Erika shaves her head late Sunday evening. Thick black ringlets clog the sink. Dust the floor. Curl against one another like fists. Erika feels neither heavier nor lighter minus the hair. But she’s worked in the dreary office for six months and needs to confirm the gnawing suspicion that her coworkers are all assholes.
As she flosses, Erika imagines what questions they will ask her tomorrow. The office is a space where everyone knows you but no one bothers to really know you. She spits into the sink with each guess.
Do you have cancer?
Were you losing your hair?
Do you think you look boring?
Are you sad?
The next morning Cindy, the morbid receptionist with tombstone tattoos up her wrist, goes first with the cancer question. Her lips wilt in disappointment when Erika lets her know she’s in the best health of her life.
Greg, resident lecher, bobs a chewy grin over the cubicle wall. His father went bald young, he confesses, fondling his own thick mane. There are medicines. Procedures. Acupuncture, even. She doesn’t have to look like this. Erika nods, telling him with or without hair, she won’t fuck him.
Gina winks, lifting the edge of a magenta wig two sizes too big so it shimmies during the day as she bounces by the boss, hoping he notices her. She tells Erika it’s about time she started caring about her appearance. Change is good. I got you girl. Gina slides a wigmaker’s card across the desk. Erika flips her off, and Gina slinks away.
At the end of the day Erika feels both vindicated and morose. She spends fifty plus hours a week in the dingy office with chirping fluorescent lights. That’s a long time to hold your breath.
The last question arrives at 4:55 from the new saleswoman without a cubicle yet. She must balance her laptop on quivering knees by reception, hoping they carve out a niche for her.
“I’ve been struggling lately,” she confides to Erika as they both enter the restroom at the same time. Her peach lips barely move.
She reaches out a hand, resting it gently on Erika’s bald head. If this were Cindy, or Greg, or Gina, she would have slapped them away. But there is something alarmingly tender about the stranger’s touch.
“Did shaving help?” the girl asks, dropping her hands to her sides. She collapses onto a cushioned bench against the wall.
Erika sits down next to her. Silent. At five p.m. the rest stampede to the elevator, racing to the parking garage to escape back to their real lives. But neither of the young women in the restroom budge an inch. Fifty plus hours is too much time to give away to alienation. To discomfort. Too long to hold your breath.
“Yes,” Erika finally answers. “I got what I needed.”
The new saleswoman nods.
The next day, neither of the restroom refugees show up for work. Cindy fantasizes that they both died in a fiery crash. Greg prays the company hires two more hot women. And Gina doesn’t give a shit because the boss finally asked for her number, even though he’s married with four kids.
Biography: Sarah Clayville is an English teacher and author who writes from the wilds of central Pennsylvania. She is also a fiction editor for the journal Identity Theory. Her work can be found both online and in print. Follow her writings at SarahSaysWrite.com.