Ronald isn't here this morning though, as you may have noticed. He's out getting his head shaved for work. His job is in quality control for Wigman's Wigs, a hair restoration firm, and he's in charge of testing each new style of wig for durability and effectiveness. Billy Wigman III, Ronald's boss, told him that he had to shave his head so he could test a radical new design, one that actually attaches itself to your scalp via some kind of suction method. Ronald protested, but it didn't do any good, and now's he getting all his hair shaved off.
He's probably crying right now, sitting in the barber chair sobbing uncontrollably. The problem is Ronald's afraid of having his hair touched. It's true. He doesn't even let me touch it. He freaks out before going to the barber, sitting in the corner with his knees tucked tight into his chest, shaking his head slowly from side to side like he's trying to tell me he's not going to go. He always goes though, getting piss drunk first, then stumbling home and acting stupid and sitting in the bathroom with the door locked and the water running for the rest of the day. See, Ronald's afraid of disappearing—scared to death of it actually. He's terrified no one will ever recognize him after he gets his hair cut—even though everyone always does—and that somehow the world will go on without him, like everything will keep moving and he'll be standing still and no one will be able to notice that he's gone.
"Even since I was a kid I've had this feeling that someday I'm going to evaporate," he always says. "And even you won't remember me." I tell him that he's just imagining things and that people never just disappear, but then he always gets mad and tells me that it does happen, and that someday it's going to happen to him. He's oh-so-sure, my silly Ronald. . .
Like I was saying, we met at this diner sometime ago. It was sunny out then and there were three red cars and one blue one in the parking lot, and I watched Ronald pour some cream into his coffee and stir it in big, concentric circles 70 times. He was wearing a purple jogging suit with a white t-shirt underneath, and his hair was sticking straight up in front like he had just rolled out of bed. He picked up his coffee and made like he was going drink it 30 times before getting frustrated for some reason and throwing the cup across the room, a terrific crash following, people whispering. I stared at him as he feverishly scribbled and erased entries in a crossword puzzle, using a different pencil for each clue.
"What?" he asked, looking up from his crossword. "What are you looking at?"
"You. What was with the coffee?"
"It was cold. I let it sit for too long." He pushed his glasses farther back up the slope of his nose and asked if he could sit by me, and I said sure. There was something about him that I couldn't put my finger on, like some mysterious switch that wasn't wired up a few seconds before was suddenly flicked on inside me when he was around; I felt it right away, like people always say you do. There was something so strange about him. He was so perfect yet damaged. He was so odd yet accessible. He was like me.
"I'm Maggie," I said, and he slathered his hands in disinfectant and we shook, leaving a residue on my palms I swear I can still feel today.
"Sorry about that," he said, rubbing some of the excess oil deep into his palms and through his short black hair. I told him that it was okay, and about how I have to flush the toilet with my feet because I'm afraid of touching the flushing lever.
"I would love to kiss you," he blurted out, stopping me mid-sentence. "If you weren't so covered in germs."
"No, I just mean I can't kiss anyone because of germs. If we doused you in this disinfectant first, then maybe." His impetuousness found a place in me. It was the first time that anyone had said they wanted to kiss me. Men have kissed me before, of course, but he was the only one who thought about it first—or at least thought about it out loud.
"Sorry about that," Ronald said, breaking one of his pencils in half. "I didn't mean to be so forward."
"Don't worry about it. Really. I liked it." He smiled then, from ear to ear, so soft. I pulled a red, metal spoon from my purse to stir some cream in my coffee, the white cream mixing with the black brew in swirls. He asked me why I had a spoon in my handbag, rubbing some more disinfectant in his hair to make it stick up higher.
"For as long as I can remember, I've always had it with me. It helps keep me calm. Helps control my daydreaming. My mind wanders sometimes." I laid the spoon on the cup's saucer, and like lightning Ronald flinched and shrieked, covering his eyes and banging his hand against the table.
"Move your bangs out of your face! Please! I beg you!" He breathed deep and hard and clutched his chest, telling me that my hair was crossing over my forehead and that the asymmetry of it was causing him to have an attack. I quickly brushed the strands out of my face and behind my ear, and slowly Ronald relaxed and began to breathe normally.
"Thanks for doing that," he said. "You have really nice eyes, don't you? Misshaped though, but nice." He asked if he could hold my hand, again scolding himself out loud for being so forward. I said yes, and he pulled a rubber glove from his pocket and slipped over his right hand and laid it in mine, our fingers just barely touching.
"I really would love to kiss you," he said again, his crossword puzzle sliding off the table and onto the floor. I told him I would love that too. . .
Honey? Ma'am, can you hear me at all?
Anyway, we left the diner shortly after and went back to my apartment and made love; Ronald had his eyes closed the entire time, took a six hour bath afterwards with industrial strength soaps, and cried from start to finish—I told him beforehand we didn't have to make love, but he said he wanted to, and that the discomfort of being touched would be worth it. We moved in together a few weeks after that, into a nice two bedroom apartment on the east side of town overlooking the train tracks—we each have our own bedroom, but at nights I creep over into Ronald's and slide into bed with him and he never notices. There are these green vines that grow up the side of the outside brick, and a sun porch off the back where we sit and play Scrabble and. . .
". . . are you okay, honey?" the waitress asks. I jump, really jittery. "Have you heard me at all?"
"Belle, you really startled me."
"It's Alice, darlin'."
"What? Stop fooling. You're Belle and you serve Ronald and me all the time. We tip you well, too."
"My boyfriend. Good Lord, Belle. We've been coming here for five years."
"Sweetie, I've worked here for eight years, and I've never seen you in here before."
"What are you talking about?" I ask. "You must be getting sick or something." She looks at me in a weird, perplexed way, and things to start to feel strange, eerie almost, with just a dash of deja vu. I flip open my cell phone to call Ronald and see how his hair appointment is going, but his entry is gone. Gone. Weird. I try and remember his number, but can't, and I really should hop in the car and go over to the barbershop and see him, but I can't remember which one he goes to or where it is. Something's wrong. Definitely wrong.
The waitress shakes her head at me and cocks her wide hips to the side. She has brown eyes—brown eyes, doesn't she—not green ones like she should, like Belle has. She's much taller than Belle too, and has more of a wrinkly-worn face. She clears away my plate and coffee cup, and from the saucer falls a little red pill, real skinny in the middle and just a little bit bulbous at both ends.
"This yours, honey?"
"It's mine. Doctors say it helps with my daydreaming. Keeps my mind from wandering." I swish some water around in my mouth and the pill slides down my throat, and I can feel it thud as it hits the bottom of my stomach.
"Does it work?"
I feel hazy now, the waitress's question still hanging in the air above my head. Something is leaving my body; I can feel it. It doesn't really hurt or anything, but there's some part of me that now feels abruptly empty—it's such a familiar feeling, and it kind of burns, almost like a hunger pain. The diner seems much more vivid now than it did a few minutes ago, much clearer, and I can't remember what I was thinking about before the waitress interrupted me; it must not have been very important anyway.
"Does it take long to kick in?"
"Not really. It works pretty fast most of the time." I dab my lips once with a napkin, crumpling it and tossing it in a heap on the table.
"So, where's your boyfriend now?" Alice asks. "Ronald, is it?"
"Oh, I don't have a boyfriend," I reply incredulously, looking at her and saying, "you must have me confused with someone else."
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