SmokeLong Quarterly

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The Kindest Cut

Story by Matthew Pitt (Read author interview) November 30, 2015

Art by Stacy Tompkins

My little girl regularly relays just how little she is, and isn’t. No longer so little to need to clutch toys in bed, still little enough to need to clutch something. That something is, for now, my hair. She will only drift to sleep with the mess of it clutched in her fingers. It provides the comfort of her stuffed porcupine, without actually being the porcupine. She resists my hair when it’s wet after showers or greasy after work. Worst is when it grows unruly. When that happens, sleep won’t. Since only my spikiest locks will do, I bypassed my normal barber’s striped pole in favor of a full-on salon, where at the counter they handed me a plastic sheet menu. I said I wasn’t here for lunch. They said, no, no, this is all grooming. Shapings and exfoliations may be ordered, Swedish and hot stones, mani-pedi. This all still sounded like food; one choice even involved poured honey. I’ll take a haircut, I said, pointing at a spot on the menu. Truth was I hadn’t seen the word haircut there, but figured pointing would make it seem I found it. The staff was disappointed but asked which month I’d care to come for my cutting. This one, I said: this very moment. They frowned. We can offer an emergency deforestation. After my deforestation—clippings clumped like some bearskin rug beneath my elevated chair—I was out $50. My fingers ran over where my hair used to live. Shorter, but still too soft. I thought my regular barber could clean up this hot mess so it at least resembled the old mess. But my prior desertion left him uncharitable. Their shears outright misshaped you. Or—is your skull really that square? Putting down his broom, he touched my scalp. Shit, it’s almost rhomboid! His assistant unrolled a poster of human head shapes, marveling. His specimen don’t even make our list! Since this now qualified as a challenge—something my barber liked—he swept away his hurt, gave me a shot. His end product reminded me that many who enjoy challenges have no clue how to meet them. After that I trudged into a wig store. Don’t have much for guys, the owner said, but this might suit your complexion. I stared back in dumbfounded silence. That hair was mine: wavy and shaggy as my real crown when the day began. So I ran the wig over to my barber, who agreed to trim it so long as I wore it. He wasn’t going to clip it by itself, like some fool shearing sheep. All of this, of course, made for more costs. But it also led me at last to the right cut: made to order, built to last. Hair I could place and adjust on my head with my own hands, then turn over to the sleeping hands of my girl. That night I backed away from her, my mission made good, so she could sleepily strum and cozy to her new animal.

About the Author

Matthew Pitt’s first short story collection, Attention Please Now, won the Autumn House Fiction Prize and later received Late Night Library’s Debut-litzer Prize and was a finalist for the Writers League of Texas Book Award. His recent fiction appears or is forthcoming in BOMB, Epoch, Michigan Quarterly Review, Conjunctions, and Everywhere Stories: Short Fiction from a Small Planet (Press 53). More than 30 other stories have been published in such forums as Best New American Voices, Cincinnati Review, Oxford American, and The Southern Review. His work has won awards from the New York Times, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and the Bread Loaf and Sewanee Writers’ Conferences, and has been short-listed in several end-of-year anthologies. He is a faculty member at the Taos Writers Conference and an assistant professor of English at Texas Christian University, where he was the department Teacher of the Year for 2013-14.

About the Artist

Stacy Tompkins is a poet, transdisciplinary artist and fashion designer working in Denton, Texas. She holds a BFA in sculpture and painting from Midwestern State University. She combines science, ritual and experimentation, developing unconventional techniques to create work with offbeat origins. Her work is published and exhibited widely across the U.S. and abroad.

This story appeared in Issue Fifty of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Fifty

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