Isle of Wigs

As she sat for her first time in one of the pink Barcaloungers at the infusion center, Sarah saw how arbitrary it was, like passengers on an airline flight. Were the loungers pink because—so many women? Or was it cheaper, the pink? She took the advice of the advice nurse at her HMO and asked the women where they went. She asked a yellow-faced woman, she asked a high school senior, she asked a woman who stole three lollipops from the front desk and held them unrepentantly, like cigarettes. Everybody said the same: The Isle of Wigs.

She bought one wig the first day, and then went back a couple of weeks later and bought another. Two wigs turned out not to be so many. She felt better, doing something positive to help herself. But when it came down to real money, Sarah wasn’t willing to put out cash to save her life. How did she know what life was worth? Isn’t that what good insurance was for? The faith healer her son Doug found through the gym wasn’t covered by her HMO. Plus, he was a Catholic, which made Sarah wonder what her own mother, dead of Cancer for thirty years, would think. Would she be happy or even more furious to see her daughter saved by that kind of faith?

Sarah was horrified when her son bought her a German alarm clock so she wouldn’t be late for all her appointments; she took it right back to Longs to exchange it. But the bright aisles distracted her (she needed a new bathmat, measuring cups and spot remover and a replacement head for her electric toothbrush, they wanted ten dollars! But you could buy two for seventeen). Toys reminded her of her grandchildren, perfumes reminded her of old, sick women, and cameras and film reminded her of the boxes of unsorted pictures in her garage in the desert that showed the arc of her life so far. Nothing reminded her of the hour until she reached into her purse for her lipstick and found the black clock ticking.

Time! Her children said she was wasting her time, looking through the paper every day at the sales in the stores when for her own peace of mind she should be putting her affairs in order. But what was she supposed to do about the bonds and certificates? Should she pay down the mortgage when those old notes came due? It was a terrible mess and nobody could help her, nobody. Her clubhouse had called, they were sorry about her personal setbacks, but the association was about to cite her for unwatered landscaping. (The Rosens had put green rocks in their yard; somebody else had paved theirs all over with Astroturf. It didn’t look bad—and compared to the expense of plants!) She was supposed to find an hour a day to relax and visualize health, and fertilize the orange trees, but where was the time?

“Every day you’re not in chemotherapy is a day wasted,” the nurse in Dr. Frank’s office told her, adding to the pressure. But you couldn’t have chemotherapy every day.

At the infusion center (twenty minutes late) she arranged herself in one of the titan-sized pink Barcaloungers, which reminded Sarah of pedicures at the Waxing Manicure—improving forces. All you had to do was lie back. The good nurse, Julie, sunk a needle into the port in her chest which Dr. Frank said wouldn’t hurt after the first time, but did. Why wouldn’t it? It throbbed like a heart, demanded attention like a child. Sarah dozed—they must put something in with the drugs, she thought—and found herself beyond the padded chair in the jungle with a dirt floor and a green smell among wild animals too busy with their own animal lives to hurt her. A black chimpanzee lay on his back while his mate pulled fleas or lice from his ear with her thick, human fingers. Sarah opened her eyes and closed them again—not dreaming, just thinking. Last summer, she’d studied Ape Language & Culture with her best friend Sophie at the Elderhostel in Seattle. The food was to die for. The famous Jewish poet Allen Ginsberg’s mother had been there—nice lady, Naomi Ginsberg. (“Allen Ginsberg’s mother died in 1956,” her son told Sarah, always eager to specifically contradict her, although where was he in 1956? In diapers!) Sarah had sat next to Naomi the night they watched a film in which monkeys swung from manzanita branches, babies clinging for their lives to the hairy breasts. But an awful thing happened in Seattle—Sophie died, a heart attack in the dining room.

Sarah woke horribly chilled in her chemo chair, Cisplatin dripping into the port in her chest, to find that the technician with one eye had given her snack to an older, sicker woman who was Chinese and seemed confused—by America, Sarah guessed.

“Why did you give her my snack?” Sarah asked, wounded.

“You were sleeping so nicely,” the technician said meanly.

“I had a nightmare!” Sarah told her.

A little stick figure—it was the good nurse, Julie—brought Sarah orange juice and a cookie, chatted about her vacation coming up. Her husband wanted to take her to the Panama Canal, even though she’d been there already during a different marriage. Sarah frowned and said, “Why don’t you go to Israel?”

“Barry doesn’t want to go to Israel. He’s had two heart attacks already, and he says, ‘I want to see the Panama Canal before I die.’ What am I going to do? Besides, they’re fighting in Israel. It isn’t a good time.”

“They’re always fighting,” Sarah told her. “It’s never a good time. But when you go, you’ll see it’s a good time.”

She couldn’t go after the chemo—she went home and went to bed—but the next afternoon Sarah drove to the Home Depot and picked out forty dollars worth of hot weather blooms, showy things that looked good right now, but tomorrow, who knew? She’d rushed out in a hurry, put a pink bandana on her head; she was bald as an egg. The woman who rang her up, gorgeous girl, thirty years old, winked at Sarah, and picked up her hair for a second as if it were a hat.

“Oh, my God,” Sarah said.

Forty dollars was the least of it. She didn’t even have the energy to call the handyman to ask him to come and put in the plants. The chemo brought her platelets down. She tried to eat half a bagel and a little spinach salad and read the newspaper—but it made her sick, looking at the pictures from Israel of the blown-up bus. People talking as if they were used to it, as if they could accept such a dangerous life. No! She would not accept it. The twelve-year-old boy being carried off in Gaza by his schoolmates, his eyes rolled up into his head. She looked at him in the newspaper; he was dead. His friends with their bookbags still on their backs carried him out of the picture. One of the boys hung back—maybe scared the same thing could happen to him. When Sophie died, Sarah had hung back. Sophie sat down and said, “Look, corn bread!” then turned over her chair, and landed on the floor. Sarah would never forget what she saw. Sophie’s ankles horribly blue and swollen. The same thing could happen to her; she would never accept it.

Dr. Frank’s office called, trying to change her next appointment for sooner. “What, he’s going out of town?” Sarah asked the receptionist.

“No, no—”

“So he thinks I’m not going to make it to Thursday?” She shifted her weight on her puffy slippers, but wrote the new date down on her calendar, which was thick with appointments with Dr. Frank and the clinic and the periodontist (teeth were important—the only part of her skeleton that showed!) and her children’s birthdays just a year and a week apart, and now, finally, thank God, her two grandchildren’s birthdays.

While she was already by the phone she called the handyman. He came by a few hours later. He hardly spoke any English. Sarah explained that she wanted him to dig up all the dirt in front of the house and lay black plastic under the white rock to keep the weeds down. Not too much dirt, she told him in her Spanish. (Actually, what she said was not too much thing, pointing to the dirt. It was hard to get through.) Si, si, pronto, senora, he told her, and then went away without doing any work at all.

She walked down the hall to her bedroom in her slippers, her hemorrhoids burning and jarring on the concrete slab with the Mexican pavers on top that had seemed like an attractive idea at the time. She lay down on her bed with her hands at her sides. She put earphones in her ears and switched on her relaxation tape. “You are walking on a beautiful beach along the ocean,” the actress said. “A fresh breeze is blowing. The breeze smells of fresh air and flowers, feel the fresh air enter your nose and bring relaxation to your whole head. Feel your eyes relax, feel your nose relax, feel your mouth relax…” The port hummed in her chest. Sarah hated the beach; the salt made her hair frizz. But now—she had no hair. This tape was her favorite because the actress’s voice was so calm. Sarah closed her eyes, folded her hands over her heart, and slept.

She woke up with blue-green, mustard-colored nausea floating in front of her eyes. Her daughter Iris had told her she should smoke some marijuana.

“Oh, my God,” Sarah had said, astonished. “You think I want to get lung cancer?” But did Iris listen? She brought two marijuana cigarettes in a Baggie, which Sarah made her flush down quick.

She studied a yellow-blue hematoma on her arm. The technician with one eye who took her blood made it; Sarah had never trusted that one. Who ever heard of a technician with one eye? The other eye was glass, always looking away from you. (You expect people with some terrible affliction to be kinder, Sarah thought. But why should they be?)

And speaking of trust and her children, when they came to visit they brought her things she didn’t need or want, and her son stole things, as if she were already dead. From the big box in the garage he stole the best picture of her ever, posing with her husband Nat’s big pumpkins that year. He also stole the biggest letter she ever got. It was from Nat when he was in the army, typed on a special big typewriter on special extra-big paper, two feet wide and three feet long. The letter began, “Dearest Heart of Mine, I am about to start the largest letter of my career,” and went on about how it was too late for her to turn back, plans had been made (his plans!), the tickets bought. It was a young man’s letter, filled with so much language of love she had to make XXXXXXXs over long portions of it even before Doug and Iris were born (because she always felt she would have children, and she might be too busy then to remember). Nat’s letter was a secret for her eyes only, although now even she had forgotten exactly what the secret was, what words of love he had used, exactly, and Doug, who was ambitious and secretive, had rolled up the letter and stolen it, and taken it home where his children might see.

“Did you take that picture of the pumpkins and my big letter?” she asked him directly when he came to see her.

“They’re safe at my place,” he said. “You had everything loose in a box in the garage.”

“I knew where it all was!” she objected.

“And now you still know where it all is,” he told her.

At the store where he picked up his mail he’d met the secretary of a famous actress who cured her dog of liver cancer with shark cartilage she got from a woman in New Zealand. Doug had sent away for it—at his own expense, why not, if it was legal, he was a lawyer—and twenty brown bottles arrived UPS with black eyedroppers in them, but no instructions. The bottles looked to Sarah like poison. She kept them in a wicker basket in the den, where she kept the unfinished, unfinishable business of taxes and estate plans, things she thought she might do sometime while she watched the stream of death and terror on TV.

Among her papers she found an old train ticket from New York to Los Angeles. When the war was over Sarah’s husband-to-be went ahead to California—his family was there—to start work as a machinist for the Navy. Sarah took the train across the country a month later—ran away from her mother, from home—that was her biggest adventure. She was twenty-two years old. She had a suitcase she’d bought in Times Square and hidden under her desk at her office, a couple of sandwiches and apples she’d taken—her mother would say stolen—from home. She had her last paycheck from Christian Records, uncashed, in her purse. She could never go back.

Nat had sent her train ticket together with his extra-large letter. Fortunately, Sarah always picked up the mail herself, since her mother worked until six—she was a seamstress on Fourteenth Street. Sarah, who was then twenty-two, had a job as a secretary for the Christian Record Company—all Christians, but they hired Sarah anyway and were nice enough to her. She felt bad she couldn’t give them notice, but her plan had to be top-top secret. The truth was, the largeness of the letter unnerved her. It reminded her of the enormity of the step she was about to take—running away across the country to elope with a man. Her mother would never speak to her again, Sarah knew; for the rest of their lives this would be a rock at the bottom of both their hearts. Who besides her mother, who had nobody else, nobody in the world, loved her that much?

For three nights on the train, she sat up in her coach seat and felt the train pulling her away. On the last night, a soldier bought her dinner on the train. He ordered pork in a cream sauce for both of them without asking—and two bottles of Schlitz beer. Sarah had never eaten meat and milk together, and never pork (she’d drunk beer, once), but the soldier didn’t know, he was trying to be generous, and Sarah was hungry, and this was her first adventure, her new life, and so she ate the dinner and afterward he was a little bit forward and she was sick in the train, sick all the way to Los Angeles and when she met Nat at Union Station she was still sick and the city looked pink and yellow under the palm trees, and even Nat had a strange color, and he took her to his parents’ house, where she had a tiny room of her own overlooking a wall of blue delphiniums. A few days later they were married.

Sarah’s daughter, Iris, knew a lady who had cured herself. She took a coffee enema every morning and ate nothing but fresh vegetables she ground up herself in an expensive juicer. She couldn’t ever eat another dairy product as long as she lived. Iris arranged for Sarah to meet this woman on the sidewalk outside Iris’s building. The air seemed yellow; an orange sun hung low in a silver, smoky sky.

Sarah climbed awkwardly down Iris’s steep steps wearing a pink sweatshirt that read “I Love Primates” across the front. Iris was wearing a baby blue peasant blouse that revealed the brightly-colored tattoo that bloomed in a broad circle of dim color around her navel. Iris said, “Greta, this is my mother Sarah. Mom, this is my friend Greta.”

“It is a pleasure to meet you,” Greta said.

“Likewise,” said Sarah.

Greta had two large dogs on leashes—mastiffs, Iris had warned. She unsnapped the leashes while she talked to Sarah and let the dogs run all over the neighbors’ lawn. Greta, it turned out, was German. Sarah had never, to her knowledge, stood so close to a German person before. She stood a little closer maybe than was necessary, as if the health of a woman who had saved herself were an airborne thing, a good germ, or like a hair Greta might shed from her perfect helmet, a sacred hair.

Greta wore a black and white checked blazer, a white blouse with button covers striped black and white, huge, round black-framed glasses with rose-tinted lenses, and a cap of yellow hair that curved under at her chin. Sarah had flung on a wig for this meeting, thank God—her modified shag. (Sometimes she let down and wore just a bandana, in the heat.) She felt the sun shining down on her head, and she felt her own new hair growing in underneath the wig, pushing up against the web of another woman’s hair.

“So Dr. Santino is treating you?” Sarah asked. Jesus Santino was the famous doctor Iris had found out about—from Greta obviously—and was so gung-ho.

“Dr. Santino is not treating you,” Greta said. “You take the regimen and treat yourself. You cure yourself. You totally change your life.”

“Change my life?” Sarah said.

“You eliminate poisons—dairy, salt, meat.”

“No dairy? Even lowfat, lactose-free? My doctor says I need the calcium.”

A sting in Sarah’s mouth brought back the taste of the cream cheese her mother used to buy for her in the street on Saturday afternoons in Brooklyn. Sarah ate it like a Popsicle, from a stick. (She was an only child, her mother dead thirty years; nobody remembered that pleasure but herself.)

“Dairy is poison,” Greta told her. “And your doctor says you’ll be a skeleton in three months. You want to listen to him?”

“I never had to worry about salt. I have the cholesterol of a thirteen year old.”

(Here she was, thought Sarah, bargaining with a German woman! A book Iris gave her said that was the beginning of death.)

“This too is what your doctor says?”

“Sure,” said Sarah.

Greta looked up at the sky through her big black rose-tinted glasses and made a screaming sound, “AAAAGH!” Then she said, “Listen, you don’t want to cure yourself, don’t do it. The regimen isn’t for everybody, but I wanted to see my grandchildren grow up, you know? So I go to Dr. Santino. My doctor has killed me off already with his chemotherapy. I’ve lost fifty pounds and I’m supposed to die in two weeks. So I buy myself a juicer. I eat nothing but vegetable juice I make myself. This is five years ago. I go in once in a while and get my platelets counted, I get a marker. And no cancer! I’m not talking you into anything. I’m just telling my experience. You spend four hours a day in the kitchen, juicing it all up. Every morning you wake up and you take coffee enema to purge. This is every morning for the rest of your life.”

Sarah watched the German woman’s enormous dogs dig their claws into the neighbor’s turf lawn, which was rolled out across the front yard like a green rug.

“Oh, my God,” she said.

She was her mother’s only child. The way they ate in those days, when food was love! Her mother made latkes and borscht with sour cream, and stewed fruit with more sour cream, not much meat because of the expense but lots of dairy. Her mother bought cream cheese on a stick (she pulled the money out of her knee-high stockings) and they ate it walking home, just like Popsicles. Her mother poured creamy milk from the bottle into a glass. The milkman came every day to the door. Sarah’s mother would walk in from work and tie an apron around her waist and start cooking. Two hours she cooked, just for supper. She set one place at the wobble-legged table, and set the food down and watched Sarah eat. She never talked, not really, just stray phrases in Yiddish about food and sleep and fabric and fit, because in addition to working in the shirtwaist factory and keeping a kosher kitchen, Sarah’s mother made all their clothes, and took in extra sewing. But there was no single conversation Sarah could remember—where their thoughts were exchanged. What her children wanted from her she couldn’t tell them. She didn’t even know what town her mother came from—in Poland, was it? Or Russia? Who knew? Then she ran away to Nat—it was too late to change the plans, everything had been arranged—and she never saw or spoke to her mother again. When her children asked about her life, about their history, she reached into her mind for happy things to tell them. “We ate cream cheese in the street, just like a Popsicle on a stick,” she told them. But they, especially Iris, were never satisfied.

Sarah went inside and sat down on the couch, which puffed up cold air. She opened up her book on surviving. Iris moved around the kitchen, making smoothies in the blender. Sarah appreciated this gesture for her health, only she wished Iris wouldn’t use bananas; they had 100 calories. When the noise of the blender stopped Sarah read out loud to Iris about a toll-free number in Washington, D.C. “I can send my medical record number to the office of the Armed Forces. They have state of the art cancer equipment. There is no cost,” she called into the kitchen.

Iris came out with a juice glass Sarah remembered getting free years ago with a five-dollar purchase at Lucky’s. She reached for the glass carefully. All these articles were family history.

“Is that all you got from that book?” Iris said. “You’ve been reading the same paragraph for three days.”

“It haunts me,” Sarah said.

“What haunts you?” Iris asked.

Sarah’s voice rose. “Let me do it my way, that’s all!”

She closed her eyes. She remembered certain stories she’d saved, and never told her children. One time her mother took her on a bus trip to the factory where her father worked. It was in another state—Connecticut, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, somewhere like that. They stayed overnight in a boarding house. In the morning they walked to the factory where Sarah’s father worked and her mother asked for him. After a long time he came out front, smoking, and right away she started yelling at him in Yiddish for him to come back, to send money. He said, in English, “You can’t come around here,” and sent them away. Sarah, pulling on her mother’s arm, was glad. He came home sometimes, though, for a week or a month. When he went away again, the women from the neighborhood would take her mother to have a “hot bath”: that was how you got rid of babies. Her mother was sometimes sick and weak from her “hot baths,” yet Sarah remembered her working all the time, taking in extra sewing she did at night, cooking with two sets of dishes, everything kosher. She was strong as an ox, and before Sarah ran away she depended on her mother completely.

Why hadn’t her mother taken a “hot bath” to get rid of Sarah? Because she was, Sarah was, her mother’s Love, her Hope.

(Years after her mother died, Sarah’s father turned up in California and took two rooms in a not-bad hotel downtown. He brought with him a few old sewing machines, which Sarah saw in his room when she and Nat drove downtown to pick him up. They drove him out to the Valley for a family supper so the children could meet their grandfather, but she could hardly bear to look at him or speak to him. “How could you be so rude to your own father?” Iris asked her later. “You embarrassed all of us.”)

Iris drove Sarah to Dr. Frank’s office in her funny old car.

“Why don’t you get an automatic? It’s easier,” Sarah told her. Then she said, “How many earrings have you got in your ears?”

“Nine earrings,” Iris said. “Ten holes.”

Dr. Frank made them wait. Iris had brought along pictures of the trip she and her boyfriend, Ted, had taken to Mexico with another couple. The other woman had long, red hair, beautiful hair, almost too much of it, like a wig. Someone—Iris, Sarah guessed—had pasted bubbles over the heads in the photographs, which were supposed to show what everybody was thinking. In one picture the four of them were sitting at a table around enormous plates of food and bottles of beer. A bubble over Ted’s head read, “Are we eating again?” In another photograph Iris was standing in front of a pink shack. A bubble over her head read, “You see old-world charm—I see a bathroom down the hall.”

Iris rattled on about Mexico. Sarah waited, listening for her name. As Iris showed her pictures of hotels, restaurants and pastries, Sarah said, “That looks expensive. That looks fattening.” Of the countryside she said, “That looks dirty.”

She looked around her, at the strangers. Their heads shone, or they had just shadows of new, baby hair, or else they wore wigs. Most of the hair was blonde. Whose wouldn’t be, who got to choose?

While Iris talked on about Mexico Sarah watched a scrawny woman with baby hair jump up out of her seat and walk to the front desk. She lifted the glass knob of a jar of lollipops, pulled one out, unwrapped it, and stuck it into her mouth. Walking past Sarah she winked and, removing the lollipop, held it like a cigarette between two fingers. “What the hell, right?” she said.

Sarah shrank back, horrified by this series of gestures, by the way the woman picked her out, winked at her. After her first round of chemo Iris had told her how beautiful she looked without her wig, how her face looked wise and sculpted. But Iris had also said Sarah looked great the year she separated from Iris’s father, those years before he died when Sarah was so independent, and went back to school for her A.A. degree.

“You’re crazy!” she told Iris. “I didn’t sleep for a year! I got those shadows under my eyes that never went away!” She hated it when Iris or Doug brought up that rough patch. Every marriage had one.

“Why do you bring that up?” Sarah had demanded. “Now he’s gone, who cares?” Looking back, it was the years of marriage that counted. Then, ten years ago, he died. He never got to the stage of bargaining. He stayed angry. Iris brought him CDs of the operas he used to like, but he couldn’t stand them anymore.

The woman with the lollipop struck up a conversation with the people waiting near her. Then they were all leaning forward, talking at once suddenly. Sarah was proud to have her daughter with her in this place—it reflected well to have your adult children care about what happened to you—but Sarah found herself tuning out Iris’s talk about Chiclets and Incas, actually leaning across Iris’s lap a little bit, her ear drawn to these others, even though they weren’t talking about Selenium and Taxall. “In Kindergarten I felt I was a special soul,” a man said, who was very bad off, missing one leg. “My father would drag me in a sled to school, my brother and I would share a pair of mittens to keep our hands warm. I remember the tears on my cheeks on a snowy day, I loved that girl so much, what was her name, five years old.”

“I still think I’m special,” the tiny woman with the lollipop said. “You know, God used to come into my head and talk to me, sit down inside me and say, ‘Well, Lila, how are we doing?’ That went on until I had my children. I don’t blame Him for giving me a little trouble, He knows I can handle it. Or else, there’s some other reason.”

The man in the wheelchair said, “I used to think I was solid all the way through. No organs, no bones. Same on the inside as on the outside. Skin all through. Not so far off—now I got no bones,” he said, and they all laughed.

Iris put away her photographs and picked up a magazine. Sarah took a pen and a pad from her purse and made a list of things she needed: a new pink bathmat, an ironing board that would unfold easier, a salad spinner with a cord you pulled to dry the lettuce almost automatically, a lemon reamer, photograph albums for the day she finally got around to putting her pictures in books, which would be harder for her children to steal without her noticing. When the good nurse Julie came to the door with her clipboard and said Sarah’s name, Sarah stood up automatically, as if, somewhere, a button had been pushed. Iris said, “Why don’t you complain, Mom? You let him walk all over you, keeping you here for two hours. You’re the client.” But Sarah didn’t think of herself as a client; she thought of herself as a patient, and anyway, she didn’t mind waiting. She waited for Dr. Frank with a kind of attention she couldn’t gather at any other time, as if there might be some extra credit for waiting well. She walked behind Iris, who walked next to Julie down the narrow hall past the chemo patients, who today were streaming into the halls, sitting under their bags of Cisplatin and Adriamycin hanging from the ceiling. Sarah felt a strange longing to be with them, all of them having their chemotherapy together, and Dr. Frank in his office nearby. She had hated chemo, the depression, the anxiety and the sickness, finding herself at Longs as if waking up from a dream, with a shoe tree in her cart. After the first time the count of platelets in her blood fell so low she needed three transfusions, and she worried to Dr. Frank that she might get AIDS. Dr. Frank said, “Don’t worry about AIDS. You’ve just got Cancer, Sarah.” And now she wanted it, she felt a hunger for the wire in her Broviac, and the antidote and the hydration and the nausea. She wanted to be there, with the other cancer patients doing their protocols together, in the hall.

Dr. Frank told her how well she was taking the chemo, how determined she was, that was all good. But her white blood count was down to almost zero and the red was down too. Shots would bring the count up some, but he wanted to be truthful with her. He couldn’t do the chemo anymore. He could try Taxall again, but he wasn’t going to lie to her. They’d tried Taxall already. The idea had been to give her some time.

“Right!” she assured him. “Time’s what I want.”

Iris drove her home. Sarah tried to remember which of her children had scarlet fever, which one would eat only tuna fish. It was so long ago she was a young mother with a child in her arms, the legs wrapped around her waist, hanging from her hip. (First Doug, then Iris.) But the years she had herself been a child still felt more real than the years she had been a mother. She thought of her mother brushing out her hair at night by the warm stove, she thought—more dimly, of herself, brushing Iris’s hair. How, last summer, the female ape had leaned into the male, plucking at his hairy shoulders. And how Sophie, the night before she died, sat in their dormitory room in Seattle after dinner, in her robe, brushing her hair in front of the mirror.

“I want to take that clock back to Longs if you’ve got time,” she told Iris.

“Sure,” Iris said.

Iris took the clock into Longs to exchange. “I know you, you’ll lose yourself for an hour,” she said. Once she had disappeared through the electronic doors, Sarah climbed out of the car and walked along the L of the mini-mall. The Isle of Wigs was kitty-corner from the Waxing Manicure. The Korean girls did the best waxing. They had a private room in back where you lay down on a cot covered with a clean white sheet. The girls were young, some of them just sixteen or seventeen. They leaned over you and brushed out your eyebrows with a tiny black brush, running the end of a finger over the down on your upper lip. They put their hands on your ankle, very steady—they had to be. But Sarah didn’t need them anymore.

She tugged at the knot at the nape of her neck and the kerchief fluttered and released her. She stuffed it into her purse. Her leg buzzed beneath her. She felt the sun beating down on her head. It felt good, the hot sun beaming down from the blue indifferent sky.

She opened the door and went inside. The woman behind the counter had on the same baseball cap she’d worn last time—and the time before that. Across the bill of the cap were the words: “I’m out of Estrogen—and I’ve got a gun.”

“I know you. You bought the bob,” the woman said.

“And the shag!” Sarah told her, hearing the shrillness in her voice. She had a right to be here. She walked quickly to the rows of Styrofoam heads and stood before them, looking at the chiseled faces, the empty eyes, the white lips, the human hair.

“And now you want something a little more—”

Sarah didn’t turn around. “I don’t want anything!” she said. “Just looking.”