I can't stop kvelling over my good friend Marci Wilcox's new ebook series, RED FOX, GA, now available on Amazon and Smashwords. Marci was kind enough to give me permission to share with you the first chapter of episode one. Enjoy.
The shopkeeper’s bell rang as Polly Swift entered Martha’s Hair Done Right. She breathed in the smell of hair spray, perm lotion, shampoo, and heated air. Some people hated the smell, especially the perming lotion. Polly loved it. She looked over the shop. It was one large open room with a reception area, front desk, four styling stations, two manicure stations, and three dryers. The wet stations for shampooing weren’t visible. Polly assumed they were in the back. The building was old. The faded wallpaper was a garden of pink flowers. It was the kind of wallpaper that should only be hanging in a wallpaper museum.
On the waiting room table were copies of People magazine and the Christian equivalent, Charisma Magazine. Seated behind the front desk was a woman who looked to be in her late sixties. She wore cat-eye glasses and a pinched face. She looked Polly over with open curiosity.
“Hello,” Polly said. “I’m here to see Martha Swafford.”
“How do you know I’m not Martha Swafford?” the woman asked.
“I didn’t until now.”
“If you were Martha, you would have said, ‘I’m Martha Swafford. How can I help you?’”
The woman let out a loud braying laugh.
“You’re right. I’m not Martha. My name’s Crystal. Crystal Beaver. No vagina jokes, please. I hang out here because I’m retired and have nothing better to do with my time. I’ll warn you right now. I’m a nosy busybody and a terrible gossip. Or a great gossip depending on your opinion of gossip.”
“Is Martha in or should I come back later?”
Crystal brayed again.
“Sorry. I do get carried away. Martha’s using the little girl’s room. She should be back any minute.”
Polly thanked her and sat down in the reception area. A woman in her late forties wearing a black nylon salon smock came out of the back of the shop. She was an attractive woman. Her auburn hair had streaks of gray. Polly jumped to her feet and smoothed her dress with her palms.
“Hello,” Polly said. “You must be Martha Swafford.”
“I am,” the woman replied. “And you must be Polly Swift.”
The women shook hands.
“You didn’t tell me you were interviewing anybody today,” Crystal said.
“You’re right, I didn’t,” Martha said. “Because it’s none of your business.”
Crystal grinned, obviously more amused than offended. Martha turned to Polly.
“We can talk in my office,” Martha said. “Crystal will let me know if anybody comes in. Won’t you, Crystal?”
“I don’t work for you,” Crystal said.
“You got anywhere else you got to be for the next half hour?”
“Can’t say that I do. I’ll let you know if anybody comes in.”
Martha led Polly around a corner to a hallway that took them past two wet stations. Across from the wet stations were two bathrooms, one for men and the other for women. Polly wondered if in this estrogen rich territory if anyone ever used that men’s room. At the end of the hallway, Martha ushered Polly into Martha’s cramped office. Martha sat at the desk and Polly took the visitor’s chair.
Martha opened a manila folder on her desk and plucked out Polly’s resume. She looked it over as if she hadn’t already studied it carefully.
“Your work history is very impressive,” Martha said, tapping the resume. “I may live in this little town, but I’ve heard of these places. They’re high-end salons. You haven’t bounced from place to place like some stylists do. You spent a good amount of time at each salon. Shows they liked your work.”
“What can I say?” Polly said. “I love what I do.”
Martha laid Polly’s resume on her desk and stared at Polly. Polly squirmed in her seat, but didn’t lose her smile.
“I don’t know what to tell you, Polly,” Martha said. “I can’t pay you anywhere near what these big city salons pay or guarantee the amount of business they get. I have four chairs out there, but I can only keep two of them busy. I had one employee, but her husband got a job in Denver. You’re from Atlanta. How did you even find out I had an opening?”
“You posted an ad in the Dillard Register. They have an online version of the paper.”
“But why on Earth would you want to work in Red Fox, Georgia?”
Polly clasped her hands in her lap.
“I grew up in a place just like Red Fox. I moved to Atlanta because I wanted to live in a big city. I thought it would be exciting and that I’d meet interesting people. The longer I lived in Atlanta, the less exciting and interesting it became and the more I missed living in a small town. So I searched small town newspapers on the Internet and found your ad.”
Martha studied Polly’s face. She didn’t know what to make of this girl. It would be great to have someone with Polly’s experience, but maybe she’d lived in the big city for too long and picked up too many bad habits.
“I understand the salons in cities like Atlanta attract a lot of people with questionable morals,” Martha said.
“Questionable morals?” Polly said.
Martha leaned forward.
“A lot of gay men are hairdressers. Did you ever have to deal with homosexuals at the places you worked?”
Polly leaned forward.
“Yes. I did. There was always at least one or two gay men at every salon.”
“How did you deal with them?”
Polly grinned. “Well, they didn’t have much to do with me for obvious reasons.”
“I don’t understand.”
“I’m not a man.”
Martha leaned back and crossed her arms.
“Well, you won’t have to deal with those kind of people in Red Fox. This is a good Christian town. We’re not perfect but we’re blessed.”
“That’s good to know.”
Martha had nothing more to ask Polly. She trusted first impressions and her first impression of Polly was that she was hiding something. Probably she was running from a bad relationship. Most times when love turned sour, it was the woman who left town. Though in Martha’s case, it was her husband who ran off, leaving her to raise their son on her own.
They heard the shopkeeper’s bell ring, but Martha ignored it. A moment later, Crystal knocked, opened the door, and leaned in.
“The queen is here,” Crystal announced.
“Of course she is,” Martha said. She stood. “Well, we were pretty much done. Thank you for coming in, Polly. I’ll let you know what my decision is by the end of the week.”
Polly got to her feet. “Thank you for considering me. If you don’t mind me asking, who is the queen?”
Crystal entered the office and closed the door behind her.
“Tammy Baggs,” Crystal said. “She’s the pastor’s wife at the church me and Martha go to. She never makes an appointment. Just shows up whenever it pleases her and expects Martha to drop whatever she’s doing and wait on her hand and foot.”
Martha grimaced. She didn’t like Crystal telling tales to strangers, though she should have been used to it by now. On the other hand, since it was Tammy they were talking about she couldn’t resist joining in.
“She’s impossible to please,” Martha said. “Nothing I do to her hair is right. She doesn’t like anything I suggest.”
“She used to make Susie cry,” Crystal added. Noticing the confusion on Polly’s face, she continued. “It’s Susie’s job you’re applying for. I think Susie convinced her husband to find a job in Denver just so she could get away from Tammy. I tell you that woman is a sadist. She likes to inflict pain.”
“Don’t exaggerate, Crystal,” Martha said. “Tammy puts on airs because she’s the pastor’s wife. She feels entitled to act the way she does.”
“You would think a pastor’s wife would be humble since her husband serves the Lord,” Polly said. Martha and Crystal stared at Polly. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that. However, may I make a suggestion?”
“What’s on your mind?” Martha said, crossing her arms.
“Let me do Ms. Baggs hair today. It will give me a chance to show you what I can do and if I make her happy then that might influence your decision about me.”
“And if you piss her off, then what?” Crystal asked.
“You said she’s never happy no matter what you do, so what do have to lose?”
Martha rubbed her chin and then rolled her eyes.
“Sure, why not?” she said. “You can use Susie’s station.”
Martha led the way as the three women went into the main salon. Tammy sat in the salon chair at Martha’s station. She furiously flipped through the pages of a People magazine.
“It’s about time,” Tammy barked as she tossed the magazine to the floor. “I haven’t got all day. I have church business to attend to.”
“Sorry, Tammy,” Martha said. “As you can see, I had a visitor. This is Polly Swift. She’s one of the top stylists from Atlanta.”
“Atlanta?” Tammy said, giving Polly the once over. “Are you familiar with Fuse or VonDavid?”
“Oh, you’ve been to them?” Polly said. “If you went to Fuse, I hope you asked for Krista. She’s the best. I love Von and David to death, but like all brothers they were always arguing, so I only worked for them a couple of years before I moved to Botticelli.”
“Botticelli? I tried to get an appointment there but they were always booked up.”
Polly put her forefinger on her cheek as if she’d just had an amazing idea.
“Maybe I can make it up to you. Let me do your hair today. If that’s okay with you and Martha.”
Tammy scowled at Martha. Martha shrugged her shoulders.
“It’s okay with me.”
“Is this going to cost extra?”
“Same rate as always.”
Tammy grinned at Polly. “Let’s do it!”
Martha showed Polly to Susie’s old station. Polly make sure she had everything she needed. The building might be old, but the equipment was newish. Polly had her own gear in her car, which were much better quality but she didn’t want to waste time fetching them. She had Tammy sit in the salon chair and spun it around to face the mirror. Polly stood behind her.
Tammy had severe features: a sharp nose, a sharp chin, and narrow eyes. There were hints of softness in her, but they were carefully buried. Her dark brown hair was done in a long wavy formal style. Tammy was trying to look like a classic pastor’s wife with the long flowing locks of a virtuous woman of God. But that wasn’t who she was. No wonder she was never satisfied with her hair.
Polly used to have a client who was a dominatrix. She was one of the nicest people Polly had ever dealt with. The dominatrix explained that since she had to be cruel all day, she didn’t have the strength to be mean outside of work. She and Tammy had similar features.
“I have just the thing for you,” Polly said.
Polly took Tammy to the wet station and washed her hair.
“You have strong hands,” Tammy said.
“Pilates,” Polly said.
Polly brought Tammy back to chair and started cutting Tammy’s hair. As she worked, Tammy chatted and Polly listened and occasionally added the appropriate Yes, No, Really, I had no idea. Martha pretended not to watch Polly’s every move. Crystal didn’t pretend at all. When Polly was done, she turned Tammy around to see the results.
Tammy stared in disbelief as she fingered the tips of her hair. Polly had given her a classic Bettie Page cut with short bangs and long waves. All Tammy needed to look completely like a dangerous vixen was bright red lipstick and a black leather bustier.
“I like it,” Tammy said. “But, I feel like something is missing.”
“Your hair is the wrong color,” Polly said. “It needs to be pitch black, darker than the darkest night.
“You’re right. Let’s dye it.”
“Not yet. You should live with this cut a few days to make sure. Would you like to make an appointment for a dye job next week? You can cancel if you decide you want to keep your natural color.”
“Sounds good to me.”
Tammy paid Martha for the haircut and handed Polly a five-dollar tip before making an appointment for the following Monday. She bounced out of the salon humming a hymn. As soon as she was gone, Polly located a broom and swept up Tammy’s cut hair on the floor.
“I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes,” Crystal said. “You tamed the Wicked Witch of the West.”
“You gave her a great haircut and you got her to make an appointment,” Martha said. “Are you capable of any other miracles?”
“Oh, I didn’t do anything special,” Polly said. “I just got lucky. But I hope you’ll consider this when you make your final decision.”
“Like I’m going to find somebody better?” Martha said. “Polly, you’re hired.”
Polly’s face lit up and grabbed Martha’s hands, but then she blushed and dropped her hands to her side.
“You won’t regret this. I promise.”
“When can you start?”
“Tomorrow if that’s okay.”
“Really? Don’t you need to give your employer a two-week notice? Don’t you need to pack your things?”
“I quit two weeks ago and all my stuff is in my car. I’ll be honest. I have a list of other small town salons looking for a stylist. If you didn’t hire me, I was going to apply at the next one and the next one until someone did.”
Martha was now convinced. Polly was running away from a bad relationship and wasn’t ready to admit it. Giving her a job was the Christian thing to do.
“In that case,” Martha said. “You can start tomorrow. We’ll do all the paperwork then. Do you have a place to stay?”
“I saw a motel when I drove in. I figured I would stay there until I found an apartment.”
“That’s the only motel in town,” Crystal said. “They have rooms with a kitchenette that you can rent by the month.”
“Sounds perfect,” Polly said. “Thank you so much, Mrs. Swafford.”
“Call me Martha.”
“Okay, Martha. See you tomorrow.”
Polly bounced out of the salon and spun in a circle on the sidewalk. Martha watched her as she got into her purple car and drove away.
“So what do you think, Crystal? Did I make a mistake in hiring that girl?” Martha said.
“Only time will tell,” Crystal said. “Only time will tell.”