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The 31 Days of Hallowe'en - Hair Dreams

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  • brent wodehouse
    H a i r D r e a m s by Joy M. Copeland No one ever told Zaszou the stories about hair left in combs, brushes, or in the trash, about what could happen if the
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 26, 2011
      H a i r D r e a m s

      by Joy M. Copeland


      No one ever told Zaszou the stories about hair left in combs, brushes, or
      in the trash, about what could happen if the loose hair fell into the
      wrong hands. No one ever mentioned anything about the nasty headaches or
      worse that could ensue if birds got hold of the stuff and used it in their
      nests. No one explained that the proper way to dis-pose of hair was to
      wrap it in tissue before placing it in the garbage, or better still, to
      burn it. But then, most folks didn't talk to Zaszou unless it was to order
      her around. And even when giving orders wasn't their purpose, Zaszou only
      half listened.
      With latex-gloved fingers, she picked the hair from the sink. The
      strands clung to the glove like the threads of a spider web. She laid the
      hair out on a towel. Wet, it looked a light brown, but she could tell that
      when it dried, it would be a dark gold. Blond hair was her favorite. It
      made her think of her Barbie doll, preserved in the shoe box under her
      bed, with its tiny waist, perfect oval face, slender legs, and long,
      corn-silk yellow hair. Of all her dolls, it was the one she hadn't ripped
      apart. It was the doll that looked nothing like her. Not one feature
      matched her own - not her skin that was the color of freshly plowed earth,
      not her broad, flat nose, dark kinky hair, or thighs layered with fat that
      rubbed when she walked.
      As she stood at the sink, memories of her father drifted back. She
      was six. It was the day he'd brought home the Barbie. She'd overheard him
      talking to her mother.
      "I hate to say it, but, woman, you got one funny-looking child."
      "Ain't nothin' wrong with Zaszou that growin' up won't fix," her
      mother replied. "Anyway, she's your daughter, too."
      "Kinda been wondering about that. She don't take after me or none of
      my people."
      Those words had never left her. But her father did.
      Zaszou became conscious of the time she'd been hovering over the
      bowl. She patted the hair with a paper towel to hasten the drying, then
      focused on sifting through the trash can. There was nothing that any-one
      would pay for, just tissues stained with lipstick, a condom wrapper, a
      flattened toothpaste tube, and an empty cigarette pack. But then she saw
      it: a matted wad of hair. It was dark, the shade and texture of her own.
      "Don't bring me no wads less than the size of a quarter." Miss Ruby
      had demonstrated the correct measurement by coiling her pointy fin-gers.
      "Gotta be enough to make a hairdo for a tiny doll."
      Color didn't seem to matter. The old woman paid the same price for
      any hair - a dollar-fifty per packet. Blond should've been worth more,
      Zaszou thought, since it was harder to find. She placed the new wad next
      to the hair that was drying.
      "Zaszou! You 'bout finished in there?" The voice was from outside the
      room.
      Zaszou scrambled to put the hair into the three-inch-by-two-inch
      plastic bags according to Miss Ruby's instructions. "Separate the hair you
      collect," she could hear Miss Ruby saying. She stuffed the small bags into
      her pocket.
      "Zaszou! Sleepin' in there or somethin'?"
      "I'm finishing this bathroom." She resumed cleaning the toilet only
      seconds before the woman appeared at the bathroom door. It was Dee.
      Dee was much older. She was dressed in the same sea green uniform and
      once-white shoes. "Yancy's picking me up early. We're going out tonight,"
      Dee said gleefully. "If you want to catch a ride, you best be finished by
      three-thirty." It was already three.
      "I still got twenty and twenty-four to do." Zaszou rubbed her
      fore-head on her sleeve, displaying a wet armpit.
      "Well, then, you got a problem." Dee pushed back the shower curtain
      to inspect the tub. "Humpf. From the looks of things, you ain't finished
      this room."
      "That ring don't come off," Zaszou said.
      "I should know. How many times I done this room before you came?
      Anyway, you better pick up the pace. Stop that daydreamin'! Mr. Russell
      gonna fire your ass if you don't watch it."
      "I'm movin' fast as I can." Zaszou rolled her eyes and picked up the
      pile of towels. Several months ago, her mother had given her a choice:
      Either stay in high school or bring home some money. High school was a
      struggle, even PE. Then there was all that teasing. Her counselor had
      seemed relieved to hear her choice. The Wayside Inn was the only place
      that would hire her.
      "I ain't recommendin' you for no more jobs. Remember, three-thirty.
      If you ain't there by then, we're leaving without you." Dee turned and
      left.
      Zaszou took a deep breath and felt the lump in her pocket that was
      her latest treasure. In three days, she'd collected enough hair for ten
      small packets. Ten packets meant fifteen dollars. _To think this stuff
      would have been thrown away_.
      Pulling sheets, changing towels, vacuuming and dumping beer cans and
      trash, somehow Zaszou managed to clean the remaining rooms in less time
      than usual. Maybe it was because her steps were quicker as the deadline to
      catch her ride approached. Maybe it was because the occupants of twenty
      and twenty-four were cleaner than most. Or just maybe it was that these
      days most of Wayside Inn's patrons only stayed the afternoon, hardly
      bothering to turn down the bed to do what they came to do. In any case,
      she didn't find more hair. At least none that met the "size of a quarter"
      standard. She needed eighteen dollars to add to her savings to pay for
      braids. Not real human hair, of course. But the other stuff that looked
      just as good. With what she'd saved and what she had in her pocket, she
      was still short three dollars.
      At 3:22, Zaszou made up her mind. And at 3:23, after vacuuming the
      last ash from number twenty-four's stained carpet, she took the scis-sors
      from her utility cart and cut an inch and a half of her own already short
      hair. Hurrying, she separated the frizzy clump into two parts and stuffed
      each into one of the little bags. What was left on her head was stubbly
      and thick. It fought her efforts to smooth and secure it with a rubber
      band. She forced the band to hold, but only in the very back, leaving the
      rest of her hair to feather out all which-a-ways, like she'd just got out
      of bed.
      Zaszou locked the room and ran along the second-floor balcony that
      overlooked the back of the motel. She spotted Yancy's late-model
      Bonneville. It was the color of summertime lemonade, cool as it waited in
      the shade of the willow tree near the Dumpster. She knew that Dee would
      already be inside. Zaszou shoved her cart into the utility room and
      bounded down the stairs.
      "Only one minute to spare," Dee said, glancing at her watch as
      Zaszou, dripping sweat, climbed into the backseat.
      She caught Yancy peering at her in his rearview mirror. Today his
      yellow knit shirt matched his car. She looked down.
      "Oooh whee. Girl, I do believe you get uglier every time I see you,"
      he said with a laugh as he chewed on a toothpick.
      "Now, why you got to go and say that to the girl?" Dee said, slapping
      his bare arm. "Apologize!"
      "What for?" Yancy hollered back. "The truth?"
      Dee shook her head and looked out the window. There would be no
      apology, and Zaszou really didn't expect one. Not today. Not ever. All
      three sat quiet for the twelve-mile ride from the interstate into town.
      Zaszou closed her eyes and retracted her neck like a turtle. The warm
      breeze blew in the open window, bringing road dust that clung to her face.
      She'd forgotten Yancy's remark. She was thinking about her braids.
      Tomorrow was her day off, and the appointment that would change her life
      was at one.


      Downtown Rolinville consisted of a Presbyterian church, a diner, a
      drugstore, a pizza parlor, a coffee shop, a barbershop, a hardware store,
      a movie house, a gas station, and a funeral home, which stayed busy even
      if the maternity ward in nearby Cannon River didn't. Five years before,
      the town council, in a moment of lunacy, had twenty parking meters
      installed along the town's five-block business strip. Now half the meters
      were broken, and folks refused to park at the ones that weren't, opting
      instead to put their vehicles on the side streets and use the meters to
      tie their dogs. The Piggly Wiggly, the last business es-tablishment to be
      added, occupied a large space with its own parking lot several blocks away
      from the main business strip.
      When the Bonneville entered downtown, Zaszou broke the silence.
      "Yancy, let me out at the drugstore. I'll walk the rest of the way
      home."
      "You still got money to spend, two days before payday?" Dee asked.
      "I saved some," Zaszou mumbled.
      "Well, stop the car, Yancy!" Dee said. "Didn't you hear her?"
      The car was only traveling thirty miles an hour, but Yancy hit the
      brakes so hard it threw Zaszou against the front seats. She scrambled out.
      "What about my gas money?" Yancy said, still working his toothpick.
      She'd completely forgotten that she owed for the ride, two weeks'
      worth. "You're saving bus fare" was the way Dee had put it when they first
      made the arrangement to ride together on days they both worked. According
      to her mother, the only thing Yancy did all day, besides play the ponies
      and chauffeur Dee around, was shine that Bonneville.
      "I'll give it to you Friday, Yancy. When I get paid."
      He grunted.
      Zaszou stepped past a group of men who were gathered near the pizza
      parlor. They cut their eyes at her, then resumed their conversa-tion. She
      looked to see that the Bonneville was well down the street be-fore bolting
      around the corner.
      Miss Ruby's house wasn't much different from her own, except it had
      two windows on the front instead of one. And it had been painted, even
      though now the paint was peeling. The small porch was uncov-ered. Excited,
      she knocked. A man came to the door in an undershirt that stretched across
      his big belly. He scowled. She'd seen him before but didn't know his name.
      Men came and went from Miss Ruby's. They always seemed to be men from out
      of town, who hung around for a while and just disappeared. At least that's
      what her mother had told her.
      "Miss Ruby home?" Zaszou said in a low voice.
      "Ruby! Ruby! It's that girl again!" Then he rubbed his belly and
      stared as they waited. He didn't invite her in.
      "What you yellin' 'bout, Frank?" came Ruby's shrill voice from
      in-side. "Oh, it's you," she said when she saw Zaszou. "Frank, go finish
      eating."
      He sucked his teeth and left.
      "Step inside, chile," Miss Ruby said, waving the sleeve of her
      kimono--style robe. "I wasn't expectin' to see you again _this_ soon." Her
      head wrap was the color of canned fruit punch. It didn't match her robe.
      No one else in Rolinville wore colors like Miss Ruby -bright pinks,
      oranges, purples, and reds. Way too flashy for somebody her age, folks
      would say. They must be jealous, Zaszou thought. It didn't matter that
      Miss Ruby's clothes all clashed or that staring at them too long could
      make a person feel queasy. It didn't matter that everyone shunned her
      place, complaining about the foul smell coming from the backyard. Or was
      it something about the fact that no birds, squirrels, or rabbits were ever
      seen in her front yard that kept people away? Or that dogs, cats, and
      children crossed the street to avoid getting close? Zaszou didn't know why
      folks didn't like Miss Ruby. But Miss Ruby had always been nice to her.
      Zaszou watched the woman's smile. Those two gold teeth, set like
      twins, fascinated her. One had a star that showed the cream-colored enamel
      underneath. Zaszou tried to control her stare. But the star tooth beckoned.
      The interior of the house was as busy as her robe. Two sofas, at
      least three chairs, a number of tables, lamps, and rugs, all crammed into
      the small room, in no particular style or arrangement. The place smelled
      of chitlins.
      "What you got this time?"
      Zaszou placed the plastic packets in the woman's large hands. "I got
      twelve."
      "Let me see." Miss Ruby turned on a lamp and held one over the shade.
      "That one looks good."
      "There's two blond ones."
      "Maybe. Maybe not," Miss Ruby said, examining another packet. Her
      hand with its long curved fingernails made a shadow on the wall like a
      hawk's talon holding its prey. "Most blondes ain't real blondes. I can
      make a blonde anytime, with bleach." The old woman cackled.
      "Oh," Zaszou said, a little disappointed, so sure she'd found the
      real thing.
      "Chile, you think blond is all so special. I favor red hair myself. I
      mean natural red, of course."
      Zaszou wondered about the color of Miss Ruby's hair. She'd never seen
      her without a full-head scarf.
      Miss Ruby checked each packet in the light. On the last one, she
      glanced sideways at Zaszou. "These will do. Is this really what you want
      to give me?"
      The gleam of Miss Ruby's smile was so bright, Zaszou thought she saw
      sparks coming from the star tooth. She shifted her gaze to the floor.
      "Yes, ma'am," she said weakly. She wondered why she was being questioned.
      "You swear you didn't mix any hair, one with the other," Miss Ruby
      hissed.
      "I swear," Zaszou choked.
      "Good. Long as we have an understanding. We do have an
      under-standing?"
      Zaszou nodded. She was agreeing to something but didn't know quite
      what. Her school counselor had told that she was a little slow. She'd
      taken that to mean that she wasn't supposed to figure out every-thing. But
      she wasn't going to let Miss Ruby know that, by asking her to explain what
      "understanding" she meant. "Miss Ruby, can I see your dolls?"
      "I showed you once. I know I did," Miss Ruby barked.
      Zaszou lurched back like she was about to be beaten. Shoulders hiked,
      her head resumed its turtle position.
      "You one pitiful chile. Gonna jump out your skin when I blow steam.
      You gotta blow your own steam sometimes. Let folks know you ain't afraid."
      Zaszou peeked up from her floor gaze to see the old woman's frown.
      "Pitiful, pitiful ... Okay. I'll show you my dolls again, but just
      for a second. And no touching."
      Miss Ruby left the room and returned minutes later with a black tray,
      the kind used to serve beverages. On it were five tiny dolls, in various
      skin tones, each about the size of a clothespin, with porcelain-painted
      face, arms and legs, and a head of human hair in different shades.
      "They real pretty." Zaszou sighed as she peered over the tray, her
      face so close she could've breathed life into the dolls. "What you gonna
      do with them?"
      "I told you. Sell'em."
      "Can I buy one? I mean when I got more money."
      "Sorry, chile. But you ain't never gonna have enough money to buy one
      of these."
      "Oh," was all Zaszou could think to say. She didn't think to question
      how much was too much, a figure that she'd never be able to afford. She
      didn't think to wonder, if the dolls were so expensive, why Miss Ruby
      stayed in a house that was like hers with only one extra window and some
      peeling paint. She backed away from the tray.
      Miss Ruby frowned and shook her head. "How much I owe you this time?"
      "Eighteen dollars," Zaszou mumbled.
      Miss Ruby reached inside the fold of her robe, pulled out a roll of
      bills, and counted out eighteen. "Won't be needing any hair for a while.
      Got to work with what I got."
      "Oh."
      "Come back in a couple of months."
      Do braids last that long? Zaszou wondered. She'd have to ask the
      hairdresser.
      On the way home Zaszou thought about her braids. The nose and mouth
      she'd handle later. She didn't have a clue how, but she would.
      All evening and later that night, Zaszou's mind danced with thoughts
      of getting long hair. She sang a song while washing the dishes and kissed
      her mother on the cheek before going to bed.
      "Why you so happy?" her mother asked.
      "Just am," she answered.


      The next morning her mother called to wake her. "Ain't you goin' to
      work today?"
      "Don't have to. It's my day off."
      "Well, I got things I need you to do. I still got to go to work."
      Zaszou groaned at the thought of chores and rolled over.
      "And when you get paid tomorrow, I need some money to pay the
      electric."
      Zaszou was glad that she'd kept her dealings with Miss Ruby and her
      plans to get the braids secret. Her mother would just fuss at her for
      going to Miss Ruby's, and then claim whatever money she'd made from the
      deal, plus her savings. Since the diner had switched her mother to part
      time, things were just that tight.
      "Do that pile of wash on the sofa and clean and season that chicken
      for tonight."
      The front door closed with a bang that rattled the glass. Zaszou
      sighed.
      She spent the morning finishing her chores. Then she changed into a
      white skirt that showed more leg than usual, put on a pair of red
      sneak-ers that she only wore when it wasn't raining, and took the money
      she'd saved from its hiding place, a sock ball. She stuffed the cash in
      the small red plastic purse with the gold chain.
      It was a ten-block walk to Elaine's Beauty Parlor, an establishment
      operated right out of Elaine's kitchen, complete with a sign in the front
      yard, and a back porch where, on nice days, she served iced tea and
      cookies to waiting customers. Zaszou had only heard her mother's friend
      talk about the place and had never been inside, until the day she decided
      to make an appointment.
      "I'd like to get some braids - the long ones," she'd said to Elaine,
      a tall thin, dark woman with rough, strong hands, shiny from pressing oil.
      The place smelled of fried hair and chemicals.
      Parting it with her fingers, Elaine had inspected Zaszou's hair with
      its straight edges and nappy undergrowth.
      "I can do it. It'll be an all-afternoon appointment, plus the cost of
      the extensions." She'd pointed to a line on the price list that made
      Zaszou eyes grow wide. "For that much time I'm booked."
      "I need a Thursday, my day off."
      Elaine searched through several pages of her spiral date book. "I've
      got a Thursday afternoon I can give you, four weeks off. You want that
      appointment?"
      Zaszou nodded. Actually, she was glad that the appointment had been
      set far off. It gave her more time to come up with the money.
      She walked past several stray dogs. Too busy sniffing the Johnson's
      overturned garbage, they didn't even notice her. A few blocks from Main
      Street, she broke into a skip, swinging her head as if she could al-ready
      feel the braids whipping her face.
      "What you doing there, Zaszou?" It was Mrs. Peters, on her knees,
      digging in her petunia bed. "You look like a cheerleader. Practicing or
      something?"
      Mrs. Peters should have known that she could never be on the
      cheerleading squad, Zaszou thought. Why, she wasn't even in school. She
      immediately stopped skipping and resumed a normal walk. "No, ma'am," she
      said as she passed the yard. "Just getting exercise."
      Zaszou needed to cross Main Street to get to Elaine's. That's when
      she first saw the Bonneville. It was parked on a side street not far from
      the funeral home. To avoid running into either Yancy or Dee, she ducked
      into the alley behind the funeral home. The tiny street where bodies were
      delivered was quiet.
      "Where you going in such a hurry?" The voice came from behind. "Look
      at you all dolled up in your little red sneakers and short skirt. Got the
      nerve to show them big legs."
      "Oh, Yancy. Where's Dee?"
      "Dee's busy shopping, spending more money. Money we don't have. So
      why you here?"
      "Got some business." Zaszou turned to leave, but Yancy had grabbed
      the chain of her bag and wrapped it around his forearm
      "Wait a second, girl! You got some money for me? You know, what you
      owe me?"
      "I was gonna pay you later, when I get paid."
      "Well, you must have some money in this little purse here."
      She pulled on the chain, but he jerked it away from her. "Well,
      lookie here," Yancy said, opening the bag. "Girl, you is rich."
      "That money's to pay a bill."
      "Well, I'm a bill. Ain't I a bill?" He counted the cash.
      "Yancy, you can't take that." She reached out to snatch the money. He
      waved it higher as she tried to jump for it.
      "Calm down, girl." He grabbed her outstretched arm and bent it
      be-hind her. "Let's just say you've paid up for your rides for a while."
      "No, you can't take my money," she whined.
      Yancy just bent her arm higher.
      "Oooow!" she screamed.
      With the chain and purse still dangling from his forearm, Yancy put
      the money in his shirt pocket and pulled Zaszou closer. She strained
      against his whiskey breath. Pain throbbed in her bent arm, but that hurt
      wasn't as much as the painful thought of losing her savings, losing the
      chance to get the braids.
      "Lemme go, Yancy." She was breathing hard.
      "You and I can have a little fun." He snickered, groping under her
      skirt. "We might even find a new way for you to pay for rides."
      He spun her around with her arm still yanked high behind her. She was
      being pushed down the alley. Hopes for the braids were dissolving in the
      tears that rolled down her cheeks.
      Suddenly, a large bird, probably a hawk, swooped low, just missing
      her and clipping Yancy's head. "Goddamn it!" he yelled. Blood was
      trick-ling from his head, where the bird had scratched him. The bird came
      at them again. He held onto Zaszou and swung the chain wide, hitting the
      bird while they both ducked. His swing caught the bird in midair. The
      creature hovered, stunned if not injured, for a second, like a kite that
      had lost its wind draft. Then it took off, making a terrible screech.
      "That was one crazy bird! You must've greased up this morning with
      bacon. That bird wanted a bite of you."
      "Lemme go," Zaszou whined.
      He punched her with the hand that held the chain and pushed her
      faster. She heard the door squeal, and she found herself on the floor of a
      shed. She was dazed from the blow to the face, and now afraid. When he
      shut the door, the only light was from pinpointed rays streaming through
      several small gaps in the wood. Zaszou could make out his large frame
      standing over her, but she couldn't see his eyes. "Please, Yancy. Just let
      me go."
      "I can't let you go now. Not after you got me all hot and bothered."
      She heard him unzip his pants. "It's nice and dark. I don't have to see
      your ugly face. Yeah, nice and dark. But it don't matter for what I'm
      going to do."
      Her face throbbed, and she could tell that her jaw and lip were
      swelling. Yancy was busy yanking off her panties. She reached behind her
      and felt something metal. It was long and rough, with a pointed edge.
      Something told her to grab it and point it toward him. Just as she did,
      Yancy came down hard on her. The weapon found a soft place on his body, a
      place that seemed to welcome it. She thrust it upward with all her
      strength.
      "Aaaahh. Aaaahh," he moaned, but she kept pushing. Then it was quiet.
      Not a bird, not a dog, not the sound of children, a lawn mower, or an
      insect's buzz.
      Her breath had slowed. She lay there under Yancy's heavy body, with
      her hands still wrapped around the cold, hard metal. Half deliri-ous, she
      pictured herself again moving in slow motion, head swinging, with long
      blond braids brushing her face.
      There was another groan from the body. Then nothing.
      "I gotta get outta here. I gotta get my money," she murmured.
      Those arms that could single-handedly turn a mattress at the Wayside
      Inn managed to push Yancy's weight aside. She extricated her legs,
      stumbled over the body, and made her way to the door. Getting her money
      back was the only thing on her mind. She needed more light to find it. She
      opened the door, and the brightness of the sun blinded her for a minute.
      Still-warm blood covered her hands, legs, and skirt. She opened the shed
      door wider. Again it squealed. She checked Yancy's back pockets. Nothing.
      Then she turned him over. Yancy's eyes stared into space, and his mouth
      was frozen in a silent gasp. Poised in a squat, she searched the front
      pockets of his unzipped pants and, finally, his shirt. The money was
      there. It seemed to pop out of his pocket and into her hand like a lost
      bird. She squeezed it tight, leaving a huge, bloody print on the outside
      bill.
      She became aware of someone standing at the door. "What going on in
      there? Who's messin' around in that shed?" Their eyes met in the half
      dark. "Hey, what you doing there? What's all this blood?"
      Zaszou leaped up, pushed past the man, and sprinted down the alley.
      She bolted past two ladies strolling with their toddlers. Then she darted
      into the street without looking. The brakes of a delivery truck squealed
      as it just missed her. With her wide strides she could feel the breeze
      between her legs, the place that was now bare, the place that he'd wanted
      to go. Her legs were taking her somewhere. She wasn't sure just where. It
      wasn't to Elaine's Beauty Parlor. Elaine wouldn't want to serve ice tea
      and cookies to someone with bloody hands. It wasn't to the diner where her
      mother worked. At lunchtime her mother would be real busy and wouldn't
      want to be bothered. It wouldn't be to Dee's, 'cause Dee was still out
      shopping, and even if she could find her at the store, Dee would be so
      upset that Yancy wasn't there to drive her home with those heavy packages.
      For sure, it wasn't to the sheriff's office. Her mother had once told her
      that "Those folks put folks like us _under_ the jail." No, she didn't know
      quite where her legs were taking her. It was like her legs had a mind of
      their own. They were now in charge. But wherever they were taking her, she
      had to get there soon because she was running out of breath.
      Zaszou heard the police siren in the distance. It was an unusual
      sound for Rolinville. The only time the siren blared was when the sheriffs
      office tested it to see if it still worked. When Zaszou's legs and breath
      finally gave out, she found herself on Miss Ruby's street. She limped the
      thirty yards to the old woman's door and banged on it nonstop.
      This time it was Miss Ruby who opened the door. She wore a patch on
      her left eye, and today's colors were violet, orange, and red.
      "Been wondering when you were gonna get here," she said with a half
      smile. "Look at you. All covered in blood."
      "It was Yancy," Zaszou said, panting.
      "I know, chile. And that scumbucket got just what he deserve. Was
      just a matter a time." The siren was closer. Miss Ruby looked up and down
      the street.
      Zaszou saw a rust-colored feather hanging from her purple head wrap.
      "Don't just stand there!" the old woman shouted. "Hurry up. Get in
      here before somebody sees you."


      Rolinville moved quickly to fill the gap created by the physical exit
      of one of its citizens. It was as though the universe set to rebalance
      what was out of whack.
      By 1:30, the town was abuzz. Someone had murdered Yancy Jeffers right
      behind the funeral home. Gutted him with a stake, like a vampire killing.
      It happened just about the time Paradise, the pony that Yancy bet fifty
      bucks on, paid off seven to one. The boys in the back room of the pizza
      parlor had wondered why Yancy didn't show for the daily broadcast of the
      race results. They all commented on how Yancy had favored Paradise and
      would have made a bundle. Only his bookie knew about the win. So when the
      word came down about finding Yancy's body, he pocketed the money.


      At 1:45, when the town's part-time treasurer heard about Yancy's
      death, he swallowed two aspirins, held his head, and immediately
      cal-culated the financial consequences to the town. Funds were drying up,
      just like the soil around Rolinville. The town hadn't budgeted for a
      murder. At least there'd be no costs for transporting the body, he
      fig-ured, since the funeral home also served as the town morgue and
      there'd be no charge for carrying him across the alley. It was unlikely
      that Yancy carried any life insurance. But everyone knew Yancy had that
      yellow Bonneville. It was possible that the town could recoup any
      additional burial charges by selling that car. That's if Yancy didn't
      still owe a big payment on it.


      At 2:15, Dee Jenkins heard about the murder. She'd been sitting on
      the bench outside the Piggly Wiggly, where Yancy was supposed to pick her
      up. He was already thirty minutes late. A group of women coming to shop
      were babbling about a black fellow that had been killed over by the
      funeral home. She had no idea it was Yancy, until they made mention of a
      long yellow car. Dee ran out of the parking lot and accosted the first
      black person she encountered. When the person con-firmed that it was
      indeed Yancy, Dee started wailing and jumping around like a child having a
      tantrum. She managed to return to the bench where her packages waited,
      continuing to sob uncontrollably. A brown-skinned gentleman in about his
      late forties came and sat beside her. He brought her a cup of water and
      offered to drive her and her packages home. On the ride home she just kept
      repeating, "How am I going to get to work?" But when she glanced over at
      the man's power-ful arms and surveyed the cream-colored leather interior
      of his car, she went quiet.


      By 2:30, everyone knew that it was that slow-witted Zaszou Beale
      who'd done it. At least that's what they'd been led to believe by all the
      accounts. Amos Koons, the hearse driver and alternate pallbearer, said
      he'd seen the girl digging in the dead man's pockets when he looked into
      the shed. A number of other people in town said they'd seen a wild woman
      covered in blood running away from the area about the time of the murder.
      Their descriptions sounded like Zaszou; but then again, no-body was sure.
      No one seemed to have a picture of her, not the school, not even her
      mother. When the sheriff interrupted her mother's shift at the diner,
      she'd already heard about Yancy's death. She didn't believe it could be
      Zaszou, since her child could never run as fast as everyone was saying.
      But Zaszou wasn't home. No one knew where she was. Her mother went home
      that afternoon, fully expecting Zaszou to show up for dinner and help with
      the dishes the way she always did.
      The sheriff alerted the authorities in Cannon River. The search for
      Zaszou had begun.


      At 6:30 the next morning, the sheriff paced the streets of downtown
      Rolinville. The search party had been out all night. There'd been no sign
      of the girl. In fifteen years in law enforcement, this was his first real
      homicide. There'd been hunting and farming accidents, drownings, and even
      a suicide. But Rolinville folk didn't kill each other.
      He hadn't slept all night. He'd figured Yancy Jeffers for a
      trouble-maker from the first time he saw him. Who could miss that big
      yellow Bonneville in a population of pickup trucks, midsize Fords, and
      Chevrolets. Yancy was a lowlife. He was probably doing something he had no
      business doing. Now they were after this poor teenager. And where was this
      girl Zaszou anyway? He knew her mother from the diner, but to his
      knowledge, he'd never laid eyes on the girl. He didn't spend much time
      with the black folks unless he was locking them up. Sometimes for drunk
      and disorderly, sometimes for petty theft. Never for anything big. He ran
      a clean town. There was no trouble. The folks that voted him in every two
      years liked it that way.
      As he made it past the funeral home near the murder site, he spot-ted
      a young white woman wandering aimlessly near the drugstore. She was tall
      and thin with blond hair almost to her waist. She looked con-fused. The
      red cloth suitcase she carried matched her red canvas sneakers. She
      reminded him of his daughter.
      "Can I help you, miss?" he asked.
      "You the sheriff?" she answered. His badge was a permanent fix-ture
      on his shirt.
      "Yes, ma'am."
      "The one that puts folks under the jail?"
      He laughed. "I don't know who told you that. I hope that's not what
      folks think about me around here."
      She scanned the street.
      "Where you going, miss? Do you have people here?"
      She shrugged.
      "You look like you're lost. This is Rolinville." He looked into her
      eyes, a habit he'd formed as a young recruit in Petersburg before coming
      to this bump-in-the-road town. Her eyes were ice blue, vacant and
      otherworldly.
      "Yeah, I know. Guess I got off the bus in the wrong town," she said.
      "Where did you intend to be?"
      "Guess not here."
      "You got your ticket to get back on the bus?" he asked, hoping not to
      have to explain another voucher for an outlay of cash the town didn't have.
      "No ticket," she sighed.
      He winced.
      "But I got money." She pulled out a handful of bills.
      "Gotta be careful showing folks cash like that," he said. "Gonna be a
      while before that bus comes along again. The schedule's posted near the
      stop. Down the road a piece near the Piggly Wiggly. You can't miss it."
      She still looked bewildered.
      "There's a big sign that says `Bus Stop.' That's probably where you
      got off when it came through about twenty minutes ago." He scratched his
      head. "Check the schedule. I figure you got at least three hours be-fore
      the Richmond bus comes through. Meantime, you can go on over to the diner
      and get something to eat."
      "No, thanks," she said quickly.
      "Well, good day, ma'am." He watched as she headed toward the bus
      stop. Couldn't fathom her standing there for three hours. It occurred to
      him that maybe Zaszou had got on that early bus, the one that came through
      twenty minutes ago. No one had been assigned to watch there. He felt a
      little stupid at the thought that she might've gotten away, right under
      his nose.


      "Hair Dreams" copyright © 2004 by Joy M. Copeland



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