The Story of the Wig ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
(Published in The Legendary.)
Vicki-Vicki was just starting to think of herself as pretty when her mother held her down and shaved her head. In just a minute or two, all her hair lay on the floor around her feet. She ran into the bedroom to look in the mirror, hoping that enough hair remained to cover up the parts that had been shaved, but it was worse than she thought. She just had a fringe around the edges, and that was only because her mother had been drunk and had missed those parts.
She planned on killing herself that night. She couldn’t go to school and let people see her with all her hair shaved off. They would make fun of her and call her names, worse than they already did—worse than anything she had ever known before.
The only thing that kept her from killing herself was a small voice in her head that told her if she killed herself her hair would never grow back. She would go to her grave bald-headed and would remain that way until her body rotted away to a skeleton. If she remained alive, though, she would see the day when she had a full head of hair again, but best of all she could get revenge on her mother for what she did to her. If it took her all the rest of her life, she planned on paying her back.
She locked herself in her room that night. There was no lock on the door, but she pushed enough furniture against it so that nobody would have been able to get inside no matter how hard they tried. She sat in front of the mirror and experimented with different ways to cover up her head.
She tried a baseball cap pulled down low over her eyes, but if she wore that to school somebody would tell her to take it off because it was a violation of the dress code. She found a winter cap in the closet that had belonged to her older brother, and she took it out and let down the earflaps and put it on. It covered up her hair all right, but winter had passed and a winter hat just wasn’t the thing. She took a large man’s bandana handkerchief and pinched the corners together with rubber bands until it conformed to the shape of her head, but it made her look like a field hand. She found an old flowered scarf in the bottom of the bureau drawer that she had never seen before; she tied it around her head turban-fashion, but it made her look like an old woman. Then she took the same scarf and put it around her head and tied it in back, but when she held up a mirror and looked at herself from behind she saw that this arrangement allowed the back of her head to be seen underneath the scarf, so that was no good either. The best she could hope for was that the school would burn down and they would have to close down for several weeks while they built it back.
Not knowing what else to do, she put on the baseball cap and slipped quietly out of the house to go pay Grandma a visit.
Grandma lived in a tiny, neat bungalow over by the lagoon. She always kept herself looking good. She bought her dresses at Goodwill on Main Street and she had lots of them. She wore a different dress every day until she wore all of them and then she started over again. She always collected things, like cups and ashtrays and salt and pepper shakers, but especially jewelry. She had collected jewelry all her life and always wore lots of it. She usually wore earrings and a matching necklace, along with a brooch or a pin on the front of her dress and a bracelet on one or sometimes both wrists that jangled whenever she moved.
When Vicki-Vicki walked into Grandma’s house and removed the baseball cap, Grandma looked at her and put on her glasses because she didn’t recognize her at first; she thought she was a boy from the neighborhood that she didn’t like. She laughed a little, but when Vicki-Vicki told her what happened she was very sympathetic and she tried hard not to laugh again. She said she would like to stick a knife in Evelyn’s gut and twist it until she died for doing such a thing to Vicki-Vicki.
She had a couple of hats and a knit turban with a bumblebee on it that she wanted Vicki-Vicki to try on to see how they looked, but they somehow were not right for a girl of Vicki-Vicki’s age. They were more for a woman in her seventies and made her look worse than she looked without any hair. Then Grandma had a wonderful idea, she said; she knew of somebody who might be able to help. She got her purse and told Vicki-Vicki to come with her. They were going to pay a call on her friend Miss DeRosa.
Eulalie DeRosa lived in an old apartment building across town. She and Grandma had known each other since they worked as waitresses together at a roadhouse when they were young. She worked for many years as a cosmetologist for a funeral home and she still had all the tools of her trade.
Grandma drove her old green Ford pickup truck with the fake fox tail suspended from the aerial, and in ten minutes she pulled up in front of the building where Miss DeRosa lived, and she and Vicki-Vicki went inside and climbed the four flights of stairs to Miss DeRosa’s apartment. Grandma knocked on the door and when Miss DeRosa came and opened it Grandma hardly recognized her. She had been to a party and was wearing a blonde wig and heavy makeup that covered up all the wrinkles and made her look years younger. Grandma had never seen her as a blonde before.
As they entered Miss DeRosa’s apartment, Vicki-Vicki had to admit she had never seen anything like it. It was crowded full of furniture and art objects and special memorabilia that Miss DeRosa had accumulated over her entire life. The walls were covered with pictures of all kinds, scenes of Paris and ancient Rome, seascapes and landscapes, pictures of some important-looking people, and some scenes with some animals in them. Over to one side of the first room was a blue coffin with peach-colored satin interior that rested on a low table. The coffin was empty and the lid was opened. Vicki-Vicki couldn’t keep from looking at the coffin, but to Miss DeRosa and Grandma it was nothing out of the ordinary.
Grandma explained to Miss DeRosa what had happened to Vicki-Vicki’s hair, and Miss DeRosa listened attentively while making appreciative noises. She acted as though it was nothing out of the ordinary for a young girl of Vicki-Vicki’s age to accidentally end up with her head shaved. When Grandma finished speaking, Miss DeRosa thought for a moment and then she ushered Grandma and Vicki-Vicki into the room that she referred to as her studio.
The studio was a large, cluttered room with a big skylight in the ceiling. The clutter consisted of boxes, barrels, crates and some furniture, including a church pew, an antique chaise longue and an old-fashioned phone booth. Along one wall were four full-sized mannequins standing in a row, two men and two women, all dressed in evening attire. Sometimes Miss DeRosa would put one of the mannequins in the coffin and pretend it was an old boyfriend or one of her husbands or somebody she knew a long time ago. She would keep the mannequin “lying in state” for a couple of days and then she would have a nice service and after the service she would put the mannequin back in the studio until she felt like having a funeral again. Sometimes when she didn’t want to sleep alone she would put one or other of the mannequins in her big double bed and sleep with it all night beside her. It was like having another person in bed, but with none of the inconveniences like snoring or hogging the covers.
Miss DeRosa had Vicki-Vicki sit in front of a large mirror. She tried a couple of different wigs that somehow didn’t seem appropriate, and then she settled on a blonde wig that was made of real human hair that was just a couple of shades lighter than Vicki-Vicki’s real hair. She stood back and looked at the blonde wig on Vicki-Vicki’s head and she knew right away it was the right wig. Grandma agreed.
The wig was medium-length, slightly curled and wavy, and it didn’t look either too young or too old for Vicki-Vicki. It was just right—better than Vicki-Vicki’s real hair had ever looked. While her own hair was lank and lifeless, the wig was vibrant and shiny and full. She sat looking at her reflection in the mirror, and she couldn’t quite believe it was her own self she was seeing.
Miss DeRosa thought it only fair to tell the story of the wig if Vicki-Vicki was going to wear it until her real hair grew back.
The wig had been used on a dead person. A young girl named Sylvia Knox had died in a fire. Her face was untouched by the flames, but her hair was all burned off. Her family wanted her to look in her coffin exactly as she had looked when she was alive, so the undertaker arranged to have them shown dozens of wigs. They chose the wig that was the closest to Sylvia Knox’s own hair. When it came time for the burial, though, the family chose not to have the wig buried with her because they would have had to pay retail for it, which was more than they could afford. At the family’s request, the undertaker removed the wig from Sylvia Knox’s head right before the coffin lid was closed for the last time, so it could be used again.
Miss DeRosa said that she would let Vicki-Vicki borrow the wig for as long as she needed it at no cost, because she and Grandma were such good friends. She told Vicki-Vicki how to groom the wig and how to take it off and put it on and how to make sure it wouldn’t come off accidentally. Vicki-Vicki had a slight squeamishness about wearing a wig that had been used on a dead person, but the wig looked so good on her that she quickly overcame her misgivings.
When Vicki-Vicki went home, her mother became infuriated when she saw her wearing the wig. She accused Vicki-Vicki of stealing it from an uptown store. When Vicki-Vicki tried to explain, her mother went after her with her arms outstretched, trying to grab the wig to flush it down the toilet. Vicki-Vicki was able to fight her off and ran out of the house and down the road. She went to Grandma’s house and spent the night on her couch.
That night Sylvia Knox appeared to Vicki-Vicki in a dream. She told Vicki-Vicki she was glad she was wearing the wig she had worn and that she hoped it would bring her good luck. Since it was a two-way communication, Vicki-Vicki asked her what it was like to be dead, and Sylvia Knox said it was better than a poke in the eye with a stick. This was Vicki-Vicki’s first experience of speaking to someone who had died.
At school Vicki-Vicki received more favorable attention than she ever had before. Everybody wanted to know what she had done to make herself look so much better. Nobody suspected she was wearing a wig. Boys looked at her in a different way. Girls who had always shunned her suddenly wanted to be friends with her.
She realized that if a wig could make that much difference in her life, she could do other little things to improve herself. She became more particular about her appearance and began keeping herself cleaner. She began shoplifting lipsticks and little containers of makeup from the dime store and she learned how to use them to the best effect. She had never wanted those things before and had thought them silly.
She thought quite a lot about Sylvia Knox and felt somehow connected to her. She even thought of herself sometimes as Sylvia Knox. She made up in her head the kind of life for Sylvia Knox that she herself wanted to have. In her imaginings, Sylvia Knox lived in a pretty, two-story house with a handsome father and a beautiful mother, a precocious little brother, and an adorable large dog. She wore the best and most expensive clothes, she received excellent grades in school, and she was always receiving some kind of honor or other because she was so smart and so gifted. Every summer she went with her picture-perfect family for a lovely vacation to a beautiful tropic country that was all beaches.
Vicki-Vicki never thought about the terrible fire that claimed Sylvia Knox’s life or what it must have been like for her to die that way. She never thought about her lying in her grave bald-headed, either, because her family wouldn’t pay retail.
As he own hair grew back underneath the wig, she dreaded the day when she would have her own hair again and would have to give the wig back to Miss DeRosa. She planned on speaking to Grandma about speaking to Miss DeRosa about how she might keep the wig and clean Miss DeRosa’s apartment and do chores for her to pay for it.
A couple of weeks after Vicki-Vicki began wearing the wig, her mother was wanted for questioning by the police in a case involving armed robbery and assault. When the police came to the house to pick her up, a friend had given her advance warning and she had fled. Vicki-Vicki knew exactly where she was and was more than willing to tell the police—on the simple condition that they never tell anyone how they came to have this information.
Copyright © 2013 by Allen Kopp