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Tales from Beauty School 2

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Peg is a licensed cosmetologist who owned her own salon. She writes about people she might have met and places she might have worked.


The old boxy suitcase would later serve as a table.

The old boxy suitcase would later serve as a table.

Airing the Dirty Laundry

Kathy and Becky sat at a table outside the laundry room. The stillness of the night was peppered with the churning of the machines. They sat without talking for a while before Kathy finally spoke.

"You really hit the jackpot at the thrift store today. Let me know when you go again. I’ll try to get away and go with you.”

"Yeah, it was half-price day,” Becky answered. “Even sweeter, some of the clothes still had department store tags.”

“I love a good bargain,” they said at the same time giggling like they had in years past. Sitting in the dark laughing and talking, it seemed almost like old times. Then, Kathy looked up at the balcony and saw Sid’s face in the glass. Her eyes darted downward and her face took on the sullen look she wore most of the time now. The machines clicked to the spin cycle as she stood up.

“Where are you going?” Becky glanced at her friend’s thin frame. Only a couple of years ago, she was the envy of other women with a voluptuous, curvy body. Now, even under the loose-fitting sheath dress she wore, her ribs showed.

“I better get upstairs,” Kathy said, glancing at the now-vacant window. Becky’s eyes followed her gaze as she pieced together the puzzle of changes in her long-time companion. “I’m working noon-to-nine tomorrow but I'll come in early. Maybe we can grab lunch in the mall?"

"Sure," she said. "I'll be up in a bit with the clothes." Her thoughts drifted to the new job she'd start tomorrow and an apartment she'd found near the mall. Management seemed friendly, promising that the fresh paint would be done and she'd be allowed to move in the following day after her first day on the job. Her thoughts drifted to how tense things had become at Kathy’s over the few days she'd stayed with them. Sid's mother kept mostly to herself in the guest bedroom, emerging only for meals and one program she liked on TV. Kathy struggled with learning her Mother-in-law's language. She longed to communicate with her beyond hand signals and obscure gestures. Sid seemed always in a bad mood, skulking, glaring, and bossing the two women around in both languages.

The dryer clicked off and Becky spent the evening folding her new clothes, packing them inside a giant suitcase also from the thrift store. She smirked at the image of a gorilla from the old TV commercial.

“Samsonite," she mumbled. "Made to withstand almost anything.”

Behind the closed door of Kathy and Sid’s bedroom, she could hear angry voices.

They sat at a table listening to the swish of the washers at work.

They sat at a table listening to the swish of the washers at work.

Need Some Backstory? Chapter 1 of the Tale

  • Tales from Beauty School
    She never dreamed she'd end up in that job. What she discovered once she started would open her eyes to an entirely new world.

First Impressions

In the morning, Kathy walked with Becky to put the hard-side suitcase into the already-stuffed hatchback.

"Good luck with your first day at work,” she said. Kathy’s eyes remained on the pavement as she added, “I'll see you at lunch." They stood awkwardly for a moment before Becky pulled her friend into a hug. Kathy waved as her friend drove off, then disappeared back up the stairs.

Becky parked next to a grassy divider with a tall lamppost. It was before nine but the sun was already turning the vacant parking lot into an oven. She turned off the car and glanced around at the collection of lamps, books, sheets, and kitchen gear – all that remained of her house-full of things.

She took one backward glance as she approached the glass doors. A uniformed guard inside pointed to his ID badge. She held up the temporary pass they'd given her at the salon.

"Morning, Miss," he said clicking open the lock. His shirt was starched with creases pressed into the blue fabric. The door swung open and she ducked in under his arm.

She glanced at his badge. "Morning, Sergeant." It was good to know that the place was monitored.

The mall was eerily quiet without the din of customers and piped-in music. Her footsteps echoed all the way to the salon entrance which was blocked by an iron grating. Lights click on and gates clanked open in other stores along the corridor. She peered into the darkness beyond the front desk and saw a row of hydraulic chairs along one wall. Suddenly, a tiny woman appeared next to her.

"I'm Sandy," she said. "You must be the new girl." Her eyes moved from Becky’s face down to her shoes in a slow study.

Becky thought, Girl? Kathy had told her this wouldn't be like working at the bank. She'd need to make adjustments. She forced a smile and said, "I'm Becky."

"Yeah, I know your name already," Sandy wore a solid red dress with red slip-on pumps and a bulbous red necklace. With her back to Becky, she jammed a key into the padlock on the gate, then, wrestled to shove the grating aside. "You could help me with this," she growled.

At the mall

At the mall

New Looks

Together they folded the grating into a compartment along one side of the opening and fastened it with a latch. Inside the store she switched on a sign that flashed OPEN in bright blue letters. A man followed them through the entrance. She recognized him as one of the dueling stylists from the day before.

"Oh," Grant said, dropping his backpack on the counter, "here's the girl with the Penney’s haircut again."

"Grant, her name is Becky. It's her first day. Try to be nice.”

"Well, if she's going to work here, we'll have to do something about that hair." He grabbed his backpack and motioned for Becky to follow. She turned to Sandy for an explanation.

"Looks like he's claimed you," she said pulling the register cash from the floor safe. "Come back when you're done."

Becky followed him to the back of the salon. Along the way he pointed out different stylist's chairs rolling his eyes at some and making faces at others.

"Here's the coffee and there's a refrigerator for water and drinks. I wouldn't recommend putting any food in there.” He wrinkled his nose. “It reeks." Directing her to his favorite shampoo chair among a dozen that lined the wall, he wrapped her neck with towels then turned on the water with a splash.

For someone who seemed that gruff, he had a surprisingly soft touch as he massaged her scalp and rinsed out the shampoo. He lifted her head and held it while he ran the water around the back of her neck.

"Don't you just hate it when they leave shampoo in your hair?" He continued with a non-stop stream of sweet talk, his super power for wooing new clients with unexpected charm. "There you go." He wrapped her hair in a fresh towel and offered her his hand. "Let's get busy."

Grant whipped out a blue and white striped cutting cape and turned the styling chair away from the mirror. Then he stood a few feet off and studied her, his hand on his chin. "I know just what you need."

His chattiness suddenly silent, he began sculpting her wet hair into sections, remaining focused even as the other morning stylists began to arrive and set up their stations. They knew better than to disturb him once his creative juices were flowing.

As if on cue, the instant he set down his styling comb and handed Becky a mirror, Sandy's voice broke into the music. "Grant, your 9:30 appointment is in." Click, crackle and a return to the blaring music. He spun the chair around with a flourish to let her see the back of her new style and let the chair down.

"Make sure you tell customers who did your hair," he instructed. And with that, he escorted her to the front desk where his client waited. "She's all yours, Sandy."

The Scene Stealer

Training and Tears

Sandy gave her new do a quick glance before launching into instruction about how to book appointments, what to say when the phone rang. There were four lines lit up and on hold. Sandy picked up each line in turn and said the same thing.

"Thank you for holding. Did you have a particular stylist in mind?" The system was efficient and from the looks of the appointment book, the stylists would have a busy day. Customers were booked every 30 minutes for haircuts and an hour for chemical services. Soon the salon took on the familiar odor of perm solution along with the noise of 20 blow dryers as the first barrage of customers finished up.

Becky caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror behind the shelves of hair products and was surprised at the transformation of her appearance. Stylists escorted their finished customers to the front with a ticket for services, then, quickly greeted their next appointment and paused for a brief consultation before sending them to the shampoo room.

Two hours went by like lightning as Becky learned how to use the public address system, how to ring up sales and schedule appointments along with a barrage of product knowledge for retail sales.

Around11:00 am Kathy appeared at the entrance to the salon beside her tall, lean husband. He whispered something into Kathy's ear and stormed off in a huff.

"Tell me what's going on," Becky demanded. Kathy struggled to hold back tears.

I'm Not In Love

© 2020 Peg Cole

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