There was a time in Hudson, North Carolina, when a man would never walk into a beauty shop. But one day, in 1973, one did.
From where I’m sitting on top of the big trunk-style drink machine, the car that just pulled up looks like a new Camaro, maybe even a ’73.
“Now who on Earth is that?” Mama asks in a tone that stops the other three women in the beauty shop from chattering. “I’m not expecting anybody else until 4:30.”
I have to lean to the right to see around Mama and out the window, but what I see is worth the effort. A blond-haired man has gotten out of the car and is holding his hand over his eyes, against the sun, looking at the shop like maybe he wants to come in but can’t decide whether he’s brave enough.
“I declare,” Mama says. “It’s a man.”
The only men who would dare set foot in the shop are the ones who have to be there: the beauty supply salesman, the Tom’s snack man, the Pepsi man, even Daddy when he can’t avoid it.
The stranger finally decides to come on, looking back over his shoulder toward the road like he’s afraid somebody will see him.
The hairspray-heavy air in the shop crackles with anticipation.
The man stops outside the screen door and looks in, but we can’t really see his face in the shadows from the covered porch that connects the shop to our house. Mama has our neighbor Claudie in the styling chair. They both swivel for a better look. The other two women—one under a hairdryer with an ear turned out to hear all the conversation and the other sitting with permanent solution seeping into her head and pretending to read a True Confessions magazine—act like they’re used to seeing a man at the beauty shop, like it’s something they might see any time they get their hair done, but I can tell they’re on high alert.
He goes on to report that a friend of his had told him to stop at Mr. Hall’s Barber Shop in Hudson, which he did and found closed due to an emergency. “That’s right,” Mama says. “Mr. Hall’s grandmother died yesterday. She was 97. We’re all real sorry for the family.”
“Can I help you?” Mama asks, putting emphasis on “help.”
From the other side of the screen, the man says all in a rush that he has just come up from Spartanburg to interview for the assistant shipping manager’s position at the Godfrey’s Furniture Manufacturing plant up in Lenoir. I open my mouth to say that my daddy is the for-real shipping manager there, but Mama interrupts the man and tells me to hush even though not a sound has escaped my mouth. When the awkward moment of the man figuring out that Mama was talking to me and not him passes, he goes on to report that a friend of his had told him to stop at Mr. Hall’s Barber Shop in Hudson, which he did and found closed due to an emergency.
“That’s right,” Mama says. “Mr. Hall’s grandmother died yesterday. She was 97. We’re all real sorry for the family.”
The mood turns kind of somber for about three seconds, and then the man says he doesn’t know the area and when he saw her sign out front, he thought she might be kind enough to take a few minutes of her time to trim him up, seeing as how this is an important interview for him and he wants to appear groomed. Mama’s hands, which had been teasing Claudie’s hair the whole time, stop in the air. The customers all look at Mama, waiting to see what she will do, but when Mama looks back at each of them for some help with the decision, they start inspecting their fingernails, like they all suddenly have hangnails or thick cuticles that need attention.
Claudie, apparently realizing that her ’do wasn’t going to get done, says to Mama, “Winnie, I reckon I can set aside for a few minutes.” She shifts a bit, slides out from under Mama’s still hovering hands, and stands up. The styling chair sits there empty, sort of beckoning the man to open the door.
“Well, come on then,” Mama says. “I’ll have to get you done before Jo’s hair fries on those rods.”
He opens the door, and I feel a little shiver in my belly. He is a real hunk, kind of like Robert Redford with his shaggy hair and mustache, an honest-to-goodness Sundance Kid in my Mama’s beauty shop! I cross my legs and sit up taller, kick one espadrille off my foot a little bit and let it dangle from my toes. The other ladies have gotten a good eyeful as well. Jo tries to hide behind her True Confessions, but the one under the dryer can only sit there looking ashamed at having brush rollers all over her head.
He is a real hunk, kind of like Robert Redford with his shaggy hair and mustache, an honest-to-goodness Sundance Kid in my Mama’s beauty shop!
Sundance sits down in the styling chair, almost tenderly, like he knows a man’s behind shouldn’t be rubbing against the Naugahyde. Mama stiffens a little, but then her beauty school training kicks in and she snaps a fresh cape, slings it around Sundance’s neck, grabs her comb and scissors, and looks in the mirror. She spies me sitting on the drink box and looks surprised, like I hadn’t been perched there since the junior high bus dropped me off a half hour ago.
“Don’t you have homework to do?” she asks me.
I reach for my social studies book.
“In. The. House.”
The fact that she says each word in its own sentence instead of running them all together tells me that she won’t touch him until I leave. So. I. Do. I slide off the drink machine real slow, wriggle my foot back into the espadrille, and pick up my schoolbooks. I cast one last look at Sundance in the mirror. He seems to have shrunk a little bit under the styling cape, but then I get a good look at those blue eyes. I cock my head sideways, lick my upper lip, and smile. Mama clears her throat so hard I think she’s going to bust a vessel.
That night at dinner, while pulling the skin off his fried chicken, Daddy blurts out that a right nice-looking fellow from South Carolina came in for the assistant’s job this afternoon. He was pretty sharp, Daddy says, but he had lots of little hairs on his collar, like he’d just been to the barber’s.
Mama, between bites of green beans, catches her breath and cuts her eyes at me. I know she’s thinking that she should have been more careful about cleaning him up, disposing of the evidence. I know she’s also thinking I could give away this secret, but I don’t. I have heard enough stories in the beauty shop to know that this will come in handy later.
Then Daddy winks and says, “I hired him anyway.”
Mama exhales, Daddy flicks a chunk of margarine onto his baked potato, and I begin thinking about ways I can get myself into the furniture plant.
Daun Daemon grew up in the North Carolina foothills and spent many happy hours in her mama’s home beauty shop, which inspires much of her work. Her stories and poems have appeared in numerous journals, including Delmarva Review, Deep South Magazine, Third Wednesday, Typehouse Literary Review, Into the Void, and Amsterdam Quarterly. Her debut collection of poems is A Prayer for Forgiving My Parents (Kelsay Books, 2023). She teaches scientific communication at North Carolina State University and lives in Raleigh with her husband and three cats.