The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Thursday, June 14, 2007

My Worst Haircut, My First

By Antonios Maltezos

This is the way I remember the bitch… It’s summertime and I’m playing hide-and-seek with… let’s say 23 children. One of the 23 can’t be found. Either he’s really good at hiding, or he was called home and no one noticed. Regardless, a group search begins and the game is put on hold. I know it’ll never resume. Not this game. When someone goes missing, it’s like a great big guillotine drops. Ts-s-s-aph! It’s a drag. There’s a head count. I stand still for this, as do all the other children, without being asked, aging in an instant because we all know the story of the kid who was snatched from right in front of his building. The game is finally over when the boy is found safe at home. We scatter.

I’m in the back alley where I’m not allowed to dally. I can’t remember my mother ever telling me not to come here. It’s just something I know for myself. The windows of our apartment home face the streets out front and to the side of the building. She wouldn’t hear me calling out if something bad were to happen. Just the same, I pass through the alley regularly, always moving quickly. But this time, there’s a strange woman pulling carrots from a deep box full of black earth… strange, because of her pale skin and blonde hair. Most people here have dark hair and dark eyes – Italians and Greeks – una fatsa, una ratsa. She’s out of place, but her voice is nice. She wants to share what she knows about the carrots. I listen as she tells me they’re good to eat right out of her box, without washing them first. It must be something like bread, I believe. Bread is the only food you can drop and still eat, as long as you kiss it first, give thanks. She has big white teeth. She smiles just before taking a bite. It’s like bread, she tells me with her sweet blue eyes. Nothing will happen to her, she promises. “You see?”

One of the bigger boys has made a good slingshot, and I stop to watch as he fires a stone into the air, clear across the field keeping my building safe from the train tracks and all the bad stuff that happens there, where children have died, where I scaled that wire fence that one time only so I could see that dog for myself. He’d been turned inside out. I would never again climb that wire fence, I’d vowed. Only Superman can outrun a train.

I can hear the psalithas tolling his bell, calling me and all the other children to the sidewalks. There he is, his rusty truck moving slowly, forcing us to quiet down. He hasn’t come for us. We’re only here for our mothers, so when they run out into the street, their scissors rolled up in their aprons, they’ll feel special, as if this is an occasion, there are people lining the sidewalks. It is special. For me, it means my next haircut won’t be so painful. I’ve got thick hair, and thick hair is hard to cut. She doesn’t want to hurt anyone, so my mom comes out trotting, walking stiffly, but quickly. She’s seen me, I’m sure. She’s just as aware of me as I am of her. But we don’t speak. She doesn’t even look at me. The psalithas has come to sharpen her scissors.

There’s a skunk at the bottom of a sewer hole, tormented because one of the bigger boys removed the manhole cover. He’s dropped a large rock onto the skunk, wounding the creature so it’s lying there wondering what else will strike it from up above. A creature is everything we aren’t. It’s a dog on the tracks -- who must have been asleep? It’s the green flies, slower than usual because it’s been a terribly hot summer, I can even catch them. I cup my hands over them as they rest on the red brick of my building. I expect a tickle, at least, but it’s too hot, so they just sit there, or stick there, on the wall, until my father pulls up in his car, and they’re gone in a woosh.

I’m at his side, even before he can step up onto the sidewalk. But it’s different today. He isn’t looking down at me. He’s staring at the boy with the beanie shave, who’s all worn out from being chased, slapped on the back of the head by the boys with the longer hair.

“That’s what you need,” my father says, a drop of sweat hanging from the tip of his nose.

There’s no point in him going up to the apartment, taking off his shoes. Why not right now?

I run like The Flash. I’ve never run this fast. I’m already in the living room. My mother has her back up against the wall because my father tends to flail when he’s enraged. He, too, has never moved so swiftly. It must be the heat that has him so agitated, I believe, already looking for his excuse. He tosses the sofa aside with one hand, and all I have left is the hope my mother might tell him to stop, her living room is being torn apart. But she doesn’t dare open her mouth. He grips my arm, swings me through air, letting go so I hit the wall, so I lose the fight in me. I don’t hurt so easy, though, I’m a kid, but I do know when to back down. He’s threatening to rip my hair out with his bare hands. He’s pumping his fists like he’s doing exercises.

No car ride, just the barber’s chair, me crying like a baby knowing my mom refused to help me, that big black cloak opening as the barber snaps it over my head. It moves easily for him, but it weighs heavy on my shoulders. It’s hard to breathe, especially as he’s choking me, pulling the collar super tight.

My father is pretending to read the newspaper, pretending not to care, but he does, and that makes it worse. He’s sorry for hurting me, for kicking me into the car in front of all the other children, but it looks like I’m still going to get my buzz cut.

There are hairs coming out of the barber’s nose, black and white hairs, and he’s exhaling right in my face. I shouldn’t be looking -- I know. “Don’t move,” he says. Don’t look at my face, my skin, just like the peel of a rotten orange, big pores and deflated. I’m scared, but oh how I wish the barber would just cut my throat and get it over with, so my father should feel bad for what he’s doing to me, I was just catching flies.


Blogger Tricia Dower said...

Oh my, Tony, this is wonderful writing. The neighbourhood, the culture, the barber's face, the fear and betrayal you felt. I just love it.

Thu Jun 14, 12:38:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Andrew Tibbetts said...

I love this too. This reminds me of Lynda Barry's beautiful cartoons about the social reality of kids lives! You should get an artist colleague and do a graphic novel of childhood, Tony! I would if I hadn'ta spent my childhood watching tv. That would make a bad story.

Thu Jun 14, 02:02:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Chumplet said...

It's amazing how we as children think the most mundane events are catastrophic. Beautiful imagry, Tony.

I remember trespassing on an old construction site with my friends, and I stopped and said in a mysterious air, "I smell death!" My friends got all hushed and we poked around. Sure enough, it was a dead cat. They thought I was psychic or something. Nah, I just knew what a dead animal smelled like.

Thu Jun 14, 04:01:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Antonios Maltezos said...

Thanks so much for reading, guys. I enjoyed remembering, even the buzz cut episode.

Thu Jun 14, 05:05:00 pm GMT-4  
Anonymous ruth taylor said...

There is an air of imminent danger, I thought, throughout this piece, and the irony is that violence and betrayal comes not from the unknown or strangers, but from good old mom and dad. Nicely brought together, Antonio!

Fri Jun 15, 12:32:00 pm GMT-4  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Loved it, Tony - soooo real.

Fri Jun 15, 06:11:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Martin Heavisides said...

Very fine flow to this. It feels like a snippet from a larger story, and you might organize more material around this slightly disjunctive, associative style of storytelling.

Sat Jun 16, 04:37:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Antonios Maltezos said...

Thanks for reading, Diane and Martin.

Sat Jun 16, 05:42:00 pm GMT-4  
Anonymous Caleb said...

Not a word of a lie, some of the best writing I've read. That really took me back, and I'm sure it would with anyone.

Fri Dec 28, 01:31:00 am GMT-5  

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