The Fall

(Background: It’s 1967 and Fran is 13 years old. She has the worst haircut of her life. She’s gotten separated from her friends at the mall during a stealing spree.)

Fran scoots down a side aisle of stores. She and her friends rarely visit this section of the mall.  “Granny shit,” they call it; the fabric mart, vacuum repair shop, and other boring stores. She moves quickly past the store windows. She consider going out into the parking lot to smoke a flattened cigarette hidden in her wallet. She remember how her heart races with that first inhale.

     She stops. Amy’s Wigs. She scans the front window. Ten or twelve mannequin heads are displayed on a few  levels: teased-up bouffants and short bobs, even a spit-curled beehive, all pretty old-fashioned stuff. Then she sees one way in the back: long and straight and brown. She opens the shop door and steps in.

    It is as if the saleswoman understands everything.  She explains that the piece is called a Fall. “All the models wear them,” she says. She seats Fran at a counter and opens a wide drawer, revealing an assortment of clear plastic cases. She plucks one out, opens it, and holds the piece up to Fran’s hair. “Perfect color match,” she smiles.

She shows Fran the little sewn-in comb, how to attach it to her own hair and then how to cover the joined section with a wide headband. Then she brushes the front of Fran’s hair forward and holds up a mirror, “You can’t see where one ends and the other begins,” she announces proudly.

     The saleswoman is right. Fran has been transformed into someone else: long-haired and mysterious. She stares into the mirror, blinking at this new person. “How much does it cost?” she asks.

    The door opens and an older woman walks in. The saleswoman smiles in recognition. “Your order’s here,” she says to the woman,  And, with that, she goes into the back. The woman sits down at the other end of the counter, opens a checkbook. Fran sits for a moment longer, then stands shakily,  unclips the fall from her hair, shoves it into the pocket of her coat, and bolts for the door.

     She is out of the store, half-running and keeping close to the open doors of other shops, somewhere to duck into in case she’s followed. She is too frightened to turn around but she hears nothing behind her and so she keeps going, her feet seeming to move without any instruction. Her breath is coming out ragged now and her heart beating fast, but clear and steady like she can travel a long distance without having to slow down. She reaches into her coat pocket and holds onto the wig. The hair feels strange, like a small hidden animal.  She continues into the main section of the mall, merging with the other shoppers, weaving through the crowd. It is almost 1:30.  Her friends will be waiting.