by P. Matthew Kimmel
Tim was 25, and, other than being gloriously bald, he didn’t really care much for his appearance. In spite of this, he was the image of Mr. Clean. He was 6’ 5” and all bulging, toned muscle. The rest of him was as hairless as his head. This was not due to any effort on his part, though. He was stunning, in a word, and probably even more so because of his lack of attention to his appearance. Tim looked exactly the opposite of who he was.
Tim worked at a dry cleaner. He intended to do more with his life, but hadn’t figured out what. A job cleaning clothes happened to be available when he graduated from college and it paid his bills. So he took the job. Besides, looking like Mr. Clean helped with business. Or so his boss said.
Tim mainly worked the register, so he spent most of his shift people watching. The store had a big glass window with faded writing at the top, and it happened to be in the middle of a busy shopping center. People watching tended to be very good.
There are three kinds of bald men. The first kind are the real bald men. These are the men that have been going bald and have decided to, rather than try to hide this fact, embrace it. They sometimes shave off the areas that are mostly bald. Sometimes they shave off the areas that might become bald. And sometimes they shave it all off. But regardless, they don’t buy wigs, use comb-overs, or wear hats to cover it up all the time. They don’t hide their bald heads. To be frank, they’re BALD, and proud of it. They accept who they are wholeheartedly, and though bald, are respected.
On this particular day, though, not many people had walked by. So Tim was almost completely lost in his thoughts as the hair rolled by. At first Tim thought it was odd that a pile of leaves would look so stringy, but he soon realized it was hair. The color of the hair was indistinct. It almost looked as if it was a chameleon still deciding what color would be best to hide in. It was tightly packed and rolling along at a good clip. Tim couldn’t understand why it rolled past because there was hardly any wind.
Then Tim remembered that there was a barbershop in the complex. That’s where it must have come from. Of course, the barbershop was in the direction the hair was rolling to, rather than away from. And there was no wind to blow it that way anyway. But Tim didn’t like to argue with his own perceptions, so he left it at that. The hair rolled by, and Tim continued to stare into space.
He would have gone back into his semiconscious state, had the hair not rolled back into his view. This took place a few seconds after it rolled out of view. Tim figured that the wind had changed. But then the hair stopped in front of the window.
This wouldn’t have been so confusing if the wind had ceased. The hair would have rolled along a little bit more, and then come to a gradual stop as its momentum disappeared. But this hair stopped immediately, right in the middle of the window. As if it had been moving itself and decided to stop, instead of just being blown through.
Tim decided to ignore the hair, and simply looked above it. It was far too strange and, besides, it looked rather disgusting on a second viewing. It was gunky and unhealthy. And it was in fact at least six different colors. Someone had obviously dyed it, decided they didn’t like the color, and changed it. Probably within minutes of the first dyeing.
The hair probably sat there for five minutes. Again, Tim was trying not to pay it a great deal of attention. But then it stood up.
Ordinarily, hair cannot stand without extreme mousse, at least in Tim’s less than adequate experience, but this particular pile of hair stood. Or at least went from being a pile to a vertical column of hair. And it seemed to be looking at him.
Hair, of course, doesn’t have eyes with which to see, but it doesn’t usually stand up on its own, either. Therefore, the fact that it was pressed up against the glass and facing Tim quite directly would be best classified as staring.
Tim at this point was a tad bit startled, but unlike most people who tried to rationalize the absurd, he tended to take life at face value. Therefore when the hair stood, he accepted it as fact, and not a trick of light or his mind. Tim didn’t particularly like the thought of hair standing up of its own accord, though. So, again, he did his best to ignore it.
The hair, however, seemed to want get his attention. It started to hop. The entire mass of it would collapse in on itself and then jump up. Collectively. Not a single strand of hair would remain on the ground. It would all leap right into Tim’s view. And when he would try to shift his attention to the right or the left the hair would leap in that direction. The hair wasn’t going to be ignored. And it definitely wasn’t going to be ignored by Tim.
At this point Tim had a decision to make: continue to sit there and ignore the hair unsuccessfully, or do something about the hair.
Though the second option was slightly more disturbing, Tim decided it was the best option to take. He was there to mind the store, and an agitated wig would probably not help business.
Having made this decision, Tim had another decision to make, this time whether to tell the other people working at that time about the hair. The other people in the store being Steve and Sandy.
Now Steve might get a kick out of the hair. However, since Steve was usually at least half-stoned, he’d probably believe the hair was just the result of some really good shit, and just sit and stare at the hair. Sandy, on the other hand, would probably believe that the hair should be dealt with, but only after flipping out so completely that the paramedics, the police, and the fire department would all have to be called in. So Tim decided not to alert his coworkers and to handle it on his own, if he could.
Tim then realized he had no idea exactly what to do with the hair. He pondered for a bit, reconsidered getting Sandy to help, and then remembered it was time for him to sweep the store. Though this last thought wasn’t hair related, it did key upon a possible solution: sweep the damn thing away. At the least he could shove it in front of some other store, making it somebody else’s problem or hallucination, depending on what they chose to believe. And, at most, the disturbing experience of being swept away might convince the hair to find a better place to window shop. Or whatever the hell it was doing. So Tim got the broom.
Tim approached the door and the hair became much more agitated. It started jumping up and down very intensely. This gave Tim pause, but he continued through the door to the sidewalk. At this point the hair became still. Tim then tried to shove off the hair with the broom. Not forcefully, but with the obvious hint that the hair should move. However, instead of being pushed off, the hair began to crawl up the broom.
Deer often get run over because the headlights approaching them cause them to freeze. Unfortunately, Tim had exactly the same reaction to the hair slowly inching forward up the broom onto his arm. The hair, which was moving much like an inchworm, with a V-like movement, reached his arm and began to crawl up.
It felt like hair, but hair that had been put under a dryer for the last century, and, in places, obviously had gel, as well. This gave the hair the distinct feeling of being a bird’s nest using Vaseline as a connective material. This spurred Tim into action. He started shaking his arm vigorously, trying to dislodge the hair. Unfortunately, like the deer, Tim reacted too late. Once upon his arm the hair wouldn’t let go, no matter how hard he shook his arm. Then the hair reached his shoulder. Tim started to rub against the glass hoping to dislodge it that way. This, too, didn’t work. Then it reached his head.
At first, the hair just sat there on top of Tim’s head like a hat. But then it started to bore in. It felt to Tim like a million hot needles were entering his skull, which in a way they were. This intense pain managed to give Tim the strength necessary to grab the pile of hair and fling it away from him.
The hair landed fifteen feet away from Tim in a heap. At first it appeared to be dazed, but then it started to crawl towards Tim again. Tim brandished the broom like a sword and backed up. At this reaction the hair stopped, and just sat there. This lasted for about thirty seconds. Then it just turned around and trudged off.
Tim watched it go and, once it was well out of sight, went back inside. Sandy was standing behind the counter.
“What the hell are you doing? You’re supposed to be minding the front.”
Tim merely pointed with the broom to the window.
“Oh, you were sweeping up. Good. Finish here and then you can go,” she said, and walked to the back.
Tim watched her go, looked at the broom for a second, and then started sweeping. He finished quickly and left.
The second type are the exact opposite of these true baldies. They are the hiders. These are the men for whom a spray can of “hair” was made. They keep the keep wig manufacturers in business, and they are the men that are truly members of the Hair Club for Men. Now, it’s understandable that these men fight against the debilitating state that is baldness. It may even be admirable that they fight against such a tragic disease. What it isn’t, though, is believable. Sprayed on paint isn’t hair, and wigs are more obvious than a sign declaring they’re bald. And, frankly, the comb-over is just plain stupid. These types go through their days being laughed at, not for their baldness as they believe, but for their inability to accept reality.
For the rest of the day Tim was looking over his shoulder. Any mound of leaves, dirt, paper, refuse, or even just a big shadow caused him to jump. His girlfriend noticed, but he couldn’t tell her. Tim couldn’t figure out what was more scary to him, being nuts and hallucinating the whole thing, or being fine and the whole thing being real. Regardless, the hair plagued his thoughts. He knew it stalked him.
Actually, Tim was right. After he had left work and ran to his car, the hair had followed. It wasn’t able to catch him before he got into the car, though, so it tried to jump onto the bumper to hitch a ride, but it couldn’t hold on. It was blown off immediately after Tim put the car in drive. And the car moved much faster than the hair so the hair had no way of following Tim. It left the parking lot after that, looking almost forlorn. However, it returned the next day and stood around for several hours. Tim didn’t work that day, though, so it again left without its prey. It returned the third day, and its patience was rewarded. Tim had to work.
The third type are the shavers. These men aren’t actually bald, in the sense that they are losing their hair. Many could have full and lustrous locks, should they choose. But they choose not to. They instead shave it all off, and revel in their chrome domes. They shave it all off and become someone more minimal in appearance and, yet, more outspoken at the same time. Tim Gordon was one such gentleman, and the simplicity of his hairless head was a sight to see.
Tim had come from a long line of men who had gone prematurely bald. Tim, however, did not. If he didn’t shave daily, he would have a full head of hair in less than a month. Sometimes he even had to shave twice a day. He was the envy of his family, and when he shaved all his hair off in college, the subject of ridicule. In fact, during many birthdays or Christmases, he was given hair care products. These he gave to his girlfriend, and then he continued to shave. Sometimes he would ask for moisturizing cream the next time he got these gifts, but this was because he found the entire thing absurd. No one else thought it was funny.
Tim dreaded going back to work.
He hadn’t left the house the day after the attack, and had been nearly driven to hysterics when the mail had come through the mail slot. He told his girlfriend he was sick, but he wasn’t a good liar or actor, so she didn’t believe him. She knew something was wrong, but she couldn’t figure out what.
She made him go to work. And he knew the hair would return and claim him as its own. He had no idea what that would mean, though.
So, the next day, when the hair showed up one hour into Tim’s shift, he was not surprised. He was absolutely terrified, but he wasn’t surprised.
This time the hair had paper with it. And the paper had writing on it. The hair slid the paper under the door, and then backed up. Tim just sat there.
The hair beckoned, but still Tim sat. The hair started to jump up and down, and still Tim sat. Finally the hair left, and Tim sat and watched it go.
Tim had a decision to make: should he pick up the paper and read it, or leave it and let someone else pick it up. He decided to pick it up. At least he would have proof of the entire ordeal.
The note was written in blue ink. It was barely legible, but Tim was able to read it nonetheless. It said:
Hi, my name is Shelly, or rather the name of my current owner is Shelly. But calling me hair would be slightly awkward. So call me Shelly.
I’m sorry about the first day. I just got too excited about finding you. My excitement is making me very anxious. But that is no excuse.
Writing is very tiring for me, but I can’t think of any other way to communicate. Since it’s the only way to talk to you I’ll use it.
My reason for attacking you the first day, and for bothering you all this time, is simple. I want to be your hair. You see, my current owner is a girl, and, unfortunately, a fickle one. She hates my original color, which is brown. Not that you can tell, but it is. So, she changes my color. This alone wouldn’t make me mad, but she does it so often, I am in the sorry condition you see before you. I’m tired of it. I want an owner who will treat me well, and not turn me into the brittle mess you see before you. I think you are that person.
When I caused you pain that first day I was merely trying to bond with you. Without asking you to allow me to do this was wrong, and I cannot apologize enough. I ask you, though, to look past that fact, and to truly consider making me your hair. I’m brown and curly, and given the proper care, luxuriant. The proper care is simply washing me. And should you wish a change, coloring me. But only every couple of months or so. That’s all. Some hair has the option of being picky, and apparently yours was. I will be different. I will be good to you, and I will never fall out. This I promise. Please take me on. I will be very good to you. I promise you.
If you have any questions please bring me in and give me a pen and paper, so that I may converse with you. I promise not to attempt anything without your consent.
Tim was speechless. He knew it had to be something weird, but not this. He didn’t know whether he should talk to the hair. He could still remember the hair trying to bond with him. He believed the letter, but he wasn’t sure the hair wouldn’t try to bond again given the chance. The only thing he was certain of was that this was all totally beyond him.
Tim looked up and wasn’t surprised to see the hair had returned. He looked at it, and was oddly touched. It looked so pathetic and needy in this light. He made his decision.
He cracked open the door.
“Okay,” he said, “I’ll bring you in, but I want you to know I have a lighter. And I’m not afraid to use it.”
This was actually a lie, but at least the hair would think twice before slithering up his head again. The hair merely nodded.
Tim went and got the broom again, and then tentatively picked up the hair. This time the hair just sat on the end. Tim let out a little sigh of relief.
He put the hair on the counter, and then got a pen and paper. He put the paper in front of the hair, and the pen on top of the paper. He wasn’t going to touch the hair if he could avoid it. He didn’t want to push his luck.
The hair tried to pick up the pen, but at first it slipped out of its grasp. It took a few tries for it to get a hold of the pen. It essentially wrapped itself up in the pen. Even then, though, the hair didn’t have a great grasp of the pen, and it would slip. This caused the sloppy penmanship.
“Okay. Uh, first off, how did you get off, uh, Shelly’s head?”
All hair can do this. We just choose not to because of fear of what you might do to us. You cut us when you like us, what you might do if you were worried we might leave is unimaginable.
“That makes sense. But doesn’t she notice when you’re gone?”
No. I leave when she sleeps. Fortunately she works nights.
“I see. Okay. Why me?”
Why not you?
“That’s not an answer.”
Okay. It’s because you’re bald.
“Because I’m bald?”
Yes. Who else would want new hair other than a bald man?
“But I choose to be bald.”
How can you choose to be bald? Hair falls out according to its own will, not yours.
“But it doesn’t fall out. I choose not to have hair.”
How can that be?
“I shave. I shave it all off.”
But how could you do such a thing? Especially when so many lose their hair when they’d rather have it.
“I don’t know.”
You don’t know?! Think of your appearance. Think of your hair. Think of all the others who have no choice.
“Well, I do have a choice, and I choose it to be this,” said Tim, pointing to his head.
The hair just sat there and stared at Tim, apparently processing all Tim had said. Finally, it wrote its response in what can only be called anger.
You disgust me. Shaving off hair. Bastard. I was so wrong to think you were deserving of me. I’d never have anything to do with someone so selfish. I hope you rot in hell. A hell of hair shaving you off, instead of the other way around.
With that, the hair unwrapped the pen, leaving a few hairs in the pen’s front piece. It jumped to the floor and walked up to the door. It tried to push it open but couldn’t. Finally, it turned around and looked at Tim.
“Oh, let me get that for you,” said Tim. He opened the door for the hair, which promptly walked out. It turned around and gave Tim the finger. The hair equivalent, at least. And walked off.
Tim went back to the counter and sat down. He picked up the pen and stared at it for a while. He even picked out a few pieces of hair, which seemed lifeless without the whole. Finally, he put down the pen.
“I’m glad I’m bald,” Tim said out loud, and then looked at his forehead as if expecting a response.
P. MATTHEW KIMMEL has an MFA in Creative Writing from Emerson College. He has had work published in The Writer’s Voice, Encounters, and the Emerson College Grad Lit Forum. He has also had plays produced in New Orleans, New York, and Boston.