Grey Dreams: "Beauty School Freakout"

by Erin Sheehy

photography Erin Sheehy

11 November 2013

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 “You take it subcutaneously,” he said. 

“Take what?”

“This fluid.” It was that clear blue liquid they pour on maxi pads in advertisements. 

“That looks like dish soap,” I said. 

“You can just drink the whole thing if it would make you feel more comfortable.” He seemed exasperated, so I unscrewed the cap of the little bottle and gulped its contents. The liquid was thinner and mintier than I’d expected—less dish soap than denture cleaner. I noticed the man’s teeth were white as Chiclets. “Now,” he said, as we stepped out onto the sidewalk, “we are going to get beautiful.” 

The man was polished in a way that was no longer fashionable—stiff hair, knife-edge lapels—and I could see that he was wearing foundation makeup. He was so neat that even his wounds looked antiseptic: when he plucked the bottle from my hand and put it back in his pocket, chlorine-blue blisters on his forearms peeked out from under the cuffs of his sleeves.  

As I followed the man down the street, my peripheral vision started to blur. Everything had a glare to it—a world wrapped in foil. The ground began rising like dough all around me. I waded through it, running my fingers along its surface; it was smooth and pliant. I was seeing through a lovely soft focus lens now. “This way,” said the man, turning sharply, and we slid down the swells of concrete into a basement salon.

As soon as I entered, someone snapped a cape around my neck and sat me down in a swivel chair. Several assistants in black smocks and sunglasses approached, lining up shoulder-to-shoulder behind my chair and staring at me in the mirror. A gaunt man with bleached white hair stepped forward and gently rested his thumbs on my temples and his fingers on my chin, framing my face. “This is nice,” he said, tucking my hair behind my ears. “Yes, it’s alright—simple. But wouldn’t you like to look complicated?” Another assistant unfurled an apron full of scissors and alligator clips that fell to the floor with a clatter. The buzzing of the fluorescents overhead was ferocious—a hive. “What are you thinking?” asked the gaunt man. “Color or texture?” 

I remembered then the only perm I’d ever gotten: the stylist had threaded little stir straws through my curlers to hold them together, and I realized, in that moment, that all the factories in the world were colluding with each other. It seemed so perfect and preplanned that these little plastic doohickeys would be rigged to thread through these other little plastic pieces of junk—that at the height of the perm phenomenon, some ingenious groomer had grabbed the stir straw from her styrofoam cup to secure a few rollers, and now, generations later, these two emblems of 1950s TV dinner automation were bonded in an eggy pact on my head. I felt that I was receiving my century, somehow—or perhaps the century before—in the sulfur smell; and the chemical burn seeping into my scalp; and the shower cap; and the strands of cotton looped through the rows and rows of curlers, cinching them up, soaked in fluids, sloppy and disposable—you would’ve never have thought that someone had picked it, would you? The stylist told me that the smell warmed her heart, but the solution she had poured on my head was very cold. It made my skin prickle. 

“Let’s go for color,” I said to the gaunt man.

“Alright, we’ll do your natal chart to see what shade will work best for you.”

"I’m all fire,” I said. 

“Ah, you need balance,” he said. “We’ll do blue.” From behind the phalanx of assistants emerged the man who’d brought me here, offering another bottle of the minty liquid.   


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