You've got to stop this. But you can't help yourself. While you're in the hair salon buying shampoo for colour-treated hair, you find yourself making an appointment for a leg wax. You will be hairless. Forty is the new thirty. You will be smooth, controlled, gym-toned, with the body of a woman in her late twenties, lushly in her prime and way ahead of the game.
And the voice you hear now as you sit in the salon leafing through the magazines before your appointment will be a whiny, accusing one, nitpicking and obsessive, poking you on the shoulder saying: Look, Goldie Hawn, nearly sixty. Look, Sharon Stone, slim and elegant, had a baby at forty-four.
The receptionist says, 'This your first visit?' Her fingernails are curved like talons, alternately purple and yellow, and you see they are fake and stuck on with superglue. They are so long she can hardly write but she can hardly write anyway, breathing laboriously as she prints your details in big Grade Five letters. Then into the back room and up onto the crackling paper sheet. Butcher's paper for a slab of meat. You make nervous small talk.
'Do you wax guys?' you blurt.
'All the time.' The girl stirs wax implacably, arranges things on the counter like a dental nurse. 'You'd be surprised.' You lie back. She chats on.
'Guys come in here, want their backs waxed, their arses.'
'Nope. I do everything. You wouldn't believe it. A week before Mardi Gras, or when there's a bike race or the City to Surf, I'm booked out.'
Suddenly there is a hot stroke of wax on your shin, a pause, then blinding pain.
'Haven't had them done for a while, that's why it hurts more.'
'Actually this is my first time ever.'
'Really? Oh well, it won't take long.'
Another rip that brings tears to your eyes.
'Brazilians are all the go now,' she says. 'You want pain, boy '
'Don't tell me.'
She tilts your leg, ices on some more wax, rips it away.
'Yep, everything. Completely hairless. Like a Barbie doll.'
You shudder and lie back, willing it to be over. Like having a cavity drilled, you try to take your thoughts away. Paul, and what he would say if he could see you now. Think then about your first argument, the other night. 'Don't tell me what I'm going to do next,' he'd finally fumed. 'And Jesus, will you just relax and stop worrying about your weight? How much reassurance do you need?'
'I don't need reassurance.'
'Yes, you do. It's so bloody tiring. It's like you've already decided to end it and you're just waiting for me to slip up so you can blame me.'
You'd opened and closed your mouth like a stunned fish. A wave of nausea. You'd clenched your jaw, saying nothing. Don't cry, you'd ordered yourself, don't you dare. Mascara running. Haggard. Lines. Ugly. Old.
'Let's just light a candle then, if you don't want the lamp on,' he'd said later in bed, at his place. And you'd shaken your head, taken the matches from him.
'No,' you'd answered. 'Let's not. Really. I like the dark.'
She's up to your groin and you feel the wax getting daubed around your undies line. She holds the skin taut and pulls. It's excruciating.
'Bloody hell!' you gasp.
'Yeah, the pubic hairs always hurt more deeper roots.'
'And people have the whole lot ripped out?'
'All the time.'
You look down at the reddened patch and see tiny prick marks of blood appearing where the hairs have been yanked out. It feels like you've had a layer of skin torn off. Like you've been peeled.
'God, how could they stand it?'
She considers, moving her chewing gum around her mouth. 'They reckon it looks clean.' 'Clean?' 'Sexy. Their boyfriends ask 'em to do it, they say.' Rip. She's on the other ankle. Clean, you think.
Excerpted from the short story "Dark Roots" in Dark Roots by Cate Kennedy. © 2006 by Cate Kennedy. Reprinted with the permission of Black Cat, an imprint of Grove/Atlantic Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced without written permission from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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