The Hair That Came Between Us by Frances Dinger
Toward the beginning of the summer of the third year we lived in the house, it seemed the level of filth increased daily but our activity level— the amount of time we spent coming in and out of the house, tracking in dirt or pollen or other organic matter from the outside —had not changed. I went outside in the morning for work and came inside in the early evening after getting off work and then went outside again to water the plants and pluck dead leaves and flowers from the tomato plant and the various potted plants that had been given to us as gifts since our marriage because people had gotten it in their heads for some reason that we were plant people, we maybe seemed tender but did not have any pets or children so perhaps people thought we needed something else to keep alive, thus fulfilling some cosmic purpose, a fateful chore assigned to us because of our sweet dispositions.
Stan went outside in the morning to go to work and came home alone around lunchtime and then went back to work and then came home in the early evening and sometimes came outside to talk with me while I tended the plants. We weren’t always good about remembering to take off our shoes before walking across the plush carpet in the living room. It had been a stark white when we moved in but in the days since had darkened to a slight gray like the gray of days when the clouds are looming but not quite pregnant enough with rain to bust open. The gray didn’t bother us; we felt incredibly indifferent to the color of our carpet but when hairs seemingly materialized on the arm of the couch and on the sunny yellow of the Formica countertop, this is when the filth began to become disturbing and apparent.
I was briefly concerned Stan was having an affair. The hair seemed like more than what two people could shed. By chance one evening, I came home earlier than Stan and spent forty-five minutes crawling across the floor of the house, body held aloft by my toes, arms bent in a pseudo push-up position. It was an uncomfortable almost hour but in every room the hairs were the same: short brown ones from Stan, long red ones of mine, the occasional pubic curl in a place where I knew we had had sex.
The following day, I thought I found Stan conducting the same kind of inspection but when I asked him what he was doing he said he had knocked one of my earring backings to the floor while rearranging some things on the bathroom counter. I didn’t offer to help him look.
By the end of the third week, I had stopped walking across the house barefoot. Dust motes observed from the breakfast nook over the rim of my coffee cup ceased to be whimsical and pleasant. We began vacuuming in shifts. I would make breakfast in the morning while he vacuumed the living room and our bedroom. After work, I would vacuum the bathroom and kitchen while he made dinner. Our house ceased smelling like our skin or food or the perfume and cologne we occasionally wore on nights we wanted to be attractive to each other. The smell of electric ozone from the vacuum permeated the house. One weekends, we vacuumed three times a day.
We had stopped going to church a long time ago but after the filth began, we started to observe another kind of ritual Sunday mornings. We would take turns picking through each other’s scalps to see if our hair seemed unusually thin or if there were bald patches forming. We thought maybe the hair-loss was caused by protein deficiency. But both of us came from families whose men and women had thick, healthy hair all the way to their deaths. We did not find signs of balding when we looked. Still, our consumption of bacon and eggs increased. But still the house became dirtier. Stan bought us hypoallergenic pillowcases that were supposed to deter dust mites. I wasn’t sure how this was supposed to solve our problem. The hair was still there. At the beginning of our marriage, Stan would sometimes nuzzle next to me onto my pillow at night but we had reached an agreement that we would no longer do this until we determined which of us was losing the most hair. But I was only interested in this theoretically. The scientific precision of Stan’s tweezers, plucking hairs from each of our sides of the bed and dividing them into vials just made it seem like a competition.
Eventually, we stopped vacuuming and the dishes towered and loomed on the counter. In the evenings we took to watching movies but stared at the television screen for long after the credits had rolled. We sat with our arms around our knees on the couch, as if waiting for all the hair to fall out, for our fingernails to grow long and yellow and for the rest of us to turn to dust, which is really just dead skin anyway.
Frances Dinger (b. 1990) is a writer living in Seattle. Her fiction has appeared in New Wave Vomit and For Every Year. She was the script supervisor on the award winning short film “Quarters.” Frances is currently working on a novella titled ALL OF THIS IS NOTHING.
© 2011, Metazen.