Josie’s Documented Evidence
by Lisa Johnson Mitchell
She wore blue smocks. Smoked long, brown More cigarettes. Looked like a slightly taller Linda Hunt. And frequently when I passed by her station was talking about documented evidence.
What kind of evidence exactly? That if one of the too-hot-to-touch, ancient hair dryers was left on too long it would explode and burn up the salon? That the new black shampoo girl was robbing the coke machine? That the end papers for the permanent wave gel were too thin and disintegrating in Mrs. Grayden’s hair?
Who could say?
Josie was one of my dad’s stylists, or operators, at Curly’s, his salon. And she was operating in her own sense of reality.
Every time anyone walked by she was theorizing about something. My brother, though, had the inside story.
He said she told him that in the height of people being bitten by sharks in Florida that she had “documented evidence” that people were being bitten by sharks up and down the Texas coast. And if we valued our lives, we should steer clear of this death trap.
“I am not goin’ there! No way. No how. You won’t catch me there. Bud and I’ll just take our trailer somewhere else, somewhere safe!” she said.
My brother also told me that he had heard that Josie’s dire need for “documented evidence” stemmed from her childhood. When she was 10-years-old, she told her family that a raccoon would visit her at night and cling to her window screen. No one believed her. They thought it was a cat – her dad always said she had an “over active imagination.” Until a local newspaper ran an article about a rash of raccoons hitting attics and basements in town. From that point on, she vowed to record data — definitive proof — in any way she could.
One day, my dad got ill. His usual sub at the salon was Houston, but he was chock-a-block busy. So Josie stepped up and stepped in to take care of my dad’s customers – one of whom was coming in to get her hair fixed for the Symphony Ball.
Let’s call her Madge.
Her family fortune was from the Pig Pens. They served up the finest pork barbecue in the Southwest. Made big money from this. Rumor had it that their children were all vegans, so you know that stirred up some heated family conversations.
“You know what ruined the Pig Pens? Aaaair-conditioning!” Madge said over and over. “Aaaaair-conditioning!” as if this modern convenience had the audacity to do her this wrong.
My dad had a certain way of dealing with his upper-end clientele. He spoke of the latest charity events and kept up with the social pages in the paper religiously. He could also speak very knowledgeably about opera and literature. On the other hand, Josie’s idea of culture was more NASCAR on a Saturday with a Big Gulp.
Nevertheless, Madge was coming in. And Josie was going to do her hair.
Here’s the story as I know it:
Madge arrived in a navy St. John’s knit suit and walked with a rickety cane. Her thin, in-need-of-coloring, brown-grey hair was in a state of disarray, windswept, as if she had just gotten off the Tilt-O-Whirl at the Texas State Fair.
She was also a fashion icon, at every gala and always got her photo in the society pages of the Dallas newspaper. She usually brought her purse-sized dog, Bubbles, with her to the salon, but not today. He was at the hairdresser himself.
As she approached the reception desk and inquired about my dad, suddenly, her voice got elevated. Hushed murmurs turned into audibly upset tones.
“Well! That just won’t do! I want John to do my hair. He’s the only one who I can trust,” she said, tapping her cane forcefully with every syllable.
Josie saw this, and approached with caution.
“Madge, I know you must be disappointed, but I assure you I can do just as good a job as John,” Josie said.
“If you come right with me we can get started,” Josie said. And away they went.
Josie grabbed some towels to make a soft pillow upon which Madge would lay her head for her shampoo. Madge ambled up, negotiated the chair with lots of frowns and tisks, then plopped herself down with a heave-ho. The cane rattled to the floor.
“Don’t worry I’ll get that, ” Josie said.
A burst of water came out of the sprayer and onto Madge’s fluffy, shock of hair.
“OOOOH that is TOO COLD! Could you turn on some hot water, for Pete’s sake?” Madge screamed.
“Madge, this water is 75 degrees, which is not cold, but I can make it hotter,” Josie said, and turned up the hot water.
“This water is COLD! Lord Sakes, I’m ‘bout to freeze to death!” Madge said.
“Is that better?” said Josie, turning the hot water knob once more. “I hope so. I have documented evidence that this water is, in fact, now 85 degrees,” Josie said.
“I suppose, but that first blast was bad. I am just used to John’s shampoos,” Madge said.
Josie rinsed her hair, then wrapped a towel around her head like a Swami.
Together, they made their way to Josie’s chair, Madge teetering like a bowling pin every step of the way.
As Madge sat down, Josie cut to the chase, “So are we doing the usual today? Roll up and comb out?”
Madge eeked out a stern, tired, “Yes, indeed.”
Josie began combing Madge’s hair, which was a thick, tangled spidery web.
“So how is business? Your grandkids? Been on any exotic trips lately?” Josie said.
Madge, grimaced and said, “Can you comb a little more gently? I am tender-headed.”
“Of course, my apologies. You’ve got lots of hair,” Josie said.
“Well, if you wouldn’t comb so fast it wouldn’t tug at my scalp,” Madge said, “John knows my head.”
“You know, I am as sorry as I can be, but I have to admit that I try to work with what God brings my way,” Josie said. “Goobers or Raisinettes? I’ve got both.”
“Oh, just hand me the Goobers,” Madge said with a snarl.
Soon Madge’s head was a beacon of hot pink, hard curlers the size of a world globe.
“Okay, let’s put you under the dryer, get you cookin’ good lookin,’” Josie said.
“Well, it’s about time,” Madge whispered to herself.
Madge steadied herself, grabbed her cane, then hooked her arm square-dance style into Josie’s arm and off they went to the dryer.
Josie gingerly sat her down, careful to make sure her head was properly positioned under the plastic dome. She set the timer for an hour so her hair would be set to perfection. As much of a pain in the rump roast she was, Josie did care for the woman and understood that she was old and her legs probably hurt.
“Can I get you anything else, Madge?” said Josie
“What?” Madge said in a loud, opera voice. The dryers were loud and obscured Josie’s voice.
“CAN I GET YOU ANYTHING ELSE? A COKE COLA? DR. PEPPER? HOT COFFEE?” Josie said, a bit impatiently.
“Do you have any crudité?” Madge said.
“Come again?” said Josie.
“CRU-DI-TEH,” Madge said, deliberately.
“Uh, sure,” Josie said, cocked her head to one side, then bent down again, “What is Crew-di … what is that exactly? I don’t know that drink.”
Madge pulled up the dryer hood and spoke with clipped syllables into Josie’s face with all the kindness she could muster.
“John usually has these little snacky things, chopped up veggies, you know, carrots and celery, which are commonly referred to as ‘crudité’ — it’s a French word — so I was wondering if there were any to be had.”
Josie said, “Oh! Those! If you had spoken a language I understood I would have made the connection. Let me go find them. Anything else you need?”
“I’d be pleased as punch if you could get me a fashion magazine, a Vogue,” Madge said, dismissing her, as she lowered the hood over her head.
“Okay let me look,” said Josie.
Josie got the crudité from the fridge, then rummaged around on the magazine rack, then made her way back to Madge. She approached slowly, looking down like a child about to be disciplined.
“I’m sorry, Madge. All I found was a Ladies Home Journal and a Cosmo. No Vogue,” Josie said. “And here’s your crew cuts.”
“Thank you,” Madge said, relieved to see the life-giving morsels. “And I’ll take the Cosmo. Catch up on my sex tips.”
An hour passed and it was time for Josie to fetch Madge. Josie put out her fifth More cigarette of the day, and scurried out of the smoking room to get Madge.
“That dryer was scalding hot,” Madge said, as she sat down in Josie’s chair.
“Honey, next time holler. How can I help you if you don’t tell me anything?” Josie said.
“You should have checked on me instead of standing in the back smoking your cancer sticks,” Madge said, rolling her eyes.
Josie just smiled, “You know, you are right. I am so sorry. I am a bad person,” Josie said.
“Oh, for goodness sakes, Josie, don’t talk like that,” Madge said.
Silence hung heavy in the air like a mushroom cloud.
Josie brushed, and combed. Combed and brushed. Teased and then back-combed until Madge’s hair was a masterpiece.
“There you go. Done as toast,” Josie said. “All we need to do is spray you, then I can call your driver,” Josie said.
“All righty then,” Madge said.
Josie got out her Aqua Net and gave Madge’s hair a good, thorough once-over with it, sealing in all her hard work, which looked like chocolate icing on a cake.
Suddenly, a voice came over the intercom, “Josie, phone call. Josie, phone call.”
“Oh I have to take this. Be right back,” Josie said.
“But I need more spray!” Madge said. “It’s so hot out, my hair is gonna melt!”
Josie ran to the back room and got on the phone. It was her husband. Josie loved her husband. Crazy loved him. When he spoke she listened with every fiber of her being and could not get off the phone, especially when it concerned bad weather.
“If there is gonna be severe weather, I better wrap up and head out … now tell me again where the storm is?” she said, lighting up yet another More cigarette. The smoke circled around her head like a halo.
Josie quickly wheeled around with her orange, blazing cigarette, then POOF! Flames erupted.
Standing right in back of Josie was Madge — with her bangs on fire. She was lit up like sparklers on Fourth of July.
“Jerry gotta go,” Josie said, as she slammed the phone into the cradle.
“OOOOHHH DEAR! HELP! HELP!” said Madge.
“Dear GOD in Heaven,” Josie said, as she grabbed a half-full glass of ice tea and threw it on Madge’s forehead, putting out the fire.
Madge sputtered and was simply beyond reason.
“OOOOH, GOD … you were trying to kill me!” said Madge, screaming as loud as a mama wildebeest whose young had just been eaten.
“Why did you walk into my cigarette?” Josie said.
“Why did you turn around and put your butt in my hair? Madge yelled. “You ran off! I was trying to find you! I needed more hair spray!”
Josie rushed Madge over to a shampoo chair. Her legs wobbled like Slinkys.
“Madge, I am so sorry. Let me have a look at you,” Josie said, as she grabbed her chin gently. “You have no burns on your face. Just a few singed locks. I’ll fix you up right away.”
“I have the Symphony Ball tonight. You have just ruined my hair. Hand me a mirror!” Madge said.
Josie ran to her station and returned in a flash with a comb.
Trying to lighten the mood, Josie said, “I had a long-haired fluffy cat once that jumped up on the coffee table and walked over a candle and her fur went up in flames just like yours did. But she was just fine. The next minute she was outside chasing rats.”
“Is that supposed to make me feel better?” Madge said.
“I don’t know, Madge,” Josie said. “It was an accident. Here, let me fix the front.”
Josie combed Madge’s bangs, smoothing the burnt ends. “Perfect,” Josie said.
“Well, are you going to hand me a mirror?” said Madge. “DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM? I AM NOT TO BE TREATED LIKE THIS!”
“Here, take a look,” Josie said, and thrust a mirror in front of her face.
Madge examined her hairdo from every possible angle, and said, “Well … I guess I’ll make it.”
Josie raised Madge’s bangs and inspected her forehead. “Yep, just as ivory smooth as ever. You look like Miss America,” said Josie. Then she said, abruptly, “Oh, wait right there.”
Josie ran into the back, then emerged with a Polaroid camera.
“Smile, say cheese, “Josie said, as she snapped a photo of Madge’s amended hair helmet.
“If there is any question when John gets back about how your hair looked, this will be my documented evidence that you look just as pretty as a picture,” Josie said.
Madge’s car arrived, and Josie helped her into the long, black town car. When Madge was buckled up, Josie leaned in close to Madge’s face.
“Madge, I am so sorry — from the depths of my heart and down to the tips of my toes. I was not trying to kill you,” said Josie. “You do look real purty. Hope you enjoy your evening.”
“Thank you, Josie,” Madge said, with a half-smile. “We all do the best we can.”
Josie nodded her head in agreement.
“Well, I gotta run. Heard a twister is headed this way, “Josie said, as she shut the heavy door of the car. The engine gunned and coughed, and off Madge went to get ready for the Symphony Ball.
Josie sighed, and said, “Thank the Lord John will be back tomorrow,” as she pulled out yet another More cigarette from her smock pocket. “I don’t think my heart can take another one of these episodes.”
Lisa Johnson Mitchell is a former New York ad copywriter, but a native Texan. Her stories have been published in Red Fez and Flash Fiction Magazine. She received an Honorable Mention for a short story from the Dallas Chapter of PEN Women. She will begin her MFA in Writing and Literature at Bennington College in January 2016 and is a graduate of Southern Methodist University in Dallas.
Bunkitty / August 7, 2015
Funny story, I laughed so hard even after I finished reading it! It has lingering laughter capacity (LLC) ….. you know when an image is prompted in your head while reading a funny story and that image returns to your mind long after the initial read and you laugh just as hard or harder? Thanks for the tickling 😉
tim / August 8, 2015
Absolutely wonderful!!!!!!!!!! As I was reading scenes from Fried Green Tomatoes popped into my head. I felt like I was there in the next chair coughing from the cigarette smoke and smelling the odors of burning hair.