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Unnatural selection

By Maya joseph

  1. Untitled
    Untitled
    By Angela Wei
Susan’s salon was pungent with the scent of acetone and burning hair, there were some candles set up by the door to dilute the smell. It was loud and bustling which was normal for a Sunday afternoon, filled with women in every nook and cranny of the small building.

Housewives that looked the same were all seated inside, the same up-dos and collared floral print dresses that covered last week’s magazine front page. Like clockwork, as soon as the wind chimes above the door rang signaling my entrance, around fifteen heads turned as well to acknowledge my appearance.

Thin red lipped smiles followed suit, and the soft sound of my heeled boots against the polished floor joined the dull noise of a blow dryer running mutedly in the back. Realistic looking mannequin heads lined up against the wall of the shop, each one had its own unique look and hairstyle, I was strangely drawn to them, but I couldn’t look much before I was interrupted.

“Can I help you?” The owner, Susan, asked, she was the only person who looked like she had much of a personality here. Her hair and makeup was the same, but she was wearing an all-white dress and apron that had the name of the shop embroidered on the front pocket. She was in the middle of styling someone’s hair, her practiced hands working with ease.

“Yeah, uh…” I briefly glanced around the salon and pointed to the ladies with their feet dipped in water, beady eyes expectant of my answer as well. “I’ll have whatever they’re doing.”

“A pedicure?” Susan offered, sticking her tongue out the corner of her lip as she continued snipping at the blonde’s hair sitting in front of her. “Take any empty seat.”

It took a while after I got settled for everyone to get comfortable speaking again, but I leaned back in the chair and enjoyed the gossip, noting interesting things to consider later.

“I still can’t believe Betsy hasn’t come here in over a week.” A woman under a hairdryer began the conversation, and like they were all waiting, the other ladies immediately straightened up in their seats.

“I guess she’s gone for good.” Another voice commented.

“Good riddance, she was a terror—what with that strange hairstyle and those crazy ideas of hers.”
“It’s like she came from another planet. I mean, who doesn’t come here every Sunday?”
They continued to speak about the disappearance of Betsy, along with other women who had strangely vanished from town. One thing they all had in common was that these ladies were all “odd” or “out of the norm” of the small town, as described by the others in the salon.

As soon as customers started to dwindle down one by one and the conversation turned to next Saturday’s brunch when the day turned into evening, it was only then did I notice my new red nails and Susan was offering me a cheap haircut—since I was new in town and all.

“I guess it’s just you and me now, detective.” Susan murmured, and I looked up in the mirror to catch her ominous smile. It was gone as fast as it came, however, and she was back to styling my hair. I stiffened as I realized I’ve been found out.

“How—“

“Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone…I know it’s your job to be undercover and what not,” Susan set down the comb and picked up a bottle filled with some sort of oil and she poured a generous amount in to her hands. She rubbed them together with practiced ease before gliding her fingers through my hair, fluffing it up more so than she did already. “I’m sure the town would go crazy over the town’s new detective being a woman as well.”

I could only smile at the thought that someone could finally understand. “Well, it’s just something everyone should get used to.”

“That doesn’t work around here.”
“Excuse me?”

“You either follow the rules or you’re gone. It’s simple.” Susan said, finally pulling her hands away from my hair before setting her tools back down. The distinct clink of the scissors and combs becoming more audible. She stood there for a second before abruptly turning and knocking the same bottle down. It spilled over the polished floor, covering our feet as well.

I shook off my boots to the best of my ability but Susan looked concerned, “Here, follow me, I have shoes in the back that you could borrow.”

“That won’t be necessary.” I stayed far much longer than I should have, and I didn’t want to owe anything to anyone in this town.

“It’s fine. Besides, I could show you my collection. This happens quite more often than you’d think.” Susan insisted, her face a tad darker than it was a moment before. I could only nod then follow her to the back as she was persuasive, and denying her didn’t seem like a smart choice.

The red signs were right in front of me—the mannequin heads, the white dress, and even the things she said. None of it prepared me for what I saw in that back room—and what I couldn’t see after it either.
---
“I wonder what ever happened to lady who thought she could be a detective...” Karen commented, her legs crossed as her freshly painted toenails dried, flipping the page in her magazine before looking up. “I knew she wouldn’t last long.”

“Don’t you agree, Susan?”

“Of course—I even told her that myself.”

“You did not!” Olivia laughed, turning in her seat to slap Susan’s arm playfully, but she paused during her giggling to point at the stain on Susan’s apron. “Did you spill ketchup during your lunch again or something?” Her finger was pressing against the deep red, almost brown spot on the other woman’s apron and Susan flinched away far too quick to go unnoticed.

Susan paused before immediately smiling again, then untying her apron and rolling it up once it was off, “Something like that.”
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