Irina’s Hair Shop
Meg Pokrass

Irina cut our hair when we lived on the hill. She was a blonde Russian woman who wore pale powder, fake eyelashes, and blue liner. She rented the tiny beauty shop on Polk—two chairs near the window, turned away from the sun.

One cut she told me about her ex—how he left her with no money. Their teenage son was taller than her now, and stayed with his girlfriend too often.

Men all want one thing, she said. Even my own damn kid.

That time she styled my hair round like a mushroom.

My husband Leif and I were still newlyweds who stacked tofu boxes and refrigerated safflower oil. We lived next to a Chinese beef jerky factory. Toxins floated in our window. All the newspaper stories were about cancer. Skin cancer, throat cancer, pancreatic cancer. We didn’t have enough money for furniture, much less cancer.

Leif became irritable the day of his trim. He swore while he was shaving in the morning, cutting himself more than usual.

What’s the matter? I asked.

She flirts with me, he said.

What a bitch, I said.

I imagined him a small child on the beach at Long Island Sound, his mother leaving him alone for a sec while she put on her suit. Something about Leif was unnaturally vulnerable. He had serious asthma most of his life, and lived with too much worry.

We went together. When she saw me, her face reddened. I picked up a Vogue and sat quietly while she cut his hair.

You two are like a comedy team, she said.

As if to illustrate her point, Leif told her a joke about how much hair he was losing because of my tofu lasagna, my tempe casserole, the lack of meat in our diet as if I were poisoning him. I felt my hands get cold—though I tried to fake a chuckle.

Irina laughed so hard she snorted, doubling over as though she were losing urine. She cut his hair deeply, winking at me grotesquely. When we walked out Leif was nearly bald on one side.

A week later, walking to the health food store we noticed her windows were taped. A sign in the door said “For Rent.” The shop was dark.

We saw it as somehow our fault, purchased expensive algae tablets from the health food store to fight off cancer. We swallowed bits of ocean each morning before opening the windows.

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