By Eliza Becker
Korris winced at the scissors’ first zip. Her ear had never been nicked while having her hair cut professionally, but she felt it to be probable, inevitable, even, given their gangling presence under her temples.
Over the last few years of her mid-twenties, she had finally built up a level of trust in Myko, her barber. Trust in him not to make her hair necessarily look pretty on her head and face — no. Confidence that he would not carve the ear out of her head.
But last July when she rode the bus twenty-seven blocks to her usual barber shop, she found its windows boarded up, the candy cane of a barber pole no longer spinning. But plain. Paralyzed. Nothing special about red swirls sitting still. The illusion that they would forever be propelled upwards, produced infinitely from under, was gone.
It was January, now. Since then, Korris had been, to no avail, attempting to acquire Myko’s replacement — if even possible. The man was so gentle with the blade. Men were rarely gentle with anything.
“You need to stop flinching each time I cut the hair,” said Strossen, a possible prospect. Strossen was doing a so-so job. He had a Russian accent which reminded Korris of her first grade teacher, Mrs. Greyf. The way his tongue drawled into the “L.” “Fuhllinching.”
“Sorry. I’m just sensitive of my ears, Strossen,” her voice rasped out of her throat. Too many cigarettes this morning.
“I noticed. They are very big. I understand.”
Korris couldn’t really make out his ears under his mane of salt speckled black bush, but she practiced some deep breathing, thought of Mrs. Greyf and her earnestness, and decided to believe him.
“You say my name very often,” Strossen moved his scissors to the back of her head now, and she could breathe regularly once more.
“I think it’s nice to hear your name be said. Not everyone has people close to them to say it all the time.”
Korris smiled up at him through the mirror, but as she did so, she saw the scissors hovering over her ear. The smile dropped off her face. Her butt squeeked against the faux-leather chair. Strossen moved the scissors away quickly, and Korris made out a creasing in his beard, where his mouth should have been.
“My daughter likes boy hair like you. Louissa.”
“Do you cut Louissa’s hair?”
“I used to, but now she lives far away. I taught her to cut it herself.”
“I wish I could do that.”
“I would teach you, but that would not be smart business strategies.”
Korris nodded in agreement, “I understand.”
Once the haircut was complete, the two thanked each other, verbalizing the other’s name.
As the glass door slunk into its frame behind Korris, she felt her phone tremble against her rib. She removed the phone from the pocket, and saw the name “Karinna” slide on and off the screen. She bit off her glove, exposing her fingers to the white frigidity of winter, her least favorite season, and swiped into “accept.”
“Korris?” A sharp voice shot through the speaker, into her ear. She moved the phone an inch away, but didn’t flinch.
“How have you spent your Sunday evening?”
“Getting a haircut.”
“Kory, you don’t need to do that. You don’t need a new barber. Just let me cut it like when you were young. I’ll send you a ticket—the train is only two hours. You never come see me,” the sharpness turned soft.
“I do need a new barber, and it’s Korris to you.”
“Who are you to tell your own mother what to call you? I decided what to call you when you erupted from within me,” and that easily, the sharpness had returned.
Korris didn’t say anything. Kory was not something someone who had spoiled her could call her. It was a nickname reserved for someone alive and well in her mind. Not someone rotting her from within. The mere memory.
“You better not be smoking a cigarette right now. Those will kill you. I bet your lungs are so black. Like the holes in your ears.”
Korris didn’t respond, but slid the phone back into her jacket pocket, pulled her glove onto her dry, ashy hand, lit a cigarette, and walked.
She balled herself up on top of the bus stop bench, and could feel the metal draining all of the heat from within her, starting at her ass. As she waited, she opened her notes app to a mostly crossed out list of prospective barbershop replacements.
This shop had been the last one on the list, the last one within a forty-five minute radius of her studio apartment. Strossen had successfully avoided touching her ears for the entirety of the haircut, which showed potential. However, his large stature, reminiscent of her former partner, uneased her. With her mother, Korris at least knew everything her body hid within itself—knew of its core.
“You should wear a hat out here, girl.”
Korris moved her entire ball of body leftwards and back to look up at the behemoth of a man that was Strossen.
“Korris,” he corrected himself before she could respond. “With all your ears.”
“Strossen! You’re done at the shop?”
Strossen nodded. “I tell Louissa she needs to wear a hat. It’s colder where she lives.”
“She says sometimes. I don’t know.” Strossen’s eyes stared out at the deserted street, wide and gray, absent of people and cars. “It is hard being away from her.”
Korris stared out, too. “It’s her decision in the end, I guess.”
Strossen nodded. The two shivered in silence for a moment. “I have an extra hat in my coat. If you want it,” Strossen said.
“You just carry around an extra hat?”
“Yes. Do you want it or no?”
Korris smiled, said “yes,” and donned the orange beanie Strossen handed to her, warming her formerly numb ears.
“Okay. Goodbye Korris.”
“You’re not taking the bus?”
“No. I walk home. This stop is on my way.”
“Oh. So you don’t want the hat back?”
“No. You need ear protection. Or you can bring it back for your next haircut,” Strossen winked, and turned towards the corner of the street.
There were still no cars, but he waited for the light anyways, and made his way across the street, a big warm mass taking his time through the cold. Korris pulled the hat tighter on her head, and on her phone found the emailed train ticket from her mother.
By the time she looked up, a bus barreling into the stop had obscured Strossen from her view. As she boarded the bus, swiping her card, she rushed to the far window, hoping for a glimpse of the man who had provided her such warmth in the cold. But as she craned her neck over an old woman, the frosted window revealed nothing but the same dull desolate street that had always been there.