A Cut Above the Rest
by Bruce Memblatt
Snip-snip, a crisp snip-snip. Madeline bathed in the feel of soft hair, as her scissors bobbed away with a rhythmic snip-snip. She loved how clipped hair fluttered pell-mell to the floor, softly, without producing the slightest sound. Even after a lifetime of grooming hair, she felt the same sense of anticipation each time she raised her scissors. Each haircut was an adventure, and how she relished the soft touch of hair.
She held her brush low and stroked the plastic mannequin’s false hair. It was just last Tuesday when she gave her final cut at Millie’s, a salon where she had labored for the last ten years of her life. It was an accident. The scissors had slipped wildly out of her hand. Without mercy, they cut away at the young girl’s skin, forcing it to blossom deep red.
At first she thought the cut was slight, but blood kept running down the girl’s throat like a frenzied crimson waterfall. To make matters worse, the young client that Madeline’s cold scissors had slashed was a girl approaching her twenties and a finalist in the Miss Wasilla Beauty Pageant. She also happened to be the daughter of a well-known local surgeon.
This adventure had turned out badly. Madeline was out of a job, and she’d gained a reputation that wouldn’t sustain a slug in a small town.
Only a few weeks had passed since the accident, but she still yearned for the familiar feel of cutting hair on a human head. She’d taken to playing hair stylist in her living room with a mannequin, like a crazy old aunt whom embarrassed children hide away. She cursed her soul for the one slip that put an end to the one thing that made her life something more than merely livable.
Suddenly a rock came careening through Madeline’s window, biting away the afternoon’s still silence. Madeline didn’t move as it sped past the couch, just barely missing her head. While shards of glass crashed loudly to the floor from the window ledge, she feverishly continued playing with the shiny hair on the mannequin’s head, as if nothing had happened. She just stared into space, as if a solution to her confusion waited in the distance. It was the eighth rock that had burst through Madeline’s window that week.
* * *
A single tear squeezed out of the corner of Becky Anderson’s eye, and made its way down her newly damaged face. Neither the mirror nor the makeup could hide the gash that had changed her life. Just a week ago she was an up and coming star. They would have crowned her the happy winner of the Miss Wasilla Beauty pageant. Her future would have been secured. But now, suddenly, it was precarious and frightening. Not just her future as a beauty queen, but as a wife or as a mother.
Maybe as anything, she wondered. She continued to gaze at her bizarre reflection in the mirror. She felt the same sharp disbelief she’d felt the first time she saw her disfigured skin. Her hatred grew strong. She hated her face. She hated Madeline, and she hated her freshly altered life.
In small cities like Wasilla, Alaska, beauty pageants are a very big deal. Becky Anderson had been cultivated since she was small by a doting mother and father for that most momentous day when she would wear the golden Miss Wasilla crown. Becky was a popular girl amongst the townsfolk of Wasilla. They were all rooting for the happy little girl who had grown into the perfect candidate for the crown. Presently, there was no shortage of rocks or quick tempers in Wasilla, Alaska.
Madeline turned off the small blue lamp by her bed and drifted off to sleep. In a dream, she stood above Becky, as if she were about to cut her hair. But instead of cutting her hair, she clipped and and carved away at her face as if a mysterious demon guided her hands. Blood poured, and skin peeled away from her head, as it bobbed out of control like a drunken doll. Madeline furiously chopped and sliced until Becky’s severed head fell to the floor. Then her empty neck gushed deep red like a spastic whirling fountain.
At two a.m. Madeline woke, shaking wildly, in a cold sweat. But soon sleep came again. So did the dream, as it had every night since the horror began.
* * *
Becky turned and tossed in her bed, and her dreamy thoughts took her back to the day she had had her last haircut. Madeline’s scissors were about to slip, just as they had on that unfortunate day.
But suddenly the scissors boomeranged upward and slashed away at Madeline’s face, carving it into shreds and wet pieces of flesh that flung through the air. Then, unexpectedly, the fleshy pieces began swirling in reverse. They reattached to form a ghastly giant head. The giant head quickly turned towards Becky and swallowed her whole. Becky Anderson tossed and turned in her sleep.
* * *
At four a.m. Madeline woke up to the stinging smell of smoke. Another angry neighbor had ignited a brush fire on her lawn. She slowly crept out of bed. She pulled up her robe. Then she wandered over to the window in a dreamlike waltz and watched the fire’s flames dance until they died.
She had had enough. It was an accident. No matter what the hideous result was, it would always remain an accident. Why couldn’t people in Wasilla understand? An accident, she wondered, but then, she couldn’t really comprehend it either. She saw no relief in sight. She saw her future, lined up before her, as an unending series of flying rocks and raging fires followed by blood-soaked nightmares.
Then she walked over to the closet near her bed and she reached in it for her shiny plasticine mannequin. She dragged its heavy body out of the closet and began to cradle it, as if it were an infant. Then she ran her fingers through its lifeless hair.
The next afternoon the sun was shining brilliantly and Madeline was in her silver car driving to the broad brick house on Fishhook Drive where Becky lived. She tightened the thin tan coat that covered her housedress. She adjusted the dark sunglasses that covered her sleepless eyes, and then she hit the gas harder. She was determined to talk to Becky.
* * *
Becky sat in her living room. It was after two and she still hadn’t gotten dressed. She hadn’t even started. Her bouncy blonde hair that delighted so many hung limp and tangled, as if it had decided one morning to give up living. Her parents had left earlier in the day: her mother had gone to the gym, and her father, to the hospital.
When the doorbell rang, Becky jumped up startled. She peered out the window, adjacent to the front door, and caught a glimpse of Madeline standing outside motioning manically. Becky wasn’t entirely sure if she felt fear, of if she felt anger while watching by the door.
Madeline rang the doorbell a second time and cried, “Becky, please, let me talk to you for just a minute, please.”
“My parents aren’t home. I’m alone here. I don’t want to let you in. I don’t want to see you, Madeline,” Becky’s muffled voice hissed from behind the wooden door.
”Please, Becky. Just for a minute. I just want to talk to you.”
”I’m not dressed. I’m a mess. Go away!”
Madeline shouted, “Please, I can’t take any more. I can’t stand the nightmares, I can’t stand the guilt!”
And then suddenly the door opened. Becky stood still. “Okay, Madeline, you can come in, but just for a minute.”
Madeline cautiously made her way into the house. Becky led her past a small sunlit foyer into the living room. Madeline gasped as she took in Becky’s disfigured face. The scope of the damage she’d caused hit her in a rush. Then the words poured out.
“I want you to kill me,” Madeline cried, “I don’t deserve to live.”
“You’re joking? Aren’t you? You really are ridiculous, Madeline. Haven’t you caused enough damage? And now I’m supposed to put you out of your misery? You’re selfish, and as much as I’d love to oblige, why don’t you just do it on your own?”
“Please, Becky. I can’t stand the nightmares. The rocks that come crashing through the windows, the fires... Please call them off.” Madeline begged.
“Those things are not my doing, but I wouldn’t call them off if I could. I don’t care if it was an accident or not. My life was destroyed because you were careless. You might as well have destroyed my face intentionally. It was your duty to make sure your scissors stayed safely in your hands. They slipped because you were thoughtless, you stupid old bitch!”
Becky darted out of the living room, and then she ran up the long flight of stairs that led to the second floor of the Anderson home.
She stopped midway up the stairs and mocked Madeline. “Come, Madeline. Come see my lovely room. See my lovely crown. See my future. A life alone like yours with a pair of scissors. Is that why the scissors slipped? Did they really slip? Are you jealous of me? Or all girls like me? Or rather how I used to be. Did you want me to be like you, Madeline?” Becky remained where she stood.
Madeline began to climb the stairs. “No, that’s not true. I don’t want to be anything like you. Please!”
Becky fled toward the top step. Madeline climbed swiftly behind her. When Becky neared the top of the stairs she turned around and pushed Madeline with all her might. Madeline’s body fell backwards, rolling and crashing down the stairs, until it came to rest on the cold white tiles of the floor near the first step.
Madeline writhed and cried in agony and then fell unconscious. Becky called an ambulance. But before she called the ambulance, she called the police and told them Madeline had tried to kill her.
An idea popped into Becky’s head. She quickly got dressed and drove over to Madeline’s house. She didn’t have a key, but, she thought, what difference would one more rock make? She picked up a rock and sent it flying through one of the small panes of glass that framed Madeline’s front door.
She carefully stuck her hand through the broken window and then grasped the doorknob. Once inside the house, she ran up the staircase that led to Madeline’s bedroom. She would find Madeline’s scissors and hand them over to the police as further evidence that Madeline had tried to kill her. Coupled with the gouge Madeline had left on her face and Madeline’s sudden appearance at her house that afternoon, she surmised, the pair of scissors would seal the deal.
The staircase was dark. Becky couldn’t see the mannequin that Madeline had carelessly left resting on the fifteenth step. Becky’s body flew backwards. Her neck snapped. She died instantly.
A swirling flash of lights, buoyed by the winding scream of a siren, died down and cried through the emergency entrance of the hospital.
When the orderlies rolled Madeline out of the ambulance she was only semi-conscious. As they pushed her stretcher past the nurse’s station, out of the corner of her eyes, she saw a nurse seated at the station. A man in white, a doctor she thought, stood facing the station. She couldn’t make out the man’s face.
Then he spoke. “Internal bleeding. I’ll be operating on her soon. What’s the patient’s name? ”
“Madeline Doyle, Dr. Anderson.”
“The one who cut my daughter’s face?” Dr. Anderson turned around and gazed at Madeline. As she lost consciousness, she saw the scalpel in his hand.
Copyright © 2011 by Bruce Memblatt