At hometime, other mummies would talk to his mummy just so they could bathe their fingers in his hair. His pals had their genius for maths or rowing or inheritance; his genius was for hair. All through college, girls took their clothes off to get their clutches on it – so silkily thick that when he pulled away his hair stayed almost exactly as they’d held it. During tutorials, he’d sweep its fringe from his forehead as though he was about to say something thrillingly incisive and his Don would nod along.
By twenty-two, the other boys had taken note, reshaping their flops with species of gels, neuroses and goo. Replicas were everywhere, from trading floors to country pubs. Copyists did him no harm. The bosses at his uncle’s firm could see how unique he was. By thirty-two, he was a partner, and even though the junior females still gave him the eye, he didn’t mind catching the train home to his Surrey wife. He’d watch London dwindle to leaves through the reflection of his soft quiff on the train window, as though it was being pulled home by the urges of his marriage. She dreamed of his hair on her children, on her children’s children, combing over the rolling hills of their future.
Oliver and the others had inherited her blonde wisps; his wife didn’t dare broach the subject. Not even to Lottie at hot yoga; not even after she’d caught him grunting with his phone before the bathroom mirror. By fifty-two, his shirts had shrunk. Nobody in the office could do their shitting job properly. Whenever he stood or turned or lifted, a small sigh fell from him, as if they were overflowing. Everything was inexplicably fucked up – as though the world had fallen out with itself – and he couldn’t let it go.
Through the reflection of his NASA baseball cap, he watched the rusty trees and evergreen hedges grey to fried chicken joints and mobile phone repair shops. London kept growing, big and alien as a prostate. He couldn’t stop himself thinking about it. Am I meant to be here? Am I meant to be anywhere at all?
Some of his pals had been taken out of context by innocent hugs or cocaine, some by harmless jokes or the electorate; one had started his Merc in the garage and had to be placed in a different context altogether. Later, he’d explain that he was taken out of context during Thursday Drinks at The Red Lion. It. People think they know so much about the world, but they haven’t got a clue. It wasn’t what they thought. That chippy diversity-hire from Middlesbrough or wherever; and him, lurching across the bar, insisting You’re my hair! You’re my hair! You’re my fucking hair!
Daniel O’Connor is a lecturer at the University of Liverpool. His debut novel, Nothing, was published by W&N in 2020
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Image Credit: BEN LUSTENHOUWER