“She’s not here.” Father popped his head in the door after a long pause. He was hesitant to even speak to me, I could tell. “She is shopping down in Atlanta. She didn’t want to wake you after your long trip.”
“Oh great.” I had a pile of stringy red and brown hair stacked on my head. My hands were stained, the counter was splattered, and my forehead was covered in dye. I had no idea what I was doing. “Anna home?”
“No, she went with them.” His eyes were wide as he took a look at the mess I had made of myself and the bathroom around me. “Need help?”
“No. I highly doubt you could help, Father.” I snapped, digging through the packaging and finding gloves that I should have been wearing. I was obviously a lost cause. “Is Maria here?”
“Yes, I’ll find her.”
“Thanks.” I was trapped. On my quest for dark mahogany hair like Mama’s and Anna’s I had gotten myself into quite a predicament. I should have made sure that someone other than my father and his long time mistress were home to bail me out. I had never colored my hair before, but was tired of being a plain Jane with hair the color of dead grass.
“Adeline?” Maria was at the door. “Oh my.” She came in and without one more word began to undo the damage I had done. Even though the dye had only been processing for ten minutes, I could tell by her face in the mirror that it was not going well. After rinsing it out, she left the bathroom without a word.
“Maria?” I called down the hall. I studied myself in the mirror. My hair was splotchy. Some strands were still my natural color, some were deep brown, and others had a redish tinge. What in the world was I thinking?
“I call my sister. She does hair for a living. On her way.” Maria looked proud of her accomplishment.
“Oh! Well shouldn’t we just go to her salon? I don’t want to take her away from work…”
“Kitchen hair.” She scrubbed the stains on the counter and made a face. I could tell she was angry about the mess.
“Kitchen hair?” I was confused. This was the most I had talked to Maria in years. When I was a little girl I had really liked her, and I was starting to see glimpses of why I had. Her accent was endearing, her face was friendly, and her expressions were almost comical.
“She does hair from her kitchen.”
“Ohhh!” I had never heard the term, but it made sense. “I guess she can do bathroom hair here.”
“I have to clean now.” She nodded toward the counter. I took the hint and headed out. By the time Consuela arrived with her rolling suitcase of hair supplies, the bathroom was spic and span, and my hair had air dried to a strange unnamable color. Even I could see the humor in it-- I was trying to get rid of my nameless dirty blonde hair and instead found a nameless mix of brown and red.
“Hello, Adeline.” She smiled and fingered a strand of my hair. Her long red fingernails looked like weapons covered in blood. Consuela was the younger, prettier version of Maria. Maria was pretty enough, but Consuella was just plain glamorous looking! “What were you going for?”
“Mahogany.” I confessed, knowing I had come up very short of my goal.
She grabbed a section of hair underneath, “Natural shade, right?“ I nodded and I saw Maria nod too.
“This color… Nice with your eyes. Mahogany would be so boring on you.”
“Just get me back to my natural then, it was a bad idea to start with.” I wondered if it was possible to undo the damage that I had done and hoped to goodness that it was.
“Yes, good choice.” She pulled out her bowl, a tube of color, a bottle with a giant thirty on the side, a tiny wisk, and a bunch of tin foil. I hoped she actually knew what she was doing and it must have shown on my face. “It looks scary, but I will make you pretty. Honey, hair like honey.” She quickly stirred the liquid into the cream. After a few moment of stirring that concoction looked good enough to eat!
I had never thought of my natural hair color as honey. I had always compared it to hay or sand or pilsner beer, but never to something as smooth and beautiful as honey. I smiled as she filled my head with silver foils and painted the color on with a brush. She worked swiftly and skillfully, much different than my failed attempt only hours before.
Maria stayed by her sister's side the entire time. I suspected that she was afraid I would be mean to Consuela. I hadn't been very nice to Maria in a very long time. She may have even feared that I would tell her of the unprofessional relationship she was involved in with Father. I smiled up at her, hoping to lighten the mood. I asked if I looked like an alien and she laughed, but not too hard. I couldn’t tell whether the laugh was fake or real, it had been a long time since I had heard Maria laugh at all.
After the color processed, Consuela washed it out and began styling my hair. The color was slightly richer than my natural color, warm and smooth with a new dimension that hadn‘t been there before. “Caramel. From honey to caramel.” Consuela smiled with pride. “Beautiful!”
Maria and I smiled too.
Mama and Anna came in with tons of wrapped gifts, they were fancy and looked like each one had been wrapped by Martha Stewart herself. I helped them unload and stack the masterpieces neatly under the tree beside my brown paper packages tied up with string, wrinkled from a sixteen hour road trip. I reminded myself the age old truth-- it's what's inside that counts!
“Your hair!” Mama put her hands on my cheeks and smiled. “You look beautiful, Addy.”
“Her hair? What about it?” Anna was clueless. Why would she notice? She probably never bothered looking at me.
“The color... It is a subtle change, but I like it!” Mama observed, giving me a kiss on the forehead.
“Consuela came and did it. I tried to do it myself with some of your color that I found, but it ended up being a disaster!” I was so glad that she noticed.
“Oh I see it now. It is kind of striped.” Anna didn’t pretend to care.
“It is not striped, it just has high and low lights.” Mama treated her like she was stupid and I felt a sense of victory. I had always loved to hear Mama snap at her, as mean as it sounds.
“Oh, well it looks nice.”
I thought about the dynamic that had evolved between my sister and I. We were totally different and had absolutely nothing in common. Like always, she surrounded herself with men and had more friends than she could handle. Every single time I came home I met a different new beaux, and she always kept Joe Haynes on the sidelines for when she didn’t have a new fling to humor her. She was smart, beautiful, carefree, fashionable, and was a “Daddy‘s Girl.” She could drive men crazy and make everyone she met scramble to be her friend. I, on the other hand, had no desire to socialize, no room or desire for men in my life, and no real interest in being stylish. Really the only thing we had in common by this age was our bond with our Mama. Mama had the power to bridge the gap between us. I liked to think that Mama loved me more though-- after all I was fiercely loyal to her and had protected her from my Father for so many years. She might not even know about it, but somehow subconsciously she had to know that I protecting her from something. She had to love me more.
Christmas came and went, and by some miracle I managed to leave for Boston without starting any fights with my father. My parents had given me enough gifts to fill the entire back seat of my car, and I was armed and ready to face the world with my stunning caramel hair. Even though I was heading back to a city where I didn’t have a single friend, I was heading back to the comfort of blending in. I wasn’t rich, I didn’t get chauffeured around, I hadn’t flown in a private jet in several years, and I wasn’t compared with my beautiful sister. I was starting to understand why being so far from my mother was bearable. It was bearable because it kept me just as far away from Anna and Father.