Come in here and sit at the table. I'll fix us a nice cup of tea. I have to tell
you something. I heard you talking about me last night. It's okay. I wasn't
asleep. I heard you telling your husband how hard I am. It's alright, but I want
to tell you this so you'll understand something about how I am.
I wasn't always this way. I started out gentle and trusting like you and your
sister. But I learned. I'm telling you, Honey, for me gentle only gets you hurt
in this world. This is about Grandma's sister, Aunt Rose, who used to cut your
hair when you were little. Do you remember that? She was the oldest, and
Grandma, the youngest, so you can see how it grew from jealousy. Rose had green
eyes for Mom who was so sweet to everyone, so those green eyes, that look, it
came over onto me, the first daughter.Here's the sugar and a spoon for that.
Anyway, what I'm telling you took me years to figure out, years to understand
the moloch, the evil eye, you know in the heart.
Back then we would all go to her place to have our hair done. We would walk
across the tracks to her little place behind the bar. "Rose's Hair,"
it was called, as blunt as her scissors grazing the back of your neck, as red as
the way she forced you into her chair. It wasn't much. You remember, you were
there. No? You were only six when we stopped going to her damn butcher shop.
You know back then I always had someone breathing down my neck. Mom's other
sister Delores lived across the street, and she would stop me coming home from
the store to see what I bought. She'd stick her nose in the bag and scold me
right there in the street. "Tell your mama she's a fool to buy her chicken
already cleaned and cut up like that. Tell her," she would hiss. The one
time I did, Mom just laughed, said not to walk down that side of the street any
Anyway, I'm telling you about Rose and how she'd gone to Beauty School down in
Wheeling for a month. Though, I never did see a license or anything. Well, Mom
wanted us to go to Rose's, cause, well, she was family, and that was all. For
the first three months she was...cheap, you know? One dollar for two hairdos,
and that was back when a dollar would buy you a bag of groceries. My god, today,
I paid forty dollars for that ham we ate last night. Anyway, you could say, Rose
leaned her trade on DeFranco heads.
In the beginning she wanted to do men too, and so Mom took Joseppe to her. Only
that once. He got such a scalping, he ran home and hid in the closet. He was
ten, and when he wouldn't come out, Mom cried. And when he did, she cried some
more. Pop took one look and called Rose up to talk with him. They all stood out
on the porch waiting, then Joseppe stared down at her and said, "You witch!
You ain't cutting my hair, never again!" And he hid back of Pop's legs, but
we all could see the scalping he got. And Rose she stood there and spit on the
floor, then hissed, "Bastardo!" and walked down the steps with her
high hips going. Pop started after her, but Mom she put out her arm and he
wouldn't cross her, though he gave a big swing with his leg like he was booting
her old tomato butt.
Joseppe was free, see, but we women were not. We still had to march down to her
shop once a month. I don't know, I guess I got used to it. You know how it is
with family. You'll swallow a lot. Each time I'd come home and cry in the
mirror, till your daddy begged me to stop, but I just couldn't. I knew she'd
curse me if I went or not, so I'd have Mom take off the moloch and head
back each month to get it again.
And then, Rose's daughter Beatrice, she started cutting hair. Well, when Rose
was booked up, I'd go to Beatrice. Is that who cut you? She was the opposite of
that red haired bull of a woman; she was a gentle cow taking her time with you,
brushing your hair soft and slow, like it was worth something. Rose, she would
yank your head and neck, lay her hand across your forehead as she raked your
hair back. It was Betriece who told me how Rose would take revenge on those she
didn't like, those who told stories about her daughter Marie, who ran the bar.
"I show them," she'd say, "those sonsabitches who talk trash on
Marie. I show them. I give them pain for pain. The husbands, "and she'd
snap her fingers slow, "I like to twist their balls. The women I yank out
their hairs." The women in the shop were all laughing like a bunch of
chickens. She was talking like that as she yanked back my head, cutting more and
more till I couldn't take it any more. I screamed, "Stop it. Stop it! Jesus
Christ, you're scalping me!" I stood up. "Oh," she says, "Hee,
hee... I don't know my own strength. Come Assunta, sit." I looked at her
black eyes, and I looked at Mom, and I did sit down, only this time she was as
gentle as a flying bird, as soft as a quilt. It was another woman, and I could
understand why she had so many customers.
Next month she was back to yanking me like I was a twig in her eye. I had you
with me then. I remember you were sitting in a little chair playing with those
pink pop-beads I had bought for you. I looked at you and felt the red-haired
witch scalping me again, and I couldn't help it, I started to cry right in the
chair. Beatrice, she saw me, cause later she came out on the porch with us as we
"Assunta," she said, standing there in the landing. "Assunta,
listen, you know you can have me cut your hair from now on."
"I can? How?"
"Just call ahead for an appointment. I always answer. You're paying the
same as anyone else, so I'll cut your hair the way you like."
I couldn't believe she was telling me this, or that I never thought of it.
"My mother, she can't help it. You know. It ain't nothing you did."
She looked me in the eye. "She can't be your sweet mother, so she becomes
the wicked one with the sharp tongue." She was saying all this soft into
the night. "With me," she says, "the more I help her, the more
she gives her love to my sister. Our mothers, they are sisters. And we are their
daughters. Do you see? The same blood in you and me, but we can choose."
I had you in my arms, but I hugged her there, the three of us outside in the
dark together. Beatrice was always good to me and you girls. When she died of
cancer so young leaving those little girls, well, they just closed down that
shop and Rose went back to working in the bar. You see, it was the moloch
made me hard at times, the thousand eyes watching eyes. I can't help it. But it
was Beatrice that makes me remember to love wise. Let me fix you a nice ham
sandwich with that tea?