Under Brush

I knew it wasn’t a good idea when I made the appointment, but I was curious, and Kirstin always said that Margot was the best.

We were having one of those lesbian moments, the three of us sitting around the dinner table: Me, my girlfriend, and her ex.

“Really, you should let Margot cut your hair,” Kirstin said. “I’m not the only one who thinks she’s good. San Francisco Magazine said she was one of the the city’s hottest stylists last year.”

“You think I’m that good, huh?” Margot made that kind of direct eye contact with my girlfriend that makes me nervous.

“Okay, the best.”

They exchanged a long look over the Hunan noodles. My face was getting hotter and I knew it wasn’t the spicy dish.

I hate it when they do this to me. The blatant flirting and innuendo only hints at the electricity between them. You see, Kirstin and Margot were an item when I met them. We even shared an apartment for a while in college. We were all the same age, but those two were already wise beyond their years.

It was a tough time. I’d been a late bloomer in every way and after taking a freshman psych course called “Human Relationships and Sexuality,” I finally realized my camp counselor crushes were more than a phase. So I was coming out, but having a hard time finding my way through the underbrush.

In high school, I’d been one of those awkward girls Janis Ian sang about. Even in a Catholic school uniform, I stood out. My knee socks never stayed up, my shirt never stayed tucked in, and the hem of my skirt hung unevenly. When I tried to tie my sweater casually over my bony shoulders like the other girls, it slid off. In my senior year I lost five hunter green sweaters. I cut my own bangs, even though my mom begged me to stop.

Everything I was, Kirstin and Margot were not.

Kirstin was long-legged and athletic. Hell, she’s still in fantastic shape, and runs though the Presidio and along the marina at least four mornings a week.

And Margot… well, Margot was an art major. She wore inky eyeliner and a white leather trench coat — in college, for fuck’s sake. She smoked Gaulouise and drank double espressos and liked to sit up and talk all night.

The two of them had noisy sex that I could hear through the thin wall between our bedrooms. And even though I wasn’t sure what all the slaps and moans meant, I was pretty certain it was a hot, if unimaginable, scene in there.

My own ideas about sex were pretty unformed. I had some idea of the things girls could do with each other, but none of it had been put into practice. And in the new post-feminist preoccupation with butch and femme roles, I had no idea where I stood. For that matter, I still don’t.

Kirstin and Margot sort of adopted me. They’d treated me like a kid sister, and had even fixed me up with a fake i.d. (In those days, you could buy one in a shop on Telegraph.) On Friday nights they’d loan me a shirt, and drag me out to clubs with them, and into dark coffeehouses. I’d nurse a beer and watch them grind against each other on the dance floor and then we’d eat chocolate chip pancakes for breakfast at the I-HOP on University with a crowd of club-goers and cops. By the time we stumbled into the apartment, the sun would be starting to peek up behind the Berkeley hills.

Invariably, there was always the same scene at the front door.

I’d be busy unlocking — neither of them bothered to carry a key — while they were already starting to grope each other, tongue-kissing and leaning into the door, pulling each other’s hair. When I’d finally get the sticky lock open, the three of us would fall into the front hall, the two of them giggling like mad women, and me trying to jump out of their way.

Then Kirstin would kiss me on the cheek and Margot would ruffle up my hair and offer up a platitude:

“Some night, Baby Dyke, huh? Don’t worry, we’re going to get you laid yet. In the meantime, you wanna come watch us?”

“Margot!” Kirstin would mock-punch her in the arm and they’d giggle off to their bedroom, the door swinging shut decisively behind them.

Hell, yeah, I wanted to watch. The thought of seeing their dark and light hair tangled up together made me feel all tingly and minty fresh and sort of took my breath away. But I wasn’t going to say so. I’d just do my best to look cool about it all, and head off to bed where I would fall asleep listening to their muffled voices and the bed squeaking. Sometimes a shout would wake me up and once I heard one of them — was it Margot or Kirstin? — actually howl.

In the morning, I’d try to slip into the kitchen for a cup of coffee without making eye contact. I’d mess up my hair and try to look as sleepy as possible, hoping they’d leave me alone.

The the only thing they seemed to like better than having sex was talking about it later. Actually, Margot did most of the talking. Kirstin had to the good sense to blush now and then, but I’d just try to stay quiet so I could listen.

Margot would make attempts to drag me into the conversation and it would take all my effort to keep my cool facade.

“Hey, Baby Dyke, did we keep you up last night? There was some screaming going on over at our place.”

I’d just shake my head “no” and look down into my coffee cup.

“Screaming and licking and smacking? I was sure you could hear some of it.”

“I slept like a rock,” I’d say. “That beer took me out,” and I’d shrug as if I didn’t understand.

Then completely ignoring my presence, she’d turn to Kirstin. “I think that was the deepest I was ever in you, baby.” Margot held up three fingers, “Scout’s honor,” she said, wiggling her fingers and cracking herself up. “But I think I could go deeper, you know?”

I took a big gulp of coffee and Kirstin blushed deeply, but I saw her nipples harden under her thin tank top.

“It’s just a matter of time,” Margot said. “My naughty hand puppet”.

Kirstin giggled and goosebumps rose on her skin.

Margot turned to me. “B.D., Kiddo, you have a thing for hand puppets don’t you?”

I knew she was yanking my chain.

“Those fuzzy ones? Aren’t you an official member of the Jim Henson fan club? Didn’t I see the certificate on your wall?”

I had to laugh because she was so outrageous. Well, and because she’d nailed me. You see, I do love puppets. I used to make my own puppets and in high school I had a little puppet show about safety I’d put on for the grade school kids. But most importantly, I knew my laughing along would put an end to her teasing, and I wanted to move the focus away from me so I could go back to being a fly on their wall.

Margot caught Kirstin by the wrist and gave her a little pull. “Come on, babe, let’s take a shower.” And off they went.

Now I know I’m making Margot sound like a jerk, but she wasn’t really. She was just young and full of herself and hotter than hell. Like me, she was finding her way along a path and trying on a persona. I was on a parallel path, I just hadn’t found a persona I wanted to try on yet.

But when I heard that a cheaper room opened up in a house full of fellow computer geeks, I decided I could use some sleep. So I gave Kirstin and Margot notice and moved out. I’d see Kirstin in my computer classes and around the lab now and then, but I saw less of her in our last couple of years, when we began to focus on different areas of specialization. Eventually, word came around that she and Margot split.

I ran into Margot one evening as I was leaving the movies and told her I was sorry to hear about the ending.

“It’s all good, you know?” she said. “I’m sure we’ll always have a special place in each other’s hearts.” She smiled at her companion, an exotic looking girl with long black dreads. “There’s no room for regret, Cowboy.”

Ten years later, I was at a IT conference in Houston when I ran into Kirstin. We had dinner, and laughed about the months we spent in that apartment, months that felt like years to me.

“I don’t know what I was thinking,” she said. “It was all about fun. No-holds-barred fun. Man, I was resilient in those days.” She ran her hand though her hair, now cut to chin length and falling in little feathery patterns around her face.

“I like the haircut,” I said. “It looks good on you.” I wanted to reach out and touch it.

“Margot cuts it.”

I know I looked surprised, and I mentally pulled my hand back.

“It’s the way we stay in touch. After she graduated, she decided she wanted to cut hair. I spent some time in Seattle, but after I’d moved back to the Bay Area, I saw her business card on the bulletin board at my health club, so I looked her up.”

“Well, it makes you look very sophisticated,” I said, reaching for words. “Hip, but together. It’s very flattering. You look all grown up.”

Kirstin smiled. “You’ve grown up too, you know. I can’t call you Baby Dyke anymore, can I?”

“I guess not.” I felt suddenly shy.

“Do you think we could have another dinner when we get home to San Francisco?”

“I do.”

One thing led to another. That dinner became another dinner, a day-long drive up the coast, a weekend in the wine country, and series of breakfasts. Eventually it became a two-bedroom apartment on Russian Hill. In one of the bedrooms we’d make noisy love of our own, and the other was stuffed full of computer gear.

Somewhere along the line, Margot became a fixture in our lives. Every couple of weeks we’d have her over for dinner, or meet her for brunch. While she’d never bring a date, she’d drop broad hints about a love life that had only grown wilder, while giving meaningful looks to my sweetheart.

One night, not long after the Hunan dinner, Kirsten and I were curled in front of the television, watching season three of Battlestar Galactica and eating buttered popcorn with brewer’s yeast. She reached for her hairbrush and began to brush her hair.

I wiped the butter off my hand and took the brush and began to brush it for her, my strokes tentative.

“That feels really good,” she said encouragingly, reaching for the popcorn.

I turned the brush over in my hand. “Wow, this is one beautiful brush.” It was solid in my hand, and yet light and balanced. I tapped the bristles into my palm and it made a hollow sound.

“That’s pretty cool,” I said.

“Pneumatic.”

“Huh?”

“The brush. It’s pneumatic. The bristles are set in a convex rubber base with air underneath. That’s why it has that springy feeling.”

I read the handle aloud: “The Mason Pearson, London-England, Pure Bristle. What kind of bristle?”

“Boar bristle.”

“Boar Bristle? Some brush! ” I said. “Wait… Didn’t I see that woven into Charlotte’s Web?”

Kirsten rolled her eyes at me. “Listen, that’s an expensive brush you’re holding. I think it’s heirloom quality.”

“Darling,” I said. “Where ever did you get such a thing?” I was pretty certain I knew the answer.

“It was a gift from Margot,” she said. “Years ago.”

“Huh.”

“She’s my haircutter, after all.”

“She wasn’t years ago.”

“You’re splitting hairs. She is now.”

“It looks expensive.”

“I’m sure it was expensive.”

(Later I looked it up on the internet and that damn brush was more than $250.)

I sulked a little through the rest of Battlestar. Even Starbuck’s kick-ass triad match couldn’t cheer me up.

The next morning over coffee, I got up my nerve to ask: “Kirst, what was it with the two of you? I can still feel that charge. Where does it come from and why won’t it go away?”

She contemplated me over the rim of her tea cup. (I’m actually the only coffee drinker in the house these days.)

“It’s hard to explain. I had this weird relationship with her. It was unlike anything else I’ve experienced. You know how she talks about her sex life … she’s more than a top, she’s sort of a bully, but in a good way… I don’t know how to describe it. She’s intense and pushed my boundaries, and I ate it up.”

“And us?” I asked.

“We’re fine,” she said. “We’re us. Those days aren’t someplace I’m sure I’d want to go again. It was a time and place, you know? I’ve learned that it’s okay to be different with different people.”

I sat with my coffee.

She walked up behind me and ran her hand through my hair. “Maybe you should get her to cut your hair. You could spend a little time alone with her, and then maybe you’d understand.”

“Understand what?” I asked.

“Whatever it is you need to understand,” she said, and winked at me.

“You’re an enigma,” I said, exasperated.

“What’s an enigma?” she asked, with a smug smile.

The next thing I knew I had an appointment.

Margot’s salon is in Maiden Lane. It’s up a staircase and behind an unmarked door. You have to have explicit instructions to find it, and you’ll still need to know what you’re looking for. She’s built her reputation on exclusivity and privacy. The shop door is lacquered a dark gray and marked with a brushed-chrome triangle. But that’s it. There’s no sign, no name plate, and no number.

Margot is the whole salon, because there’s also no receptionist and no shampoo girl. The place is small — one room really, with a couple of closets and a shampoo basin. It’s tiny but opulent. The whole room is shaded in tones of gray and brown. The floors are black and white marble. There are draperies at the windows and the lighting has been designed to make everyone look like they’re in candlelight. The place is perfectly private and perfectly luxurious, from her engraved business cards to the orchids standing on the counters and side tables, throwing their tropical scent into the room.

“Come in,” she said. She locked the door behind me, and I sat down in her chair. She put a snifter of cognac down in front of me.

“It’s Remy Martin,” she said. “I remember that you like it.

“You bought it just for me?” I asked.

“I make a point of remembering what my clients like,” she said.

Our eyes caught in the mirror. Tiny, expensive spotlights highlighted my hair, making it sparkle and look better than it ever had.

“Wow,” I said. “My hair doesn’t look so bad in here. This is sort of like taking a dog to the vet. It perked right up. Maybe I don’t need a cut after all.”

All this privacy was making me nervous. I started to stand up to leave, but she sat me back down firmly.

Margot scrutinized me in the mirror, running her hands through my hair like Warren Beatty in Shampoo. “Let’s brush it first.”

She pulled out a shiny black brush, one that I now recognized as an expensive Mason Pearson pneumatic brush. She loosened the elastic holding my ponytail and began to brush my hair with long strokes.

“You’ve worn it like this since college,” she said.

I nodded dumbly.

Suddenly I was caught in her rhythm. I was the cobra and she was the snake charmer.

Stroke, stroke.

“That’s good,” I mumbled. She gathered some of it up in her hand. “Let’s get bold and cut it off.” “

Okay,” I mumbled. “But then there will be nothing to brush.”

“Oh, you can always brush short hair,” she said. “It feels just as good, and it’s good for your scalp.”

Again her gaze caught mine in the mirror. “In fact, I give all my clients the same piece of advice my grandma gave me: One hundred firm strokes a day. No more, no less, and preferably right before bedtime.”

With that, she slapped the back of the brush into the palm of her hand with a hard crack. The sharp sound near my ear caused me to jump and I sloshed a little of the cognac on my pant leg. I couldn’t believe I just saw her do that, but her meaning couldn’t be clearer. Her steely expression, reflected in the mirror, was equally clear.

“Most of my clients do exactly what I suggest.”

A shiver ran from the base of my spine, straight up to the crown of my head, and I felt the hair rising on my arms.

She leaned in and spoke into my ear. “You could brush Kirsten’s hair, you know. I’d be glad to show you how.”

Suddenly, I understood everything. My legs were a little shaky when she helped me out of the chair.

“Let’s get you washed,” she said, and I followed her to the shampoo bowl.

###

2 responses to “Under Brush

  1. I just found your blog today. It is well written and enjoyable to read. Also I enjoy the honesty that was wound into the tale.

  2. Tippy Typewriter

    Suddenly, I think I could use a haircut.

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