What do you want, he said. The way he looked at me. What do you want? He said it again as if maybe I hadn’t heard.
Cut short, I said.
Pale skin, he said. Light brown hair.
Cut short, I said. Fine as feathers.
His face was an old oil painting, his eyes were from some other century. And there I was, like a house with its beams exposed. He put out a hand and although I understood the transaction, understood that this was part of how it had to be, I winced. He said nothing. Scissors in one hand, his other hand hovered.
Fine as feathers, he said.
I think you will laugh at me, when I tell you about it. I think you’ll go Freudian, talk about blades and skin and mutilation, sex and mother issues.
A hair cut, you say.
I felt, I say. I felt it had something more. He wasn’t the usual. You know. Effeminate, you say, and smirk. You smirk as if you know all this better than I do. I didn’t want to use that word, I say, and turn to look through the window into the street because you aren’t being nice, and I need you to be nice. Because you have a cruelty in you that comes through when what I need is kindness.
He raised his scissors and I closed my eyes. As I sat there I heard a bird and the sound came closer. The bird was singing, and the motion of him cutting, of him severing the ends, fitted in with the bird’s odd sounds. As if he and the bird were dancing and my hair was dancing with them. Even though my eyes were shut, I saw this bird, its great plumage, its red throat. I saw him turn to the bird, still cutting my hair. And then I was outside and looking in at myself. And then I was the bird.
You have very little difficulty interpreting the dream. I know you think you sound sympathetic. I know you think you sound a great many things.
You are full of fear, you say to me. You long for wings, you long for your chains to be cut.
You are smug.
But who is he? I say, looking at you, looking into you as if to beg for something more like me, something more familiar.
He’s just a conduit, you say.
What if he’s God, I say, and then I wish I hadn’t, I want to stuff the words back in. Your look then is everything. Your look peels back my skin and I know we will never make it through this.
I was the bird then, and you were in the chair. He looked to me as if he wanted me to say something, to make some sound. I knew what he wanted. I opened my beak and it poured forth, and it came from something so deep inside, a sort of singing speech and so he cut and cut and cut some more. And then, when he had shorn your head, he moved the scissors closer. Closer to your neck, that pale blue vein. And you, looking in the mirror, didn’t see. You, admiring, had a wall which kept out all danger. I knew, when he turned to me again, that he was asking me. All I had to give was a sign. The tip of the blade, right by your neck. Metal on skin.