Laurel stood in front of the mirror, staring. Who was this woman?
The image stared back at her, unrecognizable. Shiny bald head, blackened eyes, swollen lips and an earlobe hanging in two shredded halves, the diamond stud torn away.
Her hand relaxed and the razor dropped to the floor with a sharp “clack!”
In a purely reflexive motion, she removed the remaining earring and dropped it into the sink, where it disappeared into masses of thick blond hair.
Her hands raised to touch the newly bald pate, tentatively at first, and then firmly stroking. So smooth! She took a deep breath, then another, and on the last exhale, exclaimed, “He’s gonna kill me!”
He’d come close enough, already. Laurel leaned closer to the mirror and lifted her puffy eyelids enough to more thoroughly examine her eyes. Damn him! The sclera of the left one was dotted with petechia , which meant her whole eye would soon be red with blood.
“Ugh!” Laurel grimaced. “That’s going to take weeks to clear up.”
This was not her first rodeo.
He generally avoided her face–too many questions if things ended with a trip to the emergency room. But it had happened a few times.
This was the worst, though. Both eyes were blackened and swollen, the left impossible to open without using her fingers. Her neck was screaming out: “Whiplash!” The throb each time she tried to turn her head was excruciating.
It was all about the hair.
Twelve years ago, she had come home with a cute cut, shoulder length and fashionable. Gilbert had thrown a fit the likes of which she had never even dreamed. “A Godly woman never shears her crown of glory! Never! How dare you cut your hair!”
He’d pushed her around, and even hit her a few times before that day. This was the first time he’d blackened an eye, though.
He’d also broken her arm. First trip to the emergency room, and Laurel lied through her teeth about taking a bad fall.
Her hair had been growing since then. Twelve long years, and if that’s not a lot of hair–well, Laurel didn’t know what was.
It was Gilbert’s pride. “My wife has such beautiful hair!” He bragged about it–the length, the softness, the strength of it. During times of calm, he would sit next to her and stroke it, and sometimes he’s spend an hour brushing it for her.
It was also his weapon. He’d grab great fistfuls of it to yank her toward him. He’d shake her by the hair. He’d wind it around her neck and choke her.
If she tried to run, he would grab an end of it and reel her in like a fish. Oddly enough, whenever this happened, Laurel would hear the crackling voice of a witch croaking, “Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair.”
Laurel didn’t believe Gilbert would be able to climb a tower using her hair, but it certainly worked fine for him to reel her in and begin the shake, rattle and roll.
Let him try that now, Laurel thought, considering the piles of hair in the sink and on the floor.
Stupid fairy tales. Her trailing masses of hair certainly hadn’t gained her a prince or a happy ending.
She turned her head and winced at the pain in her neck. She went to the locked door and pressed her ear against it, praying that it wouldn’t suddenly be slammed into her head from the other side.
Nothing. The house was silent.
He was still gone. If not, he’d most likely be pounding on the door right now, demanding her exit so he could go to town on her some more.
Carefully, she cracked the door open and looked out. Then she slipped through it and darted into the kitchen for garbage bags.
In the bathroom, she stuffed pile after pile of hair into two bags and tied them shut. All the while, one hand or the other would dart up to push back hair that was no longer there, and she would marvel anew at the smoothness of her scalp.
Her mind was screaming at her:
Oh, God, oh, God, if I’m still here when he gets back, I’m dead.
I should donate this hair.
Are you crazy? Get a move on!
She ran outside and threw the bags of hair into the trunk of her car. Back in the house, she raced to the closet, and pulled down the one thing she could never bear to leave behind. It would ride on the front seat with her.
At the back of the closet was a small suitcase, already pre-packed. She had planned for an escape–someday. She had always been too scared to go, but now she was much more frightened to stay. She tucked her battered old purse under her arm, and took her life with her out the door and into the car. She didn’t bother to lock the door behind her. Nothing inside ever mattered much, and it meant nothing to her at all now.
Please, God, don’t let him come home now!
The car started, and although it ran a little ragged, as always, it didn’t let her down. She was off!
“Now what?” Laurel asked the stranger in the rear view mirror.
There was hardly any traffic. People were hiding away in their homes. She supposed the enforced isolation and the loss of his job had contributed to Gilbert’s extreme outburst today, but that hardly mattered now. What did was wondering if there was any safe place she could go.
She gassed the car–self service with a credit card. She waved at the lone person she could see inside the convenience store, and didn’t bother going inside. Her good eye was swelling more, and it was getting difficult to see. She drove around, looking for a hotel that didn’t have its “No Vacancy” sign unlit.
Finally, she admitted to herself that there was only one place to go. Thank goodness she still had the key.
The place was closed–had been for weeks now. But the power was still on, and the dressing rooms had showers. She’d been there only yesterday, the lone player on an empty stage.
She used her key card to access the underground parking lot, and parked in the darkest corner. She used the elevator and went up to the backstage area, and then to her personal dressing room.
Gilbert had never been here. Her job was unimportant to him; music wasn’t his thing, unless it was the wailing of a country singer, bemoaning his sorry drunken state and the loss of his girl.
How in hell had she landed with him in the first place?
She had maintained her own bank account, all unknown to him, and simply deposited some of her earnings into their joint account. He had no idea about the savings she had socked away. He thought her “little income” was what resulted from choosing such an a trivial career, and it served her right if she needed to ask him for money now and then.
She did ask, although she didn’t need it. It made him feel like a big man, and that in turn kept him in a calmer state. She’d “come up short” for a utility or phone bill and ask him for an extra fifty dollars near the end of the month. He’d fuss about it, and tell her she should really look for a “real job”. Then he’d hand over some crumpled bills and stroke her hair and remind them both that a real man took care of his woman.
She saved the smaller bills until she had enough to exchange them for one hundred dollar bills, and then she stashed them in the lining of her old purse. She had plenty of cash to get by on for a while if she couldn’t use her bank card.
There was nothing but formal wear in her dressing room. Clean underclothing, too, but no jeans or sweats. Those were things she had in her little escape bag.
She went to the showers and doffed the clothing she’d escaped in. They were covered with hair and blood. She threw them away, vowing to get out to a dumpster as soon as possible.
With no hair to wash, her shower was quick and easy. She let hot water run over her aching neck for several minutes longer than she probably should have. Then she closed her eyes and rinsed her aching face and eyes with cold water.
It was eerie in the empty building, but she felt so free walking naked back to her dressing room that it hardly mattered to her. She went to the rack and selected a stunning sapphire blue gown.
She walked barefoot to the stage, which was dimly lit by only a few footlights. She sat, the case in her lap. She unlatched it, and opened it.
The violin. It pulled her by the heartstrings, that instrument! She lifted it reverently, and carefully cradled it as she set the case aside.
It lay in her lap as she rosined the bow. When she lifted it to tuck it under her chin, she still paused to push away hair that no longer existed. It made her giggle.
When was the last time I giggled?
Her eyes were so swollen now she could barely see, but she didn’t need sheet music. She didn’t need the other orchestra members; the music was all in her head as she began to coax out the notes from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.
Her bald head gleamed in the low light. Tears flowed down her cheeks, pink with blood on the left side of her face. As she played, she wondered idly if she was injured enough to go to the emergency room, and concluded that she probably was. Every note was painful; her head, her eyes and her neck throbbed and sobbed, but she couldn’t stop playing.
Let down your hair. Let down your hair. That voice was Gilbert’s now, and still, it was witch-like.
Ha! What hair, you son-of-a-bitch?
The bow paused in air, as Spring took a breath before Summer began. Lauren giggled again.
Yes, she was hurt. Damn it.
She played on, the bow moving faster.
The hospitals were full of sick people. The emergency rooms were overwhelmed.
The violin was magic. The music had healing powers.
Lauren played on.
“This is how you do it, Gilbert,” she whispered. “This is how you let your hair down.”
The stage was filled with music. She heard every note, although no one else was there. She relished every strain.
The neck of her gown was wet with her tears, and she briefly considered the stains. How much blood was there?
If she died here, how long would it take for someone to find her?
Stop it, stupid.
“You be quiet,” Lauren growled. “I will finish this piece.”
She didn’t have a cell phone. How crazy it that, she thought. Everyone has a cell phone these days.
It would have been one more thing, though. Even the house phone was a problem. “Who was that?” Gilbert demanded, every time she took a call. It didn’t matter who it was; for Gilbert, it was always some new lover, some friend who didn’t like him, someone who wanted all her attention, when it belonged only to him.
People she worked with had them. She saw them texting and calling and scrolling social media sites. She could just imagine having one. Gilbert would have been taking it from her constantly, checking her calls and messages. It wasn’t worth the trouble it would have caused.
It sure would have come in handy now, though. She could at least call a nurse hotline and ask if this pain might be life-threatening.
We have a concussion. I know it.
“Hush now,” Lauren sighed. “Winter is here.”
Winter is going to kill you.
“Gilbert did it. Gilbert killed me.”
Lauren played on. She could no longer see.
Finally, she reached the end. Four seasons had passed, and it hadn’t been an hour, but it felt like a year had truly gone by. Music could transport a person that way.
She practically lived here, but it was still difficult making her way back to the dressing room after carefully replacing the violin in its case. She was blind.
This is bad.
You don’t say.
There was a landline phone in the dressing room. It took her a while to locate it. It was live. Lauren burst into tears of relief and dialed 911.
Three tries, but she succeeded only to be put on hold.
Let down your hair. Let down your hair.
“Shut up, you wicked old witch of a Gilbert! There is no hair.”
How will anyone climb up to rescue you?
“911. What is your emergency?”
Oh, thank God! Lauren gave her location. “I can’t see,” she said. “But I will try to get to the door to let someone in.”
She took the violin. It was magic, after all. She found the front doors and managed to unlock one before passing out.
When she woke up, she was on the bathroom floor, lying on a blanket of her own hair. Gilbert was banging on the door, demanding to be let in.
The violin was in its case in the top of her closet. Useless.
With her final burst of strength, Lauren lifted her hand to touch her bald head.
Her hair was attached and matted with blood.
Let down your hair. Let down your hair.
“Go to hell, Gilbert….”