Jenna was struggling to twist her arms in different angles behind her head, gripping a curling iron in one hand and her own hair in the other. She was sitting on a metal folding chair right next to the wall, where the other end of the occasionally strained black cord for the iron was plugged in.
“I just can’t reach this back part,” she finally said to the room.
Caroline jumped up to help. “Here, I’ve got a better angle on it.”
She positioned herself behind Jenna’s chair, letting her bare feet slide out a little on the carpet. She took the curling iron and carefully wrapped a section of hair around it. Then, with her free hand, she reached over to the little table to her right and grabbed a pile of bobby pins, putting the ends of them between her lips, just in time to free her hand to grab the hair once again, now falling away from the iron in perfect curls. I watched all of this happen from a few feet away, sitting cross-legged on the ground, with my phone in my hand and my back against the wall, but I felt uncomfortably close. I thought about my own hair, which I had quickly brushed and pulled back with a small black band that morning.
While checking how the back of it looked by holding my phone camera out in front of me and standing with my back to the mirror, I had realized that brushing it had not been the best idea, because it had gotten too bushy to manage, so it looked less like the silky blonde waterfall that I had pictured and more like a dirty hay bale attached to my head. I had wet my hands in the sink and run my fingers through the ends of it, hoping to tame it. I had thought that it worked, but as I glanced in the mirror throughout the day it seemed to get poofier again as it dried.
Christel, who was working on her own makeup across the room, leaned away from the mirror for a moment and looked around. I quickly looked down at my phone, swiping the home screen back and forth rhythmically with my thumb. My tactic didn’t work, though, because she singled me out immediately.
“Are you getting service on that thing?” Christel asked me. “I haven’t had one single bar since I walked into this house. And Verizon’s usually pretty good.”
She picked up her own phone next to her to check, then placed it face-down again, shaking her head.
The little bars on the top right corner of my screen were empty, but I couldn’t say I didn’t have any service, because then they would wonder what I was doing. Who stares that intently at a phone with no service? I couldn’t lie and say I did have service, because some emergency could arise where I would then be delegated to look something up or contact someone.
“Oh, it’s gone in and out a couple times for me,” I said after deciding this was the safest answer, “I’ve got T-Mobile.”
Christel seemed to accept it, and focused her attention back to her mirror. I put my phone down too and watched Caroline’s fingers working too quickly for me to catch exactly what they were doing. She seemed to be pinning and unpinning sections of Jenna’s hair at random, as well as curling and re-curling in different directions at different angles. But she moved with purpose, and even though I couldn’t make sense of each movement she made, I could see the full look coming together in just a few minutes.
Across the room, Christel put down her makeup and checked her phone again.
“Oh, gosh, Caroline, it’s almost 2. Is Jenna’s hair just about done?”
“No, is it? I still have to do my own hair!” Caroline turned and looked at me. “Sarah, you’re done, right?”
The question was a little ridiculous. ‘Done’ seemed to imply that I had been ‘doing’ something at some point, rather than sitting awkwardly for the last half-hour watching the others get ready. I thought about saying I still had to do my own hair as well, but then I would actually have to ‘do my hair’ and I wouldn’t know what to do. I could say I hadn’t done my makeup yet, but then I would have to explain why I hadn’t brought any makeup. Worse, someone might offer to lend me their makeup and who knows what I’d do then.
“Yeah, but I don’t really know how to do that,” I finally said.
“Oh it’s the easiest thing ever,” Caroline held out the curling iron as far towards me as she could without pulling the cord out of the wall.
“You don’t have to if you don’t want to,” Jenna said.
“I just wouldn’t want to mess it up,” I said, trying to sound polite while making it clear that I was declining.
Caroline ignored my apologetic smile. “You won’t mess it up,” she said, and gestured again for me to get up and take the curling iron, “here, I’ve gotta do my own hair.”
“You haven’t used a curling iron before?” Christel asked from her chair, still facing the mirror and working on her eye shadow.
“No, I mean, I’ve tried it on myself once or twice, but I didn’t really get the hang of it,” I said.
There was a short moment of silence. Caroline was still looking at me, and it would have felt too rude not to comply. I stood and took the curling iron from her. She placed a few bobby pins in my other hand and stepped over the cord, hopping on one foot a little in her hurry.
“All you need to do is take the parts that Caroline didn’t get to yet and unpin them one at a time,” said Jenna, “and once the pin is out you can wrap it around the curling iron.”
“And you only want to hold it there for a few seconds at most!” Caroline added, fluttering around the room and gathering up the tools that she would need for whatever plan she had for her own hair, “Or you’ll burn it right off!” Then she laughed as if she hadn’t just said something utterly horrifying.
“Yeah…ok,” I said, standing behind Jenna’s chair feeling stupid.
I started to bring the bobby pins to my lips like Caroline had, but changed my mind and placed them on the table next to me instead, shifting my feet around so I could reach it without tripping over the cord. I stared at the back of Jenna’s head for a few seconds.
I pulled on one of the bobby pins and saw her flinch slightly, “Oh, I’m sorry!”
“It’s fine, don’t worry about it,” she said.
I shifted the curling iron in my right hand so that only my thumb and index finger were holding it, freeing up the other three fingers to help my left hand pull the bobby pin out. I took it out with my left hand, while those three free fingers held her hair in place, but then I had to switch the pin in my left hand with the curling iron in my right hand so that I could lean down, stretching my right arm out uncomfortably far, and put the pin on the table to my right with the other pins. As I straightened up, my left hand wobbled and I accidentally bumped the curling iron softly into Jenna’s hairdo. It made a faint tick as the metal hit a hidden bobby pin somewhere in her hair.
“Sorry,” I breathed, mostly as a knee-jerk reaction to the disproportionate wave of panic that went straight through me, but Jenna didn’t react at all.
I realized she probably hadn’t even felt the curling iron against her hair, and possibly hadn’t heard my whispered apology. Or else she was politely pretending she hadn’t heard. But no damage was done, so I took a deep breath and switched the curling iron back to my right hand, then took the lock of hair I had just freed in my left.
“How do you feel about weddings?” Caroline asked. It took a few seconds for me to realize that she was talking to me.
I started to wrap Jenna’s hair around the rod, but my hands kept getting in the way of the hair I was holding, so I let it go.
“Um, like in general?” I pointed the rod upward instead, and found it easier to get the hair around it by rolling the rod while holding on to the end of the section of hair, rather than taking the hair and wrapping it around the rod, but I realized it didn’t look like how Caroline had done it, so I let it go again.
“Yeah, like, would you ever want to get married?”
I switched the curling iron to my left hand and tried again with the rod pointing downward. This time I could get most of the lock onto the iron, but there were a good three inches from the root of her hair that I couldn’t get onto the rod, so I just hoped it wouldn’t matter.
“Yeah, I think so,” I said, wondering if she was in part asking this question because of my performance with the curling iron.
I counted to five while holding the hair on the rod, then quickly let it go.
“What kind of wedding would you want?”
Five seconds hadn’t been enough. The hair had barely taken any shape at all, and looked dull and sad next to the bouncy row of curls that Caroline had completed. I did the same wrapping motion again, which was a little easier the second time, and intended to hold it for ten seconds, but I thought I saw it smoking when I got to seven, so I let it go again.
“Um, I don’t know, really.”
The hair fell, and it still looked fairly flat. I decided to move on to the next one. If the rest of the sections were all perfect curls, maybe I could spread this one out a little bit to hide it. If not, I could come back to it.
“Probably something small, I guess.”
I chose the next bobby pin. I pulled it out carefully, then decided to hold it in my palm with the curling iron rather than try to stretch down to the table again. I wrapped the hair around the rod and counted to ten. When I pulled the rod away, the hair looked better this time, but still didn’t exactly match the other curls. I took the bottoms of my two completed curls in my palm and pushed upwards uselessly, hoping that would somehow make them tighter and bouncier.
I looked around the room, hoping no one had noticed my struggling, and at the same time wanting desperately for someone to come to the rescue and take over for me. Caroline had moved on from the wedding talk–she was chatting with Christel about something else. There were products and tools strewn all over the floor around them, like a crime scene.
I turned my attention back to the hair. I wanted to do anything else besides take out the next bobby pin, but any other option seemed too alien and bizarre to actually consider doing. For a brief moment, I imagined putting down the iron and just walking out the door. Would the matrix glitch? Maybe I would blink and be right back on this spot on the carpet, tools and hair in hands. So I started on the next section.
“Seems like you’re getting the hang of it,” said Jenna.
I was startled; I had almost forgotten that there was a person on the other side of the hair wrapped around my rod. Like if the fish on the end of your pole started talking to you.
“Yeah, I hope so,” I said, not wanting to freak her out by sounding too unsure.
Could she feel the difference between Caroline’s graceful movements and my jerky ones against her scalp?
“Oh, sweetie, no,” Caroline appeared next to me and took the curling iron from my hands with a quick laugh.
I took a step back, detangling myself from the black cord around my ankles.
I wondered if I should apologize, to either her or Jenna, but Caroline seemed to be talking to herself more than me, “I’ll just fix this really quick and then we’ll head out, weddings always start late anyway.”
Did weddings always start late? I tried to casually glance over to Christel and saw that she was nodding calmly. Caroline’s fingers danced with Jenna’s hair, breathing life into my two sad little locks, while almost simultaneously finishing the ones I hadn’t gotten to yet.
Once everyone was ready, I followed the flurry of dresses and floral scents down the stairs and out the door. I briefly thought to myself that maybe they all felt a little like I did, lost in the world of feminine things. I couldn’t imagine what kind of person wouldn’t be. This thought comforted me because maybe that meant I didn’t stand out so much compared to the rest of them.
“You have such great hair, Sarah,” said Caroline, again appearing beside me without warning, but with an earnest smile, “I’m getting like, serious Hermione vibes from it.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Aliza Bridge is a graduate from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with degrees in Linguistics and Philosophy.