Donna Santullo, her name was.
Julie’s best client. And she was Donna’s favorite “beautician” at Clippers. She’d requested Julie for the final styling. Before the Great Dirt Nap.
“No,” Julie told the mortician. “I can’t do it.”
“Mami . . .” Gil was a sweaty mess. “You got to. Or they’ll know.”
That it was him who he killed her.
Right outside her house, with her key in the door. After she’d won two grand in St. Jude’s 50/50, he’d plugged her in the head. He needed crack bad, and she wouldn’t give up her purse.
That red spangly one under Julie’s bed. With the gun in it. He should’ve chucked both in the bay, but was too scared.
“Bastard,” she’d called him, once. The first time he’d marked up her face with that cheap ring. “Fucking evil coward.” Always preying on the weak.
How could you? she almost screamed. But had to keep quiet. Coward or not, she was terrified of him.
Inside the red purse, Donna’s perfume had spilled. Tabu, maybe. After two showers, Gil still stunk from it. To Julie, anyway.
“Call him back,” he said, meaning the mortician. “Please,Mamita. Say you changed your mind.” When he touched her arm, she cringed. Before this, she’d lived for his touch. In spite of that ring.
“How could you?” she whispered.
“She made me do it!” he said. “She wouldn’t give me her purse.”
Sure. It was all her fault. A seventy-year-old in a spangled pantsuit. For not letting a crackhead grab her winnings.
What would Julie have done? To save her own life?
Donna had been down-to-earth. A great tipper, and good friend. Always there to dry Julie’s tears, and to Donna, she cried plenty.
“Dump that asshole!” Antoinette, the owner told Julie, when she came in bruised, or broke. The other hairdressers smirked.
"She will,” Donna said, “when she’s ready.” She squeezed Julie’s hand. “When she runs out of love.”
Donna knew all about love. She was married to a great guy, an ex-cop who’d quit drinking for her. He’d changed, for her! Who could blame him? She’d had a warm smile, and blue eyes that actually sparkled.
Picturing those eyes and smile sewn shut was too much for Julie. “I . . . just . . . can’t!” she’d said, and hung up on the mortician.
“Baby . . .” Gil’s grip was tighter. “Call him back.”
But she wouldn’t.
She took the beating, instead.
* * *
Marisa, the “new kid,” was supposed to go in Julie’s place.
But . . . “‘No!’” Antoinette quoted Marisa, over the phone. “‘Please, not me! I can’t touch anything dead!’”
Julie said nothing.
“Can’t even stuff a turkey,” Antoinette added. “So how can she ‘do the dead’? Jeez.”
Cringing, Julie knew what was coming. Gil’s smile said he did, too.
“I can’t leave the shop,” Antoinette said. “And first viewing’s at two. So you’ve got to do it, Jules. I mean, like now.”
Against Julie’s bruised cheek, her cell was sweaty.
“You’z two were real close. She even asked for you, way back. Said, ‘Antoinette, if anything happens to me—I mean bad—and I die, I don’t want nobody doin’ my hair but Julie.’”
From under the bed, Julie could smell that purse. Tabu, and gunpowder.
“Makeup’s already on, so just the hair needs doing,” Antoinette said. “I figured you’d want to do it. Unless . . .”
Was she on to Gil? Or was Julie just being paranoid?
“Something . . .” She heard Antoinette smile. “Or someone—won’t let you.”
Did she know?
“I’ll hurry,” Julie told her.
* * *
Lots of times she’d “done the dead.” Till now, it was no big deal.
Sure, their faces were cold, and hard, but Julie got fifty bucks for a fast set and styling. And not even the whole head, as only the front and sides were seen.
While Julie worked, she talked to them. Especially if she knew them in life.
“It’s okay, Annie,” she’d told her downstairs neighbor. “You won’t hear screaming and fighting no more.” Gil had called Annie “that nosy old bat.”
But with Donna, it would be different.
“She’s in there,” the mortician told Julie, meaning the viewing room. It was too late to do it downstairs.
As she edged inside, her guts felt like hot soup. Gil, she thought.
In the distance, Donna lay in a fancy casket. The room felt ice-cold, though the heat was on. Zillions of flowers, there were, like at a queen’s wake. The stench was overpowering—lilies, chrysanthemums, and thatundersmell . . . That no-matter-how-pretty-they-did-you-up-you-were-still-deadsmell.
It’s a job, Julie told herself. She was your friend. She wants you here.
It wasn’t Julie’s fault. She didn’t kill her. Had no clue that Gil would, though she knew he’d get his crack money from somebody.
Up close, Donna looked like an angel, with straight, graying hair. Next week she would have come in for a coloring.
“Donna,” Julie whispered, “I’m sor—”
“Thank you,” the guy said, and she screamed.
She hadn’t seen him, standing amongst the flowers. “I’m sorry,” he said. He looked like she’d taken an axe to his heart. “I’m Vince. Donna’s husband.”
Julie tried to calm down. He looked like an older, neater version ofColumbo, that TV detective. Ex-cop, she remembered. And her guard was back up.
“Thanks for coming,” he said. “She always liked how you did her hair.”
Julie couldn’t meet his eyes. She thought of how Donna’s were sewn shut. “S’ the least I can do,” she murmured.
“You made her look younger. Not like an old bat.”
“She wasn’t an old bat!” Julie smiled over at the casket. “She was due for a color. Sorry I can’t do it.”
“‘S’not my job, man.’” Vince sounded so much like Gil, she looked at him.
“She told me all about you,” he said then.
Julie self-consciously touched her cheek, looked away again.
“You wanna sit down?” she said. “Till I’m done?”
* * *
While she worked, she felt his eyes on her back. Like she would trip up, if he stared hard enough. Maybe poke out Donna’s eye, from nervousness.
She couldn’t tell where the bullet had struck Donna. Or if it was still inside the head. Guns were Gil’s thing, not Julie’s.
But when a chunk of hair came out, Julie gasped.
“What’s wrong?” Vince asked, from the first row.
“Nothing,” she said, but something was. More and more hair was coming out of Donna’s head. This had never happened, with any corpse.
She slipped the hair into her shirt pocket. As more hair came out, she added it to the rest. So much was coming out, she suddenly stopped working.
“It’s okay,” Vince said, from right behind her. She jumped. “Gimme.” He reached into her pocket and pulled out Donna’s hair. As he slipped it, tenderly, into his own pocket, Julie began to cry.
“C’mon outside.” He took her arm. “I need a smoke. You?”
“I don’t . . . smoke!” Julie sobbed.
“I’ll teach you.”
She nodded. Somehow, that made sense. More than anything else in her life, right now. And the smell of this place was making her sick.
Outside, the morticians eyed them, curiously. The first viewing wasn’t far off. They tossed their own cigarettes on the ground and went back inside.
“It’s trauma,” Vince said, lighting up.
“What?” Julie recalled how smug Gil had looked when she’d left.
“‘Head’ trauma. That’s why her hair’s falling out.” He handed her the smokes, but she waved them away. “Bullet moved around, never came out. Shook things up. Like scrambling an egg.”
She felt like puking. This was his wife, that he loved, he was talking about.
If it were Gil, how would she feel?
Maybe . . . glad?
“A .22 LR. With a suppressor. That’s what he used.”
In her mind, Gil was sprawled on the sidewalk, his curly hair sticky with blood. “Who?” she said, nervously.
She pictured Gil in that casket inside, eyes sewn shut. No more evil glare.
“Followed her home from St. Jude’s,” Vince said. “They had a bazaar going on.”
“I know,” Julie said.
And that foul mouth. . . . Gil had the prettiest lips, but it ended there.
No more “Gimme money, you fucking bitch!”
“She won a bundle.” Vince tossed his cigarette away.
Julie nodded. Gil’s hands, entwined with black rosaries, were folded on his chest.
Helpless. Unable to beat her again. With that ring.
It would be so easy.
She smiled. “Two thousand,” she said, “one hundred and two dollars.”
Vince fingered his wife’s hairs in his pocket. Like they were ashes, he flicked them into the air.
The wind brought them back.
Cindy is a Jersey girl who works in New York City & who talks like Anybody’s from West Side Story. She works out 5-6 days a week, so needs no excuse to drink or do whatever the hell she wants. She loves peanut butter, blood-rare meat, Jack Daniels, and Starbucks coffee (though not usually in the same meal). She’s been published in the usual places, such as Hardboiled, A Twist of Noir, Beat to a Pulp, Out of the Gutter,Mysterical-E, Media Virus, and The New Flesh. She is the editor of the ezine, Yellow Mama. And she’s still a Gemini and a Christian.