The Dryers Are in Use
by Walter Kwiatkowski
Locking the door of his car, Daniel Pike crossed the street and took the stairs to the entrance of the Red Hot Salon. The salon worked out of a fairly large brown and orange marble building. Long rectangular sheets of glass partitioned into windows stretched from the entrance to just around the corner of the building, where more marble cut it off from what used to be another set of windows that were, now, unfortunately, boarded up. This section of the building was made up of singed brick
Women with perfectly smooth skin and snow-white teeth and wearing low-cut blouses oozing silicon smiled down on passing potential customers from posters plastered on the windows. These posters led the way to two doors. One straight ahead, which read “Fitness Centre” and the other, which beckoned him to a small foyer. The Red Hot Salon was the first door to the right.
This morning, as Daniel was finishing his eggs, which his wife for some reason had unceremoniously burnt because they had been arguing earlier. He stole a glimpse of the newspaper she had plopped down in front of him. An article about the horrible fire that had cindered the whole block years earlier. Almost everybody in the building had died, mainly from smoke inhalation.
His wife’s finger pointed to a line in the article. A hair salon had just opened up. She wanted to take advantage of their opening-day special. She said he had to drive her. He replied he had plans. She pointed to another ad in the paper. Beautification Special: make over, complete or partial, half price.
They argued and, in frustration, she yelled something about wrinkles and then added that he wouldn’t understand. He shrugged, said okay and asked how long she was planning to be.
She took a sip of her coffee and a bite of toast and said, without feeling, that she would be less than an hour. Diana Pike was punctual, sometimes to the point of annoyance. When she said less than an hour, Daniel believed her.
He took the door to the left. The salon was a surprisingly large place. but there were no basins in use, no tubs of curlers waiting to be part of some woman’s head, and no scissors snipping hair.
Somewhere in the distance, there was an explosion. The sound of a garbage truck roared in his brain.
At the very back of the Salon was a row of dryers, six in all. They stood like soldiers at attention. From each dryer, a thin pipe streamed into a larger pipe that ran along the wall, presumably into the next room.
Unlike the rest of the place, the dryers were in use. Middle-aged women, dressed younger than their age, sat silently like lifeless wax dolls, hands set gently across their laps as if dead. Stacks of unthumbed magazines sat quietly on a long transparent table. No cigarettes burned in glass ashtrays, no smoke filled the place.
A tall, blonde-haired young woman in a white backless leather dress sat with her hands folded at the front desk. She was busy explaining the Salon’s fifty-dollar Beautification Special to a rather nervous yet insistent middle-aged woman who had a layered scar looking like burnt oatmeal down the right side of her face.
“Please, miss. My husband says this is my last chance!”
“I’m sorry, ma’am, but we’re all booked.”
“Oh, please,” the woman said, the words slurring as they came out because the right side of her mouth was like hardened lava, “my husband is talking about divorce. After twenty-five years. Please, please, oh God, please. I’ll give you whatever you want.”
The receptionist smiled sympathetically. “Very well, I’ll see if we can squeeze you in. I’ll only be a moment. Please, take a look at our booklet while you’re waiting.” The woman looked over her shoulder and, seeing Pike. tried to hide her smile by turning her head away.
Pike took a seat. Headlines in the local newspaper sitting on the table stared up at him More Than a Dozen Dead in Fire. He sighed and instead picked up the Salon’s Beautification Booklet and began leafing through it.
Some booklet. It was several hundred pages thick and read like a Sears catalogue: women wearing peach-coloured coral reef bikinis, jeenz jumpsuits, green-coloured one-piece bathing suits, leather mini-tops, and ragged tees. There were photos of shapely women with parted hair styles, ponytails, hair-pinned to the side, hair frizzled or curled, hair covered by bandanas or held in place by head bands. Everything any middle-aged woman wished for was adorned on the glossy pages of the booklet. Every photo had its own booklet number. And a price tag that included three or more zeroes. A Hollywood facelift was cheaper.
And on the back cover was a moustached man giving a ringing endorsement, You have my personal guarantee as President of the Red Hot Salon. You’ll look younger in 60 minutes or less, or we’ll give you back your money — all of it!
The blonde receptionist returned to her desk and handed the older woman a slip of paper. The unscathed half of the older woman’s face drained of colour.
“My, that’s... that’s rather steep.”
The receptionist smiled politely. “Technically, you are jumping the queue, ma’am, and...”
“Very well,” the woman said with a tone of both relief and slight petulance, “I’m sure Donald will understand.”
The blonde smiled and escorted the middle-aged woman to the back of the Salon. When she returned, Pike dropped the booklet on the table and approached her desk. He was greeted with a long-lipped smile.
“Good morning, sir,” she said, admiring his unshaven face. “Can I help you?”
“My wife came in here earlier this morning for your Beautification Special. I was wondering if you could tell me if she was finished yet?
“Which Beautification Special would that be, sir?”
“We have several. One for hair, manicure, make-over...”
“Make-over, although she doesn’t really need it.”
The receptionist smiled patiently and continued. “Full Service, touch-up...”
“I’m not sure. The one that takes the least amount of time.”
“That would be our Touch-Up Special.”
She straightened the glasses on her long, sloped nose. “I’ll check the appointment book, if you like, sir. What time did she come in?”
“Nine o’clock,” he said. “Her name is Diana Pike.”
It took about ten minutes from the Pike house to this part of town by car. They had arrived at the Salon a few minutes before nine. He tried to kiss his wife’s cheek, but she had turned away while giving him a look, a worried one that said she suspected he was going to find someplace to drink while she was getting her hair done. He was in recovery. Three months.
Annoyed, he had told her that the bars weren’t open this early. So he decided to wait in the car. But after then minutes he started to get bored and looked for something interesting on the street around him. He watched two young women in short shorts waiting at the corner intersection.
“She should be finished by now, sir.” the blonde said plainly. “Our guarantee says 60 minutes or less. And that includes hair.”
Pike nodded. “I know. I read about it on the back of the booklet.”
He watched her eyes follow a long-nailed finger down a yellowed page.
“I’m sorry, sir. We don’t have a Diana Pike written down here anywhere.”
“I drove her here and have been parked across the street for almost two hours. She hasn’t come out in all that time.”
The blonde stood up. She was tall and muscular; her fingernails long and pink. Her legs were silky smooth and slender. Curves filled out her dress. Colourful rings adorned every finger.
“I’ll have a look out back if you’d like, sir.”
He nodded. “She’s five-foot two, with long, curly, chestnut-brown hair. She’s wearing a pink cut-away shoulder-top and calf-length pants Oh yeah, brown sandals too.”
The blonde looked at him for a moment, then went into the back. She wore silver-coloured high heels that reflected the fluorescent lights of the drying lamps. She walked to the back with a rather noticeable swagger.
Something flickered in his mind: in the morning, after breakfast, he and wife had argued about something. Their neighbour Shelly had been there, too. Diana was telling Shelly about something. He thought it was about taking the car. Going away. Going away in the car — the wagon — and giving Shelley a ride.
But Shelly had taken a taxi. Her appointment was earlier, at 8:30. So he drove Diana to the salon. He had dropped her off two hours ago.
Another roar echoed in his brain followed by what sounded like an elevator bell.
The receptionist returned a moment later.“I’m sorry, sir, there’s no one here fitting the description you gave me.”
He found it odd: the women under the dryers didn’t move or say anything. They wore blank, middle-aged smiles, and all had scars. They sat with their hands folded on their laps.
Pike craned his neck, trying to see into the back from the front desk. “Why do you have the back partitioned off like that?
The blonde stared at him. “Are you feeling all right, sir?
Copyright © 2017 by Walter Kwiatkowski