Hey you, shopper! I see you. I see you and hundreds like you every single day. You paw through the racks and shelves of this thrift store. You pick up old fedoras and party blouses and faded jackets. You check the price tag because that’s all you care about, how cheap the item is, because you’re cheap. You think just because you’re in here everything should cost a dollar and twenty-five cents if it’s not free. You tug at the seams because the clothing has to be cheap AND well made. Then, wonder of wonders, you go and try the darn thing on without a thought.
STOP IT! DON’T DO THAT!
You should think before you put other people’s clothes on your body. And don’t EVER put anything in this store on your head. You don’t know where things have been. I know. From up here, the top of the head, I can see everything. What am I saying? I have seen everything! I am a lime green, bob-haired wig after all. A person doesn’t wear me and then go sashaying through a normal, quiet-in-the-suburbs kind of life.
What I just said about trying things on? It goes triple for me. You don’t want everything I am on your head. And I’m not talking about looks. Yes, I’ve seen better days. My locks are a little frizzy, but I’ve never had lice or bed bugs or anything like that. Batty wouldn’t have allowed it. He was my owner—Batty. Batty kept my locks so shiny you’d wince to see us in the sunlight. He knew how to take care of his things. Good care.
I was worth it, too. Batty could see that when he first saw me in the shop. I am handmade—top of the line. The wigmaker scanned through the Pantone catalog at least a dozen times before he found this particular cool, thirst-quenching shade of lime green. Once he had dyed enough hair—all human, by the way, no horse hair here—he took the newly green fronds and mixed in strands of orange and pink to give me these highlights.
At what point did I myself, become aware? Not sure. Maybe it was during the hundreds of times the wigmaker dragged my strands through the sharp metal teeth of the hackle, twisting and whipping me again and again until the greens, oranges and pinks were perfectly blended. Maybe it happened as he knotted the strands, sometimes one by one, into the lace webbing of my base. It takes a wigmaker over 50 hours to form a head of hair this way. I have thousands of strands. Sometime in his hands, his thoughtful, careful hands, I came to be.
So I’m not costume store junk, even if that’s how I look now. Batty paid over $1,000 for me.
Batty liked to wear me outside in the spring. I think I made him feel like the fresh budded leaves pushing up into the world. He would sit there on a bench and blend in with the scenery. Now who would have thought that he, 6 foot 3 as he was, in a lime green wig, sitting in Central Park would blend in? But that’s what he did. That’s what he loved to do. That was my Batty.
In the spring we’d leave the office every day at 12:30 and take the subway uptown. Right before the stop at 59th and 7th he would pull me ever so carefully out of the Ziploc bag in his gym bag. Batty had big strong hands, but to me they felt soft and pillow-like as he ran his fingers through my strands and gripped them gently between his fingers to tug me down until I was nestled just right on the top of his skull. Then he would sigh—just a kind of deep breath and a sigh, like he was finally coming into himself again. My bangs would catch a bit of his breath and flutter upward—I swear it tickled! I felt like I was catching a wish, I tell you! Batty would come up those subway steps and then—the light! The air! The sounds! We walked into a scene like it was waiting for us, waiting for us to make it complete. The park was nothing until Batty walked into it, boring until he found the right bench and placed himself on it. He preferred being by the lake if he could swing it. And then? We…would…just…sit there.
I did my part. I like to think I softened his protruding jaw and took that ruddy-yellowish skin tone of his and with my green made him seem as fresh as a daffodil or a forsythia blossom. Okay, maybe not exactly like that, all right! I’m just saying—maybe something like it. Come on! Haven’t you ever wanted to feel pretty? Wait, let me put it this way—haven’t you wanted to be more than just the assumptions people make about you?
You take one look at me and think “Halloween”. I know you do. That’s why you picked me up in the first place. You’ve probably got a vampire cape or a pointy hat waiting for me in your basement. Or maybe you want to put me on your dog and take stupid pictures. Like I could get excited about that.
Batty saw me and knew we could be so much more. I made him feel like Angelina Jolie in Vanity Fair, July 2008. Together, in the spring, we were gorgeous. I was alive.
I will admit what we did required a lot of pretending. Batty had a big-boned skull with cheekbones that reached up to his forehead in such away that they squished his light brown eyes into small, narrow shapes. If his eyes weren’t so friendly he might have been beady-eyed. Maybe I had something to do with that—I framed his face and covered his high, smallish ears.
So aside from the outlandish bone structure we didn’t look wholly ridiculous. I think it was because Batty was wholly serious when he wore me. It’s hard to laugh at a perfectly tailored suit and Italian shoes that probably cost more than your rent. And it wasn’t like Central Park on the East Side in the middle of a weekday was the kind of place where people yelled rude things as they might on a Saturday night on Christopher Street.
They didn’t dare stare. Maybe a couple would look twice and whisper a comment to each other as they walked on. It didn’t knock Batty one bit. He was playing the scene he needed to be in.
In June I would go back into the closet because what would be the point? Once summer arrived it was too much to bear. The darker shades of green would take over by then and for Batty to sit sweating underneath me didn’t make any sense.
He didn’t wear me in the fall either. In the fall Batty would come into his own, as every redhead did. He could glow on his own with the coppers and the golds of the autumn landscape. He didn’t need me then. And, to tell the truth, I think he didn’t want to look like someone escaped from a mad Halloween party.
In winter? Forget it. Sure, I would have liked to have gone out, maybe with a festive red beret, and see the holiday shop windows. But even I knew Batty could be mistaken for a department store elf if he wore me anywhere near Christmas. So I stayed on the Styrofoam head, carefully tucked away on the shelf in Batty’s closet.
I’d sit in the dark of Batty’s closet and wait for the first warm blush of spring—when he would come to me, take me and make us be beautiful together. I would remember each of our days in the park, going over them again and again like a child examining a seashell or a pretty rock. Wonderful days! There were times when the air smelled of lilacs and early roses. There were rain-washed afternoons where the wind-battered petals of pink blossoms strew the sidewalk under Batty’s feet. I remember the day Batty sat perfectly still, his eyes tilted up just a little so he could watch robins at work on a nest in the crook of a branch above us.
I didn’t like being in the dark. And I will admit this now because I haven’t before—I wanted to stay out. I wanted to see his face every day even if I couldn’t always go where he was going, even if he wasn’t touching me or brushing me or running his fingers through my strands. I would have been happy to have a momentary glance as his eyes swept the room to see if he had forgotten anything. I wanted him to see me.
I can tell you this because this is what I thought about most all those dark months of his comings and goings without me: I wanted to be important to him all year long. I missed him. I loved him.
It wasn’t like there was much to hear from that closet—just the quiet sounds of coming and going: doors closing, drawers being opened and shut. Every so often I could make out the twang of mattress springs when two bodies bounced onto it at once. Then I would hear the heaving breaths that followed.
I never saw any of these other people. They didn’t wait for the spring. I suppose I felt Batty was more my own than anyone else’s because that’s all I saw. We went on that way for four years, until the spring day Batty and I first saw him, Blondie.
Blondie was a head turner. I can say that for a fact because I remember the exact moment that Batty’s neck began the rotation that caused my locks to fly and sweep across Batty’s freshly shaved cheek.
Blondie was coming along the path, jogging, actually. Shorts up to there! I think I made him stop. It had to be me. That day I had big, black Jackie-O sunglasses sitting on top of me, so I know Batty was feeling exciting, cosmopolitan. You tend to notice a vibe like that.
I could have been jealous—Batty was so wholly mine remember. But I wasn’t because I could tell that Blondie wasn’t looking at Batty beneath me or even wearing me. He saw us at once, together, as beautiful as I always imagined we looked on a fresh spring afternoon. I guess I wanted that look, that noticing, for Batty as much as myself. I wanted someone to feel for him what I felt. How could I say I loved Batty—and I did love him—if I didn’t want such love for him?
Just when it seemed Blondie would run past us Batty tilted his head, just a bit, and suddenly those winter-pale legs were running to us as though Batty’s movement had opened him to receive.
I would remember that turn, that tilt, of Batty’s head. The next time I would see it I would be looking directly into Batty’s eyes and knowing he wouldn’t receive anything ever again.
Batty didn’t go back to the office that day—and I didn’t go back in the closet. Blondie asked, no, insisted, Batty leave me on.
For the first time I felt hands other than Batty’s on me, in me. Blondie’s fingers pressed me to Batty’s head as Blondie held him and pushed himself into Batty. My locks splayed out on the clean linen as Batty’s head hit the pillow.
Then I fell off. It was inevitable. Batty never used bobby pins to secure me because he never wore me long enough to worry about losing me. I didn’t mind the falling though. It felt like flying.
When it was over I wished I could have seen Batty’s face then. It was so quiet afterwards, like the air was thick with contentment. I knew Batty was happy and I just wanted to see, for once, what Batty looked like when he was truly happy.
“This feels like home,” I heard Blondie say.
“You could stay.”
“For how long?”
I heard the bed move above me and it was Batty getting up and picking me up from the floor. He surprised me by putting me back on. He brushed me in front of—a mirror! There we were together, Batty’s cheeks blushing pink and me framing his face in this perfect little aura. My Batty.
“I like you in that,” said Blondie. He lay on his back naked on the bed, his hairless chest glistening with sweat. “You’re like an alien and an angel all at the same time.”
Oh, he was talking about me! How lovely. How exquisite. I was more real then than I had ever been with Batty alone. The presence of this new person, this Blondie, had possibility—possibility for me. This wasn’t just an opportunity for Batty to be loved. There was something here for me too. What would it be?
Batty pulled two bathrobes, one black and one blue, from the closet and threw the black one to Blondie before putting on his own.
“Sure. Whatever you got.”
Batty turned around, walked through the door and then—a whole new world—I traveled with Batty into the rest of the apartment. Batty flipped a switch and illuminated a huge room that served as living room, dining room, and kitchen. I could see through the big clear windows a pink sky and the tiny glow of a just-setting sun.
The room pulsed with the brightness of all-white walls and the candy happy colors on everything else: red chair, blue sofa, green stools with fat tufted cushions, yellow pillows. As Batty walked in I could see many items strange and silly and wonderful—just like me: a vase in the shape of a pink flamingo, the head of a beautiful red-lipped geisha girl, her bamboo hat forming a bowl that Batty had filled with Tootsie Rolls, a male hula dancer in a pink grass skirt playing the ukulele while his hinged hips swayed back and forth from the pedestal. Batty had painted a kind of boardwalk on the light green floor, with stripes of pink, orange, aqua blue and yellow forming a path from the bedroom to the kitchen.
I loved the way Batty walked through the space. I could tell by the swing of his hips beneath me that he felt confident and comfortable here. I think he felt that way because he was in his own and he owned everything in the room, including me. Yes, Batty was wholly mine but right then, moving with him inside the apartment, he had become whole to me.
Blondie followed us and sat down at the Plexiglas table with the orange straw placemats. Batty put a glass of chilled white wine in front of Blondie who tapped a package of cigarettes on the table until he had extracted one.
“Please don’t,” said Batty, as he took the chair next to Blondie. “At least not in here. My mother died of lung cancer.”
“Oh. I’m sorry.”
“It was a long time ago.”
Now here’s the thing: Blondie didn’t put that cigarette away. He kept it in his hands and he twirled it between his fingers as though he still might light it at any moment.
I didn’t like that.
Blondie was looking around the room. “You a stockbroker? Lawyer? Corporate guy?”
“I’m a lawyer. You?”
“I teach. Substitute. You seem to be doing well for...” He paused and let the blank non-question hang in the air.
“I’m 30,” said Batty.
Blondie smiled and ran his hands through his thick mop of hair. “Christ, me too. It’s nice, for once.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, you know, the older guys. I get tired of them. Fucking mental. I tell them, ‘I’m not your goddamn fountain of youth.’”
Batty only nodded.
“What is your real name? I like to know who I’m fucking.”
Batty winced. “Bartholomew James Stevenson.” I was enthralled. Batty’s real name!
Blondie gave his real name too, but I refuse to mention it here. Maybe it’s because of what happened next.
“I was into Batman as a kid. Name stuck.”
“It’s a child’s name then?”
“It’s my name.”
Blondie grinned. “I’m going to call you Bart.”
Batty nodded and I moved unwillingly with his assent.
“How old were you when your mother died?”
“Did she know you’re gay?”
“Does it matter?”
Blondie replied, “No” and this was a lie. I knew it because of the way his left eyebrow lifted ever so slightly, like a caterpillar about to rise up and crawl across his forehead. I am sensitive to eyebrows.
“She loved me. After her chemo was done she did her cardio rehab over at the Rusk Institute at NYU. I used to walk her through the greenhouse and into the garden they have there. She practically swooned over the tropical plants in the greenhouse—just gorgeous. She used to say that, “Just gorgeous”. The chemo would make her feel cold so I’d bundle her up even in the summer and we would go outside and sit in the sun. We would talk about forgiveness.”
Blondie listened with focus. I could see that by the way his eyes stuck on Batty and never moved. But I felt like he wasn’t receiving what Batty was saying in the right way. I felt he was calculating. I can’t explain how I knew this, I just knew I wanted to tell Batty to stop—stop pouring everything out because it was only going into a sieve.
Blondie sipped his wine slowly. “What did she say?”
“She was working on forgiveness. She said it was her hardest work, even harder than the chemo. It was hard because she hadn’t been doing it—forgiving—all along. She told me to forgive people. She told me to forgive myself.”
Blondie nodded. “She knew you were gay.” He sat up and placed the cigarette he still held behind his left ear. “Did you mean what you said about staying forever?”
I sensed a hesitation in Batty and I tried to feed that sensation so it would take root in his mind and grow into a full-blown thought, but I failed.
“Only if you really want to. And when the time comes when you don’t want to, you should leave.”
“Yeah. I’ve never been able to build anything stable like this, like a home. Maybe because my parents moved around a lot, I don’t know.”
“I don’t want to be hurt when you go.”
“I promise not to hurt you, and who said I was going anywhere?” Blondie reached across the table and took Batty’s hand. Blondie grinned, his eyes an impressive watery blue. His fingers folded into Batty’s and, interlocked like that, their fingers looked like birds or little bodies nesting into each other.
And there, right there. That’s when it first came—the strange electricity that surged all the way up into the stitching at my very top. I suppose you would call it jealousy but this is what it spoke to me: I wanted Blondie to go away. That didn’t make sense, of course, not when I should have considered him my greatest champion. He delivered what I had wanted all those years. I existed in the open because of Blondie; I lived on a bookshelf in the living room and never went back in the closet again.
Yes, I could finally witness Batty in love and being loved. I could see the happiness I so wanted for him. But, as it turned out, I had tried to content myself with something that only made me less contented. If what I saw was an example of the world, then it is foolish the way people dance out a love. I know I would have done it better.
Here’s what I mean: when Batty and Blondie were together it seemed they cultivated a strangeness where there should have been familiarity. They moved around one another like people in a crowded bar or standing in a line at the post office. It was like they had forgotten one another and the glow Batty had exhibited with me that day in the park.
This in particular I learned from Blondie: You fall in love (yes, I do believe he loved Batty at first) then you step inside that person and dismantle everything that made them attractive to you in the first place. You hate that those attractive aspects are missing in you. You turn your love into you, so you can no longer love him. This is what I saw.
I had a front row seat to all the changes within the space that held the three of us. Blondie would leave the apartment in the mornings with Batty but he didn’t wear a suit, just jeans and a polo shirt. This I do remember—he always had an unlit cigarette hanging from his lips because Batty wouldn’t let him smoke indoors. He kept that cigarette waiting so he could light up the moment his feet touched the sidewalk.
Sometimes Blondie would come back in the middle of the day and walk around the apartment like he didn’t know what to do with himself. He’d stand there right in front of me, running his fingers through my locks like he was considering something. But then he would go out again and not come back until Batty came home.
One day Blondie knocked over the Geisha girl and chipped the side of her hat. Batty put it away in a cupboard in the kitchen and I never saw her again. On another day Blondie complained about the white paint being too bright. “It hurts my eyes,” he claimed.
Batty agreed to paint the room beige, but he insisted that Blondie had to help. On a Saturday they shoved everything, including me on my shelf, into the center of the room. They laid gray drop cloths on the light green floor and began to paint the walls. Blondie spoke little—I guessed he was moping—I think he thought Batty would pay someone to do the work. But Batty seemed to enjoy having the paintbrush in his hands, daubing paint in straight lines where the wall met the ceiling. He was humming, then singing a tune. The words, and I’ll never forget them, went like this:
Close the window, calm the light
And it will be all right
No need to bother now
Let it out, let it all begin
Learn how to pretend
Then Batty smiled. “Boz Skaggs,” he said. “My mother used to sing it while she marked up her manuscripts.”
“What?” Blondie loaded up his roller with more paint and turned back to the wall.
“My mother,” Batty said. “She used to narrate audio books. She would sit at our dining room table with a box of crayons and underline the dialogue of each character with a different color. Then she made up voices for each character. She carried a little tape recorder with her to the studio to remind herself what each person was supposed to sound like. I remember her underlining Madame Bovary. She marked Madame Bovary’s dialogue with cerulean blue.”
When she read me bedtime stories I would make her do it with one of her voices. Madame Bovary read Runaway Bunny. Little Nell became The Little Engine That Could. She read me The Velveteen Rabbit as Elizabeth Bennet.”
Batty stopped talking. He put his paintbrush down and looked at Blondie. If I could, I would have crawled toward Batty then, damn the consequences and the freaking out that surely would have happened if a mass of hair went scampering across the floor. I know I am a thing, but do I have to want nothing? I wanted to be close to him, to be inside him if possible because I felt that was what he was inviting me to do. “Come inside.” But I couldn’t. Instead Blondie would hear this invitation. Blondie would get to act on it, not me.
Only Blondie didn’t. Blondie didn’t hear, he didn’t act. He just kept moving the paint roller up and down the wall smearing his beigeness everywhere. Heck, I’m a damn wig and even I could tell this was the moment where you drop everything. You drop the paint roller, you ruin the floors, you step in the paint can if you have to and you pull Batty off the ladder and you hold him. You hold him because at that moment he was a child who needed his mother. You hold him because when you love someone you sense all their empty spaces and you try to fill them even if there’s no possible way to fill them all, but love makes you want to try.
I know Batty noticed Blondie not listening because he half-smiled, looked embarrassed and said he was getting a drink of water. Batty looked so very much alone it hurt. It hurt me.
“Bart, will you bring me a beer?”
“No,” I kept thinking. “No.” Is this love? What’s wrong with you people?
Still the dismantling went on. I may be just a wig, but I know this—harmony sounds smooth and warm. Words flow out—and laughter too—so it’s all nice and comforting to hear.
Disharmony sounds like a jackhammer outside your window. The words are short and sharp. They hit and pinch you with each syllable. It makes you tired even when it finally stops because you’re on edge expecting it to start again. You want to know the exact moment you need to steel yourself against the sound.
By the winter the words exchanged between Batty and Blondie came popping through the air like old musket fire—separate, single shots with intent to injure.
One night, when Batty was away on a business trip, Blondie plucked me off the shelf, off my Styrofoam head, without asking. Blondie slicked back his hair with a silvery gel so I would fit on him better, but I could still feel his bushy thick hair, full and slimy beneath me. If I could have lain flat and drab on him I would have done so, but it didn’t really matter. He couldn’t look as good as Batty did in me. I just don’t know what Blondie could have been thinking.
He wore me to this horrid cabaret act where the singer was moaning something about the rainbow colorings of Judy Garland. Every Jack and Jill in the place was smoking Camels like the coat check girls were handing the cigarettes out at the door and I, being the collector that I am, clung to every pull each person breathed out. I smelled like I’d been through a fire.
Then Blondie had the nerve to use me to attract a raven-haired man who had the Golden Gate Bridge tattooed all the way down his left biceps. We sat in a noisy crowded bar on Bleecker Street until two in the morning. Blondie let the man twirl a lock of me around his thick, calloused fingers. I kept thinking Blondie wouldn’t dare bring this trash home to Batty’s place and in the end he didn’t. It was worse. Blondie fucked the man in one of the stalls in the men’s bathroom in Washington Square Park. I just didn’t want to fall off.
Not long after that, when Batty could smell the first spring earth and he came to get me, I knew it was time. He picked me up and with one shake of my locks he had a good whiff and seemed to know right away what Blondie had done.
He grabbed me by the crown—something he’d never done before—and stomped into the bedroom and shook me under Blondie’s nose. Blondie shoved past him and went into the living room. Batty pursued. I have to tell you, it would have been so satisfying to think what they said had been all about me. But as their voices grew louder and Batty threw me to the floor, I couldn’t fool myself. It wasn’t about me at all.
Still, I felt this awful, repugnant joy when Batty grabbed Blondie by the throat. I wanted the fight to happen, but I hated it happening. It was like my Batty was disappearing just as the purple spots on Blondie’s neck blossomed underneath Batty’s fingers and Blondie’s lips turned blue. Those colors told the truth like I’m telling you now.
“Let go,” I wanted to tell Batty. “Let go!”
Blondie clawed at Batty’s hand and pulled. They tumbled backwards over the sofa and smashed onto the coffee table. It collapsed beneath them and the pink flamingo vase spun on the floor. Batty was still on top of Blondie and Blondie’s arms splayed out wide reaching, reaching, reaching. The fingers of Blondie’s right hand finally found the vase—that ridiculous pink flamingo vase. Blondie’s fingers closed around the flamingo, and Blondie swung it around and struck Batty in the head.
The blood ran down in rivulets on Batty’s forehead. It ran down over the brow my bangs kissed every day in the springtime sun. Blood dripped into his eyes and I half expected Batty to brush it away as he did to me sometimes if one of my strands got caught in his lashes. But as he lay there staring at me with icy eyes, I knew he never would. My Batty. My Batty.
Now you know how I ended up here in this thrift store. I’m just warning you before you put me on your head. You should know that what you’re putting on your head is a mess of grief. And yes, things do grieve because that is what I’ve been doing. I have grief and I do mourn. I’m just saying you should know because that’s what you’re going to put on your head.
Sophfronia Scott hails from Lorain, Ohio, a hometown she shares with author Toni Morrison. She holds a BA in English from Harvard and an MFA in writing, fiction and creative nonfiction, from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She spent most of her career as a writer/editor for Time and People magazines, developing the ability to whittle tons of information into a single cohesive form. She's author of the novel All I Need to Get By; her work has also appeared in Saranac Review, Numéro Cinq, Barnstorm Literary Journal, Ruminate Magazine, NewYorkTimes.com and O, The Oprah Magazine. Sophfronia sleds with her family in Sandy Hook, Connecticut. She’s completed her second novel and is excited about soon traveling to Denver twice a year as a faculty member of Regis University’s Mile-High MFA, a new low-residency writing program. She blogs at www.Sophfronia.com.