She had put the wig in a corner of the bedroom. The apartment was strange to her still, a place of transition, of retreat rather than home. Robert had wanted a divorce and her pride compelled her to leave.
The wig was made from human hair, a Remi in that all the hairs faced the same way. It had come from one woman’s head; she had found out, but never who it was. It was shoulder-length, a rich mahogany with hints of gold and auburn and set on a polished, featureless mannequin head.
She envied its lack of expression. Each time she looked in it, she saw her own face warped by the dimensions of the mannequin head. Mirrors had become unkind, but she was still alive to see one. Such thoughts sustained her through the worst times.
She had gone back to work, enjoying the delicate yet awkward kindness that she had been shown. It was exhausting though and she had taken a cab home rather than drive. She had fallen asleep in the back and the driver had to call her before she paid the fare. She struggled not to weep in the relative privacy of the elevator, her hands smoothing over her drawn features and her crop of short, blonde hair.
She had collapsed onto the bed, waking up in the dark with a deep thirst. There was the chill shock of Robert no longer beside her which still attacked her for a second each morning in the moment between sleep and awake. She woke up tearful and anxious, not sure if she was waking from or into a nightmare. She poured herself a glass of water in the kitchen, drank it in one silvery swallow before it gave her a headache. She went back into the bedroom.
She padded towards the wig. It had been something Robert had enjoyed, during the point where they were negotiating her health and his desires as he cooed that it was like having another woman. Her revulsion made him sulk and that, she came to realise, was the death of her marriage.
She stroked the wig, taking a small, sensuous pleasure in the act. A twist of impulse started in her stomach. She reached out both her hands and crowned herself queen of a ruined kingdom. She smoothed it out and checked her reflection in the twilight.
Her scalp prickled suddenly with the urgency of knitting tissue and a soft humming sensation ran down the nerves in her face. She closed her eyes against the pressure then shook with an animal lightning before she looked at her reflection.
Her reflection showed her a different woman, forged from the same base materials but at the hands of a master craftsman.
The hair fell about her face in black, lustrous waves, feathered and upturned at the ends. Her eyes glittered in their sockets, showing her pain and defiance. She touched her hair, was surprised by the sharp points against her skin.
A blink later, it had returned to its normal colour and length. She heaved it off her head and backed away. She still came back to place it back on the head before she showered and washed her hair twice, unnerved and excited by what had happened.
She tried to sleep but instead she laid on her side, watched the wig with a needy, trembling focus until dawn came.
The wig stayed in place.
Work had been good until Robert called her. His voice was smooth and light, having relieved himself of her without the sense that he held no particular opinion as to what his actions were doing to her. He had a girlfriend, Erin, much younger and shinier than her. It was a perfunctory conversation, littered with barbed silences and sighs. She had managed to get through the afternoon without crying, hiding the gaseous collision of past and present inside her until she was back in the apartment.
She went to the wig and stared at it. She experienced the same sensation of dreadful curiosity that greeted her when she found the lump in the shower. She reached forward and crowned herself again.
It was a production of brass and copper wires arranged in precise concentric patterns. The weight pressed upon her scalp but never reached to bother her neck and shoulders.
The ends started to spark and she cupped her nose and mouth, giving a sound that was somewhere between a giggle and a scream. The cosmic joke that she had survived cancer and divorce only to succumb to a florid madness amused her to tears.
An affirming glance saw the wiring gone and now her head was swathed in clouds of purple and orange, bursts of white light erupting where they touched one another.
She shut her eyes.
A pile of artless, wide curls, shimmering platinum blonde that twinkled and glittered like they were dusted with powdered sugar.
A scalp as smooth as an egg, tattooed with livid red patterns that glowed. She raised her hands and the heat breathed against her skin. Her eyes were tiny points of fire and she smiled to herself.
Lustrous, fiery scarlet locks in victory curls atop her head that connected her to the places within her that she had put aside. She saw a face that she could fall in love with.
She closed her eyes.
Her phone rang. Robert.
She answered the phone, caught herself in the mirror, haggard and sad again.
‘I was in the area, thought we might come up?’
She closed her eyes. A thousand pairs of blank, cruel eyes no larger than pinpricks looked at her.
Forked tongues tasted the air in fragile stabs of malevolent intention.
She met her own reflection and remained unchanged by it.
They hissed their approval, a perfect, ophidian choir that sung to her.
No, Erin and him were more than welcome to come up.
Around her head, they swayed and tested the limits of their mutual anatomy.
Later visitors to her apartment would comment on the pair of life-size statutes, a man and a woman caught in a moment of perfect surprise.
They would ask how she managed to get them up the stairs but she would smile and touch her wig.
They had virtually walked themselves up.
When she was alone, she would drape dirty laundry on them. It went a long way to helping her heal.