First Chapter Reveal!
Sylvia Scutlash, orphan, virgin, hairdresser, watched the coffin of her husband descend past the weedy grass roots into the hole, the straps creaking. The afternoon breeze blew hauntingly through the gum trees that clustered near the grave, their leaves drooping in melancholy as Solomon Scutlash, hairdresser extraordinaire, was laid to rest.
“Ashes to ashes…” the pastor intoned.
Sylvia’s uncle Arthur stood by her side. He dropped to his knees and laid a pair of golden scissors on the coffin. Sylvia followed suit and held out her hand to catch his. He gave her a withering look. She pushed her glasses back up her nose and dropped her hand.
“Dust to dust…”
The soft dirt kicked up as the coffin clunked on the bottom. It stung her eyes, caught in her throat.
“May his parting be smooth and straight, may he wash away his sins, may he brush with the angels and style his soul as befitting our Lord. Amen.”
Arthur’s black quiff had come undone, and it drooped over his thin face. His moustache quivered and his chin wobbled until his face broke. He sobbed. The rest of the mourners tossed combs in the grave. The assembled crowd were mostly strangers, a fitting word to describe the eclectic bunch. Sylvia eyed the hairstyles; a shag, two flick and wings, a surprising four afros and a number of perms. Her husband had magnetised many with his wit and extravagant personality. It had been his dying wish that no one wear black at his funeral. His friends had responded with peach shirts, rainbow striped flares, red polka dot dresses, whites, yellows and oranges which smeared the dry cemetery with life. Sylvia had opted for a purple frock but wore her mother’s onyx brooch, a deep black stone flecked with seams of gold.
“May his follicular fingers rest in peace!” called out a man of indeterminate age. A shock of white hair haloed around his head, he wore silver skin-tight jeans and a white silk shirt unbuttoned to his sternum. He unhooked a hairdryer from his belt, slotted in a battery, and gave it three long blasts. The mourners nodded and dispersed, taking Arthur, her broken uncle, with them to the waiting cars.
But the hairdryer wielding man held back.
“You must be Sylvia,” he held out his hand, “I’m Wiz, Wizard Blowave, charmed to meet you.”
She shook his hand.
“Pleased to meet you.”
He gestured for them to follow the others.
“So sorry for your loss, my dear.”
“Thank you.” Sylvia shrugged, “But it’s Arthur you should be saying this to.”
“You were his wife, Sylvia!”
“In name only. I only ended up here looking for my Uncle Arthur after I left the orphanage. They had been together for a couple of years before I came on the scene. I was just a cover for them. Arthur never forgave me for marrying Sol. I hope one day a man can marry a man.”
“I know all about that, but Sol told me about you, Sylvia, said you were a very promising hairdresser.”
“Oh… he did?”
“Said you had a good head for business, quick to learn and tough. You may have been his beard, but he loved you as well.”
His words warmed Sylvia’s lonely heart. She felt Sol’s sunny presence in this man.
“I remember him telling me how you arrived in the salon in… when was it?” he continued.
“1972, I was 16.”
“He said he’s never seen such a mess—old, ragged, faded dress…”
“That was my best dress!”
“A horrible mess of black wiry hair, broken glasses and the shoes!” Wiz put his hand to his head in mock horror.
“And I smelt shocking!”
They both laughed.
“But he saw something in you then, and he did until the day he died.”
“I wish Arthur did.”
“Don’t mind him. He was just jealous that you got to marry Sol, be his wife for the last two years. He’ll come around.”
“Maybe. How did you know Sol?”
“Sol and I go back years. He was one of my best agents, you know.”
“I didn’t know he was a salesman.”
“He sold dreams, my dear, but he was more than that. He was an entertainer, a negotiator, a trickster and could see the essence, the goodness in everyone.”
“He taught me everything I know.” Her nose fizzled with snot, and hot tears gathered. “I really miss him.”
“I know, my dear, we all do. He was a big part of the organisation.”
She sniffed and wiped her cheeks.
“The Guild, of course!”
Before she could ask any more questions, they reached the car, Sol’s beloved lilac Cadillac. Arthur waited in the driver’s seat, staring out the window. Wiz opened the back door for Sylvia. She slid onto the cream leather seat.
Wiz sat in the front, relieving Sylvia from the need to interact. She took her compact out of her handbag and viewed her blotchy face in the mirror. Her dark brown eyes were magnified in her glasses, a smudge of mascara underlined each one. She tried to dab it away without shifting the false eyelashes Sol had taught her to wear. Her olive skin was prone to greasiness and her forehead was already shiny. She dabbed powder over it and hooked a lock of stray hair behind her ear. She was so different in build to her lean and wiry uncle. From what she remembered of her father, he was similar to Arthur, which made her think she had her mother’s looks. She’d given up on the idea of ever finding out. Another wave of tears threatened. She found comfort in her mother’s brooch and rubbed her thumb over its cool surface. On the short drive back to the salon, Wiz talked shop with Arthur, who answered with only monosyllables and sighs.
The Wavy Lady hair salon filled up with customers, friends and the large colourful group of what Sylvia assumed were colleagues. Arthur and Sylvia had positioned themselves at the door to greet the guests.
“Artie, darlink! Oh Artie I’m so sorry about Sol.” They kissed cheeks. The woman dressed in a bright mustard embroidered caftan threw her arms around him and squeezed his body. She took his shoulders and looked at his face.
“How are you doing?”
Sylvia saw Arthur’s back stiffen.
“I’ll be OK,” he managed.
“Ah! Is this she?” Tatyana caught sight of Sylvia in the doorway. Arthur cleared his throat.
“Tatyana, meet Sylvia. Sylvia, this is Tatyana Streeckz.”
Tatyana put her head to one side, as if waiting.
“The best hairdresser in Moscow,” Arthur added.
Tatyana smiled. “In Russia, Artie in Russia!”
Arthur gave a tight smile. “You can call her Tatty.”
Tatty scooped Sylvia up into her wobbling breast and folded her in. She squished out the little breath Sylvia had, her many bangles digging into her shoulder blades. The musky perfume was about to suffocate her when Tatty released her. For good measure, she took Sylvia’s face in her hands and planted a sucking kiss on each cheek.
“Solly told me so much about you. Oh!” She put her hand to her brow, which rested beneath a towering golden turban from which sprouted a mass of auburn curls. The cloth was dripping with jewels and gold chains. Sylvia wondered how her neck could cope with the weight of it.
“I can’t believe he’s gone.” Her green eyes filled with tears, which threatened to dissolve her caked mascara. Sylvia looked at Arthur, who had his fake smile glued to his face.
A woman with braids skipped forward. She wore a denim mini skirt, a checked shirt knotted at the waist and cowboy boots.
“Hey Art.” A big tear squeezed out of one of her sky-blue eyes. “I’m sorry, honey.” She squeezed both his hands.
“This is Emmy-Lou Bangs from the U S of A,” Tatty, who was lingering, said. “Emmy, meet Mrs Scutlash… finally!”
Arthur blew a stream of air through his nostrils.
“Charmed to meet you,” she drawled in an accent Sylvia had never heard.
“And Al Fa’rou, he joins us all the way from West Africa.”
A man in a rainbow singlet and crocheted flares ducked through the doorway. After shaking Arthur’s hand and placing a consoling pat on his shoulder, he towered over Sylvia and shook her hand.
As more guests arrived, the two salon juniors served Asti Spumante and finger food from trays. Sylvia directed and organised them, made sure glasses were filled, food circulated. The party spilled out onto Rosella Street, memories of Sol too many to be contained in the small salon. For Sylvia, the afternoon dragged on through tears and laughter. Tales of brilliance described the largest personality in Hardup, and later, as the bubbles were consumed, in Perth, until the star of Solomon Scutlash rose to that of a god. Finally, in ones, twos and threes, his friends, clients and neighbours wobbled off into the pink sunset that washed over Rosella Street. Sylvia gathered up the glasses and plates scattered throughout while Arthur slumped in one of the salon chairs, a whisky clamped between his hand and chest. Sylvia wished the last few a farewell and closed the salon door with relief. Three short blow-dryer blasts made her jump. Arthur released his glass and raked his hands through his hair. Wiz hooked his blow dryer back into his belt.
“Have they all gone, the minions? They have feasted and left us to pick over the bones! Ah, the sorrows of my heart! Draw up a chair, you two.”
Emmy-Lou, Tatty and Al appeared from the back room.
Sylvia rubbed her forehead, fatigue washed through her. “Oh, I thought everyone had gone!”
She sighed. Sylvia and Arthur had spent the last six months looking after Solomon as the cancer slowly claimed his body whilst still running the business. A daily mixture of being cheerful for Sol and fearful for the future had taken its toll. Now he was in the ground, all she wanted to do was sink into sleep and forgetfulness.
“Sylvia, put down those tear encrusted glasses. We have business to discuss.”
Tatty made herself comfortable in Sol’s special hairdressing chair in the window. Sylvia pulled up four chairs to join Arthur.
“Today UGH has buried a deeply loved and valuable member of our organisation. As head of the guild and dear friend, Solomon asked me to be the executer of his last will and testament.”
He gave a short blast.
Arthur choked on his drink. “You! Executer? What happened to Balls, Ballsup & Son?”
“The solicitors? Bells & Bellson? Sol fell out with him over the correct length of a false eyelash, passed the job onto me.” Wiz blasted once more and pulled a thick envelope out of his bag.