Education, Education, Etc - Ex-PM
Shortish short story (1037 words)
Yesterday’s used towels lay neglected and Christine fed several loads into the washer. In between she polished mirrors and swept the salon floor. For intellectual comfort she dwelt on Planck’s Constant, notably the factor, ten to the power of minus 34. “Truly small,” her physics teacher had said. Not forgetting the Berlin plaque: In diese Hause lehrte Max Planck, der Entdecker des Elementaren Wirkungquantums, h, von 1889 – 1928.
“Eh there, Deafie. You working here or not?”
“A latte for Mrs Thwaites. Get me an expresso.”
Could used coffee grounds cause allergies? Having spotted Christine’s timid approach to the Gaggia Jody had condemned her to work the machine. Steam now shrieked through the tubes.
With the floor hair-free Christine’s broom was temporarily retired, leaving her unemployed but not at rest. She stood three-quarters-rear, a metre away from the customers. “No leaning against the walls,” Jody had said. “That’s for sluts.”
Mrs Thwaites and a second customer, an hour behind, were both being permed. Jody overlapped them, switching from one to the other. When frail Miss Elsworth called in for a set (“A funeral. I hate to be a fuss.”) Jody had only attached half the curlers to Mrs Thwaites’ head.
“A shampoo for Miss Elsworth,” Jody said sharply
A trusting face, old beyond telling, looked up at Christine from the wash basin. White hair set brilliantly against black porcelain. “You’re new here aren’t you dearie? It’s a good salon.”
“I’m learning a lot,” said Christine.
THAT EVENING Mrs Bowland’s uncertain hands received the library book from Christine. “Rose Tremain. I loved The Colour. You were lucky picking this off the shelves.”
Christine slumped on the couch beside the button-controlled chair that supported her mother. “Lucky be blowed. I put in a card.”
“I never used cards. Thrill of the chase, I suppose. No fun for you.” Mrs Bowland indicated the pan. “I managed the potatoes. Took time but they’re properly peeled.”
“Could we eat a little later? I need a zizz. Last night I nodded off over the computer. Mind you it was statistical thermodynamics.”
“I’m not really hungry these days.”
THE SALON’S two dustbins were kept in a yard at the rear. It being Monday Christine had taken them out to the pavement, then retrieved them. Now they needed to be cleaned. “Filthy as a nigger’s bottom,” said Jody. “Use the hose.” A pizza segment had to be scraped off with folded cardboard.
The pizza smell stayed with Christine and her sandwiches remained untouched. Lacking customers at lunch-break they stood at the picture window and watched events. A mother and child emerged from Bevin Close in the council estate opposite and crossed to the salon. Jody sniffed. “A Childcare case, I bet you.” The boy’s curls clung dankly and Christine was graciously allowed the cutting. The mother asked if Christine did adults. Jody sniffed again.
We’re called beauticians, Christine reflected
IT WAS dark as she opened the lounge door and Mrs Bowland’s face, lit only by a streetlamp, appeared translucent. “Dear ma. Are you all right?”
“No better, no worse. Comforted this afternoon by Ms Tremain. How about you? I find it hard to imagine…”
“The two-week course did the job. I can handle the work and I’ll get better. No problem fitting in you and OU physics. But the salon’s depressing. Perhaps because I’m a snob. “
“Christine, my dear…”
TUESDAY, a day they both later remembered. He came in telling his mobile: “I’m getting it cut now.” Then switched to Christine, Jody and Mrs Jobard being henna-ed. “Who can do me? Quickly. TV cameras waiting.”
Jody said, “You’re drunk.”
“Freely admitted. A larger tip?”
He glanced around. “I see one customer and two friseuses.”
“Chrissie’s not fully qualified.”
“But you wouldn’t butcher me, would you, Chrissie?”
Sitting at Christine’s chair, he asked, “Are we going to chat?”
She could smell the drink. Posh drink. “I’m told I’ve got no small talk.”
He liked that. “Big talk then.”
“How big?” Comb forward, comb back, trap the fringe, listen as scissor blades crunched through hair. Already a routine, amazing really.
“Who do you read?”
“Van Vliet, Hoffentlich, Bergarian, le Couille.”
“Did you think you’d mystify me, a drunk? Fact is I'm a media man and, as a tribe, we know a little about a lot. Bergarian's the new man on the quantum block?”
“So why’re you here snipping? Not at uni?”
She explained her mother, living at home, the economics of the Open University.
Afterwards, he bent short-sightedly towards the mirror. “You didn’t butcher me. Why work here for peanuts? Set up on your own. Beat the uni debt problem.”
At the till Jody quoted fifteen pounds, five more than usual for men. He gave her thirty and left. Mrs Jobard had gone too. Just the two of them. Jody said, “Take these notes and bugger off. For good” Christine stared hard at Jody.
Walking away Christine reconstructed what she’d stared at. A blonde bob, multi-striped. Subtly varying. Expert colours that would never enhance the sharp-nosed malnourished face they surrounded. Ironic, really. She stopped, turned back.
Jody sat in a customer seat looking into space. Christine held out the notes: “I want to work here. I’ll beg if necessary.”
Jody smiled unpleasantly. “So I can make your life a misery?”
“It needn’t be like that.”
“We’d make money. You know we would.”
“Then you’d be off.”
Christine flapped the notes. “After three years. By then you’d have a place in the city. Assistants.”
“You’re good. And I learn quickly.”
Silence for one minute, two.
Jody said, “Keep the cash. Call in tomorrow. See if I’ve changed my mind.”
“Jody, change your mind now.”
“What are you up to?”
“You took me on; I was grateful. Take me on again.”
“I’m not sure I like you.”
“You don’t know me. You think I’m hoity-toity, I’m not. We’re much the same. You planned your future, I’m doing the same. Most just float. Not you and I.”
“I lick arses in the beauty business. You could be on telly.”
“Come on Jody. You know that’s just an accident.”
“For Christ’s sake, sit down. You must have legs of iron.”
“Just the assistant you need.”
NOTE: About 20% rewritten. Fifty-six words grudgingly added. Both necessary.