Quite short story (for me) on the joys of hair removal (1500 words)
Hannah stands alone in the chilliness of the room in a woolly jumper and a pair of paper knickers.
‘I’ll come back when you’re ready,’ the woman had told her. Hannah looks in the mirror at the knickers, imagining herself walking down the street and their gradual tearing disintegration. The gusset’s starting to feel warm.
The room is small, containing a bed covered with paper from a roll and filled with beauty apparatus; bottles of cream with scientific brand names displayed on glass shelves and in the corner a toning machine, its black arms jutting forward for a robot embrace. Assorted objects lie in wait on a trolley: wax strips, tissues, tea tree cream, wooden sticks and a pot of pale green wax gently steaming. The leaves of a spider plant struggle upwards towards the grey light of a window.
‘Upper lip, brows, bikini and half leg.’ Hannah nods when the beautician comes back in. She knows the woman is called Lily as a friend recommended her. Lily definitely and this salon. She’s really good. There is a special week day deal for £35 but it still feels expensive.
Lily ushers her onto the bed.
‘Lie back,’ she says, ‘Relax.’ She has an accent that’s hard to place.
But Hannah props up on her elbows so she can look down at what’s happening. Her thighs and legs shudder as Lily brushes them over with talc. She notes Lily’s thickly made up face, her dun skin, rosy cheeks and pink lips are like a circus gypsy’s. She looks Egyptian, perhaps Turkish. Not really like a Lily but it might have been translated. Her eyebrows are peculiar, two hairless, thick pencilled lines.
Hannah glances into the mirror Lily hands her.
‘I like them natural,’ she says referring to her brows. One of Lily’s eyebrows raise quizzically as if to say, ah yes, natural.
‘Thick. Natural,’ she repeats, thinking in her head, not like yours which looks like they’ve been drawn on by someone insane.
Hannah’s been putting it off for ages but a holiday is coming up. Bikini-line. She doesn’t wear bikinis anymore, only swimsuits. It should be knicker-line. Or giant-pant line. The hair really should be left alone. It wants to be in her skin. In protest from previous occasional waxes, some have refused to come out; ingrown under the translucent top layer like tiny balls of black pupa.
‘We’re supposed to be hairy,’ Hannah told her friend. ‘Hair catches scent, it’s all about sexual arousal.’
But still, she’s here.
‘It’s quite bad,’ Hannah finds herself telling Lily. ‘It’s been a while, sorry.’
She expects Lily to disagree.
‘Don’t worry,’ replies Lily with a quick sweep of her eyes. No contradiction. She is pulling the thread off the reel and holds it between her teeth, the thick arms readying, twisting the cotton.
Hannah tries not to wince or jerk as Lily starts on her lip, threshing up and down, criss-crossing the thread into its spiteful jabbing as the hairs are yanked out. Lily tells Hannah to push her tongue under her top lip but it keeps slipping out reflexively. This is not pain, Hannah thinks, this is not the worst pain. Think of torture, torture victims. Think of them and try to breath. Sweat breaks out on her face. Lily’s hands working above, smell of meat stew.
Hannah tries to concentrate on the ambient flute music gliding into the room. Her natural impulse is to punch Lily who is drawing the thread together in her mouth again. Her eyes water but she can’t help but look right into Lily’s eyeball and the wet intimacy of it. The calm concentrated indifference of her face. She tries to resist the impulse to reach up and grab Lily’s hands. Instead her fists grasp the side of the bed.
‘Who do you know who comes here?’ Lily asks.
‘Susie,’ Hannah manages to gasp. Lily’s now working on Hannah’s brows.
‘Susie…Susie?’ Lily pauses.
Hannah pants, relishing the pause away from pain. Perhaps Lily’s contemplating the amount of hair on Susie Little. Susie is fair and as far as Hannah can tell has light baby down not real hair.
After her brow, Lily starts on Hannah’s legs and bikini line. The hair is long and flourishing there, lining the back of each thigh like an animal pelt. Lily gathers up some wax with the stick trailing gluey threads and stops.
She says, ‘You have more hair here, you need to pay more. This is like full leg.’ She prods Hannah’s thigh and gestures from the knee up to her crotch.
‘But it’s £35 – special deal.’
‘Yes but you have more hair. Too much. Takes longer.’
Hannah’s face burns.
‘Well how much more?’
Her head falls back and she nods. Lily begins waxing off the lower part of Hannah’s legs fast as if she’s scraping off mortar between bricks. The wax is hot, too hot and stings as it’s ripped away from her ankles and knees.
‘Am I really that bad?’
She wants to say, am I the hairiest woman you’ve ever seen?
Lily pauses, then says: ‘I have other women same. But they want it all off. The husband want it all off.’
‘What, everywhere? Ow, shit, sorry…fuck, sorry..’
‘Yes. One woman she has everything gone, except eyelash and eyebrow. All gone. Every month.’
‘Jesus.’ The agony of it.
‘Better. Cleaner,’ says Lily.
Lily makes Hannah put one thigh after another over her head. Then she pulls her leg out to the side at a right angle and works right to the tender part of the inner thigh and along the lip of her vagina. God, how far is she going in?. Hannah strains her neck down to try and see.
The skin is soft and loose and tender here. Lily keeps losing hold of the wax cloth and having to re-rip the same spot.
‘Hold your skin, hold it.’ Her voice sharpens.
Both woman hold the skin on either side taut with their hands. Hannah wants to scream. She moans as pin pricks of purple blood rise to the surface along her groin. She sees the strip come away again and again like some phlegmy tongue of wax and the hairs caught within like hundreds of black worms with bloody heads.
Why does she do it? It’s not for her boyfriend who hardly seems to notice as long as they’re having sex. It’s for strangers on the beach and at the swimming pool, those staring bastards she loathes anyway. But is she confident enough to let it all grow? No and she hates herself for it.
She thinks back to the first time. In the bathroom when she was ten-years-old. The door was locked and she was half kneeling on the floor. The sun made the room a basin of warmth and light. She was excited as she carefully screwed together her mother’s baby-blue Lady Shave – the tiny dollhouse proportions has always fascinated her. Hannah wishes she could go back and still that hand, stop the start of it all. But no, her fingers were adamant, her concentrated girl’s mouth pursed, there was the first hair execution. Caught forever.
Thankfully it’s over. Both women are perspiring but there’s relief in the air. Lily is slathering Hannah’s legs with lotion and it’s wonderful, the rubbing and massaging after the pain. Her fingers go right up to the tender bits near her groin. Hannah closed her eyes with a kind of love and prays it will go on and on.
‘Thank you, thank you.’
Lily says nothing.
The soothing goes on for too little time though and Lily moves away, wiping her hands on a towel, tidying up the space. She writes the amount on a piece of paper, hands it to Hannah and leaves the room.
Hannah slowly moves off the bed, smarting from the ankle to thigh and pulls on her knickers and jeans, her skin sticking to the denim. Her brows and upper lip are pink like she’s been lightly punched.
Lily comes into the room, crushes up the paper in her hands and bins it along with the strips of used wax. She rolls out a fresh layer onto the bed and holds out her hand for the money. There is moisture above her lip. Her make up has smudged slightly but the drawn on brows are still sitting, defiant and indelible.
‘Keep out of the sun,’ Lily says.
‘For how long?’
‘One day. You very red. You wanna book in for next time? I have another lady now.’
Hannah shakes her head. Next time, in however many months it will be, she might try another salon again with someone else. She won’t be back here. Or maybe she’ll just let the hairs grow, disembark from the skin and riot upwards into the sunshine.