"People die. Husbands cheat. Women cry." Marie ran her fingers through my freshly shampooed hair and met my eyes in the mirror. "That's the ad slogan for the opera. Funny how I can relate to it." She began working a comb through my tresses. "You know, you don't have to have a hair appointment to talk to me. There is this contraption called the phone."
"I've heard of it." I sniffed a wet chunk of hair, and smiled. "I like this new conditioner. Rosemary and peppermint, huh? Reminds me of my mother's roast leg of lamb."
"How much do you want taken off? The usual eighth of an inch?"
"How about a half an inch?"
"Living on the edge, I see." She tightened the fire-engine red nylon smock around my neck. Some tinkling bells wafted through the air, followed by an unearthly wail. "Bulgarian women's chorus," Marie said, anticipating the question. "This guy I'm seeing, he's a Buddhist. I'm trying to get more spiritual, and this was the closest I could get at the present time."
I settled back into the chair as she spritzed my head with a eucalyptus-smelling mist. "I guess that means you and Gavin aren't back together."
"Divorce," said Marie flatly. "I have all the papers. I've filled them out. It's just a matter of filing them. But first I want it in writing that that wench isn't getting anywhere near my daughter." She sectioned off parts of my hair, pinning them to the top of my scalp. "I probably can't ask for that, but believe me I'm going to try."
I thought uncomfortably about my own transgressions in this department, and shifted in my seat. "I can't believe he's still seeing her. Really, I thought by now he would have gotten her out of his system. Didn't you tell me she has fake breasts? Or did I dream that?"
"I did not tell you that. But if you'd like to spread that around, feel free." She held a few aluminum clips between her teeth and continued. "Last week, Gavin comes over in the middle of the day. Just drops by to see the baby, he says. Yeah, right. So as I'm talking to him on the stoop, he says oh so casually, 'So, whose truck is in the driveway?' And I tell him, 'You know damn well whose it is. It's Brian's.' His face goes all red, and he gets that nostril flaring thing that happens when he's really upset. He says, 'I thought we had an agreement not to bring our dates around the baby.' I just about hauled off and slapped him, I really did. I told him, 'What we agreed is that you wouldn't bring that cunt that split up my family around my daughter. I did not say anything about not having Brian, my boyfriend, around. And it's a little different, since I have Davia six days and six nights a week. So don't you dare even pretend to get possessive with me.'"
"What did he say?"
"He just stormed off. Asshole. Hang on, I'm going to change the CD." She disappeared behind a crimson velvet curtain and continued talking. "How does Portishead sound to you? Too spooky?"
"Seems appropriate," I commented. "Well, you're seeing someone?" I asked as she returned and began measuring ends, repinning sections in the back.
"Brian's great," she said absently. "He's got an amazing body, and he's really good with the baby. He's one of those snowboarding people -- you know, who live for snowboarding. During the summer he works on a construction site. Did I mention he's a Buddhist? Very calming. I can't say that I really buy all his Zen stuff, but it's nice that he has something to believe in, you know?"
"Sure," I said. "Is he smart enough for you?"
Marie stopped mid-snip and thought for a moment. Then she continued, a little more slowly. "I don't really think that's an issue right now," she said. "We have a great time, amazing sex. He's simple, you know? He's a widower, did I tell you that? His wife died a year ago. Talk about spooky."
"Jesus, Marie." I thought about the last time I heard the word "widower." It seemed like such an anachronism.
"Yeah, I know." She sighed and inspected the top of my head. "You need to get your roots done, you know. You can really see them in this light."
"OK," I said. "Are you in love with this guy?"
"What does that mean?" Her scissors moved faster. "I thought I loved Gavin, but now look what's happened. A month ago the baby was sick, and I had to take her to the doctor. I called Gavin and he met me. Afterwards, as I was pulling out of the parking lot, I saw him standing there, his forehead leaning against the cement wall. So I drive up. I've got my sunglasses on and I'm smoking a cigarette, and I lean out of the window and say, 'What the hell is the matter with you?' He mumbles something like he misses his family and I just said, 'Uh huh.' Then I said, 'I hear you've been at the hospital a lot with your girlfriend,' because I'd heard her father's dying in the cancer ward. He says, 'Yeah, it's been rough on Veronica. She's very broken up.' And I just lost it. I said, 'Well, karma can be a real motherfucker.' And I just pulled away and left him in a cloud of dust. So is that love?"
"I don't know. Maybe. No. Yes."
"Later, I was snooping around at Brian's." I nodded. "I was waiting for him," she said. She stopped snipping my hair and stood there motionless. "And sitting in a box, right on the mantel, I come across a little urn with Brian's wife's name on it. It's her ashes, for God's sake. I held the urn in my hand, and asked her, 'Are you OK with this? Is this all right? I make love to your husband in the next room. Are you going to haunt me and hex me? I don't want anyone to get hurt.' And I think she thinks it's OK. We talked for a while and it felt good. I put the urn back in the box, and now I talk to her all the time when Brian isn't there." She motioned for me to flip my head over so she could begin drying it. "Isn't love really weird?" she yelled over the roar. "You just can never see anything coming."