Leah Browning

Gareth had been on his feet all day. He'd even worked over lunch, on a walk-in with a sad story. For some reason, he could never say no to women like that.

It was dark by the time he left the salon. He hurried past the windows of the other shops on the street. Winter had come early, and he was still wearing an old denim jacket.

The lights were off in his apartment, so Gareth knew that his roommate hadn't come home yet. He made himself a plate of scrambled eggs and two slices of toast with butter and cherry jam, and he ate reading the newspaper.

If his roommate had been there, he would have said that Gareth was living his life backwards, starting with dinner for breakfast and ending with breakfast for dinner. But his roommate wasn't there, and Gareth licked the jam off his fingers and went on reading the paper until he was ready to take his plate to the sink.

Since the days had gotten shorter, he'd been going to bed earlier and earlier. He had trouble sleeping, though, and often dreamed about cutting hair. When he woke up in the morning after nights like these, he had to drag himself back to the shop. He felt like he had been working all day and all night, in an endless loop, without any real rest.

Tonight he was lying in bed, unable to sleep, when he heard his roommate come home. There were two sets of footsteps, and the low tones of a woman's voice. Gareth hadn't met the girlfriend yet but he figured it was only a matter of time. They'd been seeing each other for almost two months.

"He's probably already sleeping," Gareth heard his roommate say softly as they passed Gareth's bedroom door.

They went inside his roommate's bedroom, and it was so quiet in the hallway that Gareth could hear the sound of the lock turning. One of them turned on music, something slow and very quiet, and there was a creak as one or both of them sat down on the bed.

All evening, Gareth had been trying not to think about the woman at lunch. She was on the way to a funeral, and as soon as he touched the ends of her hair, she had started to cry.

Everyone else had left the salon, everyone except the high school girl who sat at the reception desk and scheduled appointments while the regular receptionist walked down the street for a sandwich. The girl was the daughter of the owner, and she attended a Catholic school nearby. Every day, she walked over and answered the phone for forty-five minutes, looking out of place in her school uniform.

Gareth had a box of tissues at his station, and he handed it to the woman. It always scared him when things like this happened. The entire time he was cutting her hair, he could feel that she was floating away from him, and his hands and comb and scissors were the only things anchoring her anymore.

From the bedroom next door, Gareth had begun to hear a persistent creak of the bed, and he tried to focus on other sounds—traffic from the street below, or a recent drip from the bathroom faucet that had now suddenly, stubbornly stopped.

All night, the moon shone in the window and the roommate's bed creaked and Gareth went on doggedly trimming the ends of the woman's hair so she wouldn't be alone out there, suspended on the bridge between the dead and the living.

Leah Browning's "Scars" was the first ever Wigleaf story. Her third chapbook, IN THE CHAIR MUSEUM, is due out from Dancing Girl Press in 2013. She edits the Apple Valley Review.

Read "Scars" from the archive.

Detail of photo on main page courtesy of mchlmbrk.

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