Andrea Hollander

Beauty Parlor

One of the regulars had cancer

in those days before chemo,

and even after the beautician lowered

the hairdryer canister over the woman’s head,

she talked nonstop about the intense heat

of cobalt treatments, the way her body burned

in places she’d rather not name,

how her skin there felt more like leather.

When she paused, the beauty parlor grew

strangely quiet:  only the hum of the dryers,

the occasional whoosh of water at the sinks. 

Until she spoke again, no one looked at her. 

Then she droned on, but this time

about her son, who’d stopped coming by

now he had a wife who had him

wound around her little finger.

I didn’t understand yet

it wasn’t his wife that kept the son away.

I was seventeen and only a guest

in this world

where my mother was a regular

on Wednesdays.  That day she sat up front

among the women’s magazines. 

After I was done, we’d go to lunch. 

And in a few days she’d tell me

her own bad news.  She’d say she didn’t want

to spoil my senior prom.  But that afternoon

as the woman carried on and on and on,

she already knew what she knew.

from Woman in the Painting (Autumn House Press, 2006)

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