I needed somewhere to hide the hair. But I don’t remember where.
Stare at the pockmarked ceiling.
Roll your head back and forth along the pillow. Little bundles of pain along the surface of your scalp, like a cat using your skull as a scratching post. Not dissimilar to how it always feels when you wash your hair before you go to bed and leave it to dry overnight.
If your brain’s a muscle, then you’ve pulled it.
You remembered to leave a faded pink towel atop your pillow the night before. You inspect it for signs of spotting and wonder how many of your bodily fluids have adorned it in the past.
I may be mixing this up with the time I fell and hit my head. I don’t remember which was which.
All you want to do is curl up under the duvet, smothering yourself with cotton and memory foam, blocking out the sunlight and the shimmering camera obscura reflections on your ceiling from the cars across the road. If you cover yourself completely maybe the monsters under your bed won’t spot you.
But you can’t.
If you can just make it to the shower and then get dressed, however, then everything will be fine. Pretty soon this won’t even have happened to you.
Open the door a crack and peek your head out the bedroom door, the turtle darting its head out from its shell for just an instant. It doesn’t matter what you don’t want your mum and dad to know, you always go about hiding it from them the same way. Chewing gum to mask the nicotine stench is just the same as erasing the browsing history is just the same as heading to the shower before breakfast.
The content changes, the behaviour is static. When their mum and dad walk into the room, every child has a look on their face like they’ve just been interrupted picking their nose.
And they told you that if the wind changes your face will get stuck.
You dash across the landing, elegant little en pointe steps, one two three, close the bathroom door and lock it in almost one movement. You used to love rubbing your bare feet against the landing. You invited the carpet burn from the burnt ombre carpet, or as near to burnt ombre as makes no difference.
I remember which bathroom I went to that morning. I went to my mum and dad’s bathroom, the en suite in their room, but I don’t remember why, since I normally made a point of using the other bathroom as the shower was more environmentally friendly, or something.
Inspect the damage in the mirror. You can pass off the dried red circles around your nostrils as a nosebleed. There was a long stretch when you were 17 when you got a nosebleed literally every morning, dribbling down your chin as you showered before school.
Surely I cleaned my face when I got into the hotel though? Seems like the obvious thing I would’ve done.
You’re dreading the thought of getting into that shower. The hot water pounding on your thin fragile scalp. You wonder if it could puncture through your head and stimulate your temporal lobes. They’d find you seizing on the shower floor an hour later, foaming at the mouth, giggling through the pain, lathered pubes having gone unrinsed.
But you’ll have to fight through it, because you couldn’t fight back.
I don’t remember when exactly I noticed it was happening. It was either in the shower or just after I got out of the shower. I’ll assume for argument’s sake that it was in the shower.
Reach through the sliding doors and turn on the shower, so as not to be struck by the freezing water. The shower drowns out the lingering afterecho of tinnitus in your left ear. Adjust the temperature and ease your way in. Your neck is stiff and you let the water beat down on it for a moment with your eyes closed. Rub at your neck, your armpits, the soft soles of your feet. Lean your head back to rinse your hair, so far back that you can feel your long blonde hair grazing your bum. Run your fingers through it.
That’s when you notice a hank of your hair coming out in your hand.
I didn’t know what to do.
It lifted out of your scalp so easily, this translucent clump of hair the length of your torso, the only resistance provided by the soft crackle of static electricity, like you’d spent the last twelve hours resting your head on a balloon.
And in places, the hairs are bound, matted and mottled together by dark sticky blood.
For a moment you just sort of stare at it. You think to yourself “who left this hair lying around, getting tangled up in mine?”
You run your fingers through your hair again. More hair. Again. Again. Again. You discard it over the top of the sliding door and watch it cascade down to the floor, buoyed by the currents of water vapour before landing gracefully on the shower mat.
In the movies, they use a wide variety of substitutes for blood. A popular variety for older films when shooting in warm, saturated Technicolour was corn syrup. In black and white, Hershey’s chocolate syrup, for the higher contrast. In more recent films and TV shows they prefer a blend of honey and red food colouring due to its cheapness and higher viscosity.
The common thread is that blood ought to be thick, sticky and sweet, and hence it comes as little surprise to you that the long, wispy lengths of hair you pull out of your skull by the fistful have clumped together in patches, like apple-flavoured candyfloss from the stand outside Dawson’s Amusements in Bray. Or a beach in Dún Laoghaire, for that matter. But candyfloss, if you squeeze it hard enough, eventually returns to a lump of inauspicious green icing sugar. These follicles are, alas, made of sterner stuff.
Pretty soon you’ve gathered enough to stuff a pillow with. But it’s not good enough. What if you’re eating dinner and a clump falls out into your pasta and tuna, in front of your mum and dad? They’ll ask why. You won’t know how to answer.
So you methodically work your way around your head, tugging at every length of hair you can find to make sure they won’t come loose. You yank at them hard, your fingers catching every here and there, and you struggle to tell the grease and blood apart. You yank so hard your eyes start to water, or at least you think they do.
Satisfied, you calmly go about your toilette routine. Pantene Pro-V shampoo for limp and lifeless. Lather. Massage. Let it sit for a few minutes. Rinse and repeat. Condition. It was only a couple of years ago you learned to condition after shampooing, not before.
A big pile of hair sits outside the shower door, like a small patient tabby cat falling asleep at its master’s feet. That’s the next item on the list. You can’t let them find it. The hair’s your smoking gun, so to speak. You’ll have to dispose of it somehow. You remember that Mr. Bean sketch where he orders the steak tartar, loathes it, and is so embarrassed that he tries to surreptitiously dispose it without the waiters noticing.
If you can just find somewhere to hide the hair, then everything will be fine. Pretty soon this won’t even have happened to you.
Enough foreplay. Let me tell you what happened.
Last night you were at the pier in Dún Laoghaire. Shards of cinder blocks and discarded cigarette packets. Overstuffed rats with tails long as the empty beer bottles they sometimes sniffed at for hints of nourishment. Waves slapping the walls with sepia-tinged froth, as thick and tangible as shaving foam. It was a sunny evening, one of the last we’d probably get before Christmas exam season. Somewhere to drink with your friends when the supply of sunny patches in the People’s Park had been exhausted. You bought some beers in the off-license opposite the city council building. That off-license has since gone out of business.
You ambled down to the pier with your friends. You’d just turned nineteen and were on the cusp of wondering whether it was really appropriate to go scumbag drinking at this age and this time of year, not dissimilar to the debate about whether you’re allowed to go trick-or-treating when you’re thirteen. You sat in the sunshine at the furthest outreach of the pier, drinking the already lukewarm beer when a drunk girl wandered over and took one of your bottles.
You asked for it back. She said no. You asked again. She said no. She said she’d smash it open and stab you with it. Your friends told you not to bother but you were annoyed.
The details are indistinct. You know she’s probably sixteen and you know she has your bottle in her hand. Everything else is open to debate, a composite hurriedly copied and pasted into a chopped and changed whole. A dirtied pink tracksuit, probably with something inane written on the seat. (In point of fact, doesn’t any word or slogan become inane the instant it’s embroidered on the seat of a pair of pink tracksuit bottoms?) Burnt ombre foundation inconsistently smeared, like a test coat of paint on a bare kitchen wall with a threadbare brush. Hair so aggressively dyed, re-dyed, deep conditioned and straightened that it’s impossible to tell where the hair ends and the extensions begin. She’s a caricature artist’s nightmare: there’s nothing left to exaggerate.
It’s this youth, this girlishness, this clownish face, the way she slurs her words like she doesn’t even need the beer she’s stolen from you, that makes you disinclined to take her seriously, even as her friends are close behind her and yours admonish you to leave it out.
You didn’t take her seriously right until the very moment she hit you and grabbed at your head, catching a fistful of hair in her tiny hands.
You don’t remember much as her friends hit you and kicked you, yanking you around by the hair like an Olympic hammer. Your first thought was to close your eyes. You tried to pull away but that just tightened her grip on her hair, much the same as the more you struggle against the noose the closer it gets around your neck. There was a larger girl in a baby blue tracksuit and, I think, a guy with close-cropped hair wearing black. They shove you back towards the entrance to the pier.
Your nose is bleeding.
You hear people shouting and yelling and swearing but they might as well be speaking in Latvian. The individual words hardly matter.
You wonder if you’re allowed to try and hit the girl who’s pulling your hair. She yanks at your hair ferociously, a tremendous tug-of-war, an owner struggling vainly to bring a mastiff to heel with a leash barely strong enough to contain a Shiba Inu.
They kick you in the ribs.
You scrabble vainly with your hands and can’t even see what you’re scrabbling at. Your eyes water. She’s pulling so hard you wonder if she’ll dislocate your neck. You don’t even know who’s pulling your hair anymore. It could be either of them.
You’re already hunting for reasons you deserve this. You can’t remember the last time you felt pain or anything like it and didn’t feel like you were at least a little bit responsible.
Finally they relent and scarper. Your friends tend to you. They gather you into a hotel to get yourself cleaned up. A bouncer at the hotel urges you to call the police when your friends tell him what happened, purposefully neglecting to mention the sexes of the aggressors. Blood from your nose mingling with carbonated tears. Your friends bring you to a pub and buy you a whiskey. They tell you how there were so many people above the pier that could’ve helped but didn’t, like you’re this generation’s Kitty Genovese.
You just want it to be over with. You want to hide. You don’t want to talk about it with anyone because they’ll tell you it was your fault and you’ll think they were right.
So that’s what happened last night.
I know I have to get out of the shower. I have to brush my teeth and get dressed and continue to put on my smiling face. I have to find somewhere to hide the hair. If I can just get out of the shower, get dressed, go about my business, then everything will be fine. Pretty soon, maybe, this won’t even have happened to me.
But I don’t want to. If I just stay in this shower for long enough, let all the lather rinse, then maybe all the candyfloss will melt away.