the Everglades. Mrs. Byrd understood the importance of classic beauty in the face of the wilderness, in the face of changing times. She spoke under her breath about the changing shapes and colors of nails, for the worse, she said, the colors of bruises and burned suns, shapes like sickles.
“Let’s wash your hair today,” said Molly when Mrs. Byrd had done and Leyla was clawed and properly manicured.
“I object, you know that ma belle.”
“It’s time,” said Molly and she called for an assistant to help, to help seat Leyla in a reclining chair by a sink and assist Leyla in staying still for the procedure.
“Oh no, oh no!” said Leyla. “My Henry would not approve! Oh how you are treating me! He will blow through this door tonight and destroy everything! You are warned!”
And then she felt the trickle of warm water work like fingers through her roads and beltways, her tall buildings and tenement blocks. She heard the cry of her people as they were funneled down the sink, though some managed to make it out of the flood altogether and bounce upon her shoulder and down upon the floor, scattering and skittering hither and yon across the floor.
“I am worried about you Mrs. Pompidou,” said Molly Popkins. “There could be bugs in here. At Curls we want to help you. Don’t you think that’s what your Henry would have wanted?”
“Oh not like this, not like this!” Mrs. Pompidou began to worry about the glue on her lashes. Just how undignified was she becoming? And to suggest she had bugs in her hair! To even think such a thing! Henry had always attended her appointments, to make Mrs. Pompidou happy, to take her out for dinner afterwards, and a trip to her favorite consignment store for a few antique baubles. Henry, so stately and strong, sitting, waiting for her with his legs crossed, wearing his smart suit, his Wall Street Journal snapped out and open before him. He owned some cane fields and they had wanted for little though they were by no means rich. Yet he would never have stood for this. And who would rebuild what they had built together – the updos upon updos, the fragile intricate weave delicate and strong?
They sat her up and put a towel to her head. “Henry, Henry!” she said extending a pointy nailed finger to indicate some man framed by the window beside the door. Molly motioned the man over and Leyla saw it was only a boy waiting for his mother, a long tall teenage boy she knew from church. “It will be alright, Mrs. Pompidou, it will be alright even though Henry is with God now. You’ll see.”
“Oh you young people know nothing!” she snapped, though she instantly felt guilty and so patted the young man’s hand in reassurance. “Of course you’re right, and how silly of me, a crazy old woman. You see, I’ve just lost all my people. I’ve lost all my roads and infrastructure.”
“Shall we rebuild, then?” said Molly, hopefully, and she began to blow out Mrs. Pompidou’s clean hair while the boy returned to his chair. Molly embarked on the process of cement, of lacquer, of shoveling up, dry setting, soldering. She built mile after mile. She stood on a block to reach the top, to create spires, curls, finials, flowers. It wasn’t the same as when Henry had lived and yet when she returned home again and set a cup of warm tea before his portrait, she felt a warm flush in the house, a glow, his approval.
She had forgotten her bauble. She rushed off in the Chevy.