A Storyby Michael Croley
Alice is nearly finished with her father. They have spent this morning in quietude except for the crisp sounds of grooming—spritzes of water, the snip of scissors—hardly speaking a word to each other. She planned on telling him she was moving out of the house, that it was time for him to come back home and take over the farm again, but when he arrived late, eyes puffy and bloodshot, smelling of Nicorette gum and too much aftershave, and she hugged him, he felt thinner and smaller than the last time she saw him, and she was stifled. She went about cutting his hair, thinking the entire time how to broach the subject. Now, just as she readies herself, Angie Johnson comes ambling through the door of the salon. She’s a chatterbox and the sight of her, though usually unwelcome, brings a grateful reprieve for Alice.
“Well, look here,” Mrs. Johnson says. “Amon Hampton. How are you doing this morning?”
“I’m fine, Angie. And yourself?” Alice feels her father’s shoulders tighten underneath his smock.
Mrs. Johnson sits down and grabs a magazine off the coffee table and says she’s fine too. As Mrs. Johnson opens up the magazine she peeks over the top of it. “It’s so good to see you two together,” she says to them. “Especially after the year you two have had. It’s good of Alice to take care of you.”
Her father’s shoulders wrench higher. Alice readies herself to speak but he beats her to it. “We’re getting along,” he says. “We’re doing okay these days, aren’t we?” He lifts his eyebrows in the mirror.
“Almost back to normal,” Alice lies. She makes a few more cuts, levels up his sideburns, and then plugs in the hairdryer to blow the cut hair off his clothes and neck. The whir of the machine drowns out the television Mrs. Johnson turned on, and her father fidgets in the chair, ready to go. He’s already rising before she unfastens the smock. He pulls out his wallet.
“Let me give you something this time,” he says.