This story is by Heather Jasmine and was part of our 2019 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The Dish was the hub of the small town, an hour away from the metropolis. It was glam-central and the de facto newsroom where everyone voiced their opinions on their neighbours’ lives. Nobody wanted the dilapidated old dance hall, so Mama Jemima got it for a song, and converted it into a beauty salon and event space. Unconventional, its layout had a back-centre stage, side open-concept commercial kitchen, stylists’ stations along the opposite side, and front washrooms. The ginormous central area morphed into an animated social gathering on weekend evenings, when stylists’ paraphernalia was cloaked in black covers that merged into the black walls splashed with bright local artwork.
Always dressed in her Sunday-best, as a regular church-goer Mama J knew the Bible inside and out plus over 1,000 gospel songs. Guyanese-born and dirt-poor for much of her life, she had to fight her way to success. She believed that this world and all in it needed respect. Mama J’s motherly persona held the town together; no one dared defy her.
A while back, an event happened that almost made Mama J pack it all in. The day started out as most, with the girls having breakfast together as per Mama J’s custom. Roommates Braids Brandy and Yoyo Tresses Tina (nicknamed by Mama J to help clients identify stylist’s service specialty) turned heads with their laughter and intricate up-dos. Rainbow Ruby also zhooshed up the establishment with her multi-coloured locks and buoyant personality. Mama J fed her girls well to sustain them. Perpetually late, Pixie Paulina waltzed in midway through the legendary breakfast of pastries, toast, bacon and eggs served with hot drinks or creative blended juice concoctions. Set-‘N-Go Susie was also late because her son was sick. Like an orangutan, which nurses her babies for eight years, Mama J was a fiercely protective matriarch. She insisted on appropriate titles and last names for her diverse clients. Colour- and class-blind, Mama J expected everyone to mind their manners.
Ladies would be flooding in to get gussied up for that night’s “Muses in the Salon”. Humming to herself with the sun warming her, Proprietress Jemima checked the appointments. No weather knocks, so a good hair day. Known for its quirkiness and exemplary service, everyone felt like royalty while at The Dish.
“Girls, just a few reminders. Mrs. Olid is scheduled with you Set-‘N-Go Susie. Forget the Olid’s clout in town as founders and the main employer. Don’t put up with any nonsense. You aren’t her minion. Remember that calm words quell anger.”
Everyone cringed at the mention of Mrs. Olid, an odious woman notorious for her spreading of scuttlebutt. Pixie Paulina piped up “Do we have any Earl Grey tea for her Highness? She insists on the Queen’s tea while she gobbles down your famous pastries.”
“No worries, we try to avoid kerfuffles.”
With furrowed brow and biting her nails, Set-‘N-Go Susie started muttering under her breath. “That frightful old hag’s … ad nauseum sucks … my energy. Every time, I see … black cape-covered back hump, I wonder if … curse me if ….
“I don’t mind helping … space makeover. Mama J, I love … staff … home for dinner except event Fridays and Saturdays. Johnnie needs me … glad the salon is dark Sundays and Mondays. Mama J… best employer a single mother …!”
“Thanks, Susie. You’re all my family. Sometimes you think I’m obsessive about honorifics, but today’s world needs more respect. Our ladies love it. The writer’s open mike reading salon is always popular, perhaps due to the wine and cheese. Thanks to Tina and Susie the refreshments are ready. At closing, all hands on deck for space makeover.
“Tonight’s event includes townies. The only XY-specimen to gate-crash during the day is persistent Vangelis Trakis, trawling and culling for juicy tidbits to put in his column of our local gazette.
“Apparently, our rival barbershop doesn’t feed him hot-iron stories like The Dish gossip. ‘Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only … for building others up … -Ephesians 4:29.’ Beauty salons are regaled with gossip but NOT IN MY PLACE! Everyone knows the hurt of idle talk. Frequent touch-ups build rapport. We, amateur therapists, listen but don’t let clients dish the dirt. Watch out for silver-tongued Adonis, Vangelis Trakis’ seemingly innocent queries. Don’t ignite unnecessary fires with idle speculation. Now my lovely magicians, work your magic.”
On reception duty until her later dye-jobs, Rainbow Ruby braced herself for Mrs. Olid’s inevitable disparaging comments about her bright locks.
Shuffling in at a hurry-up-and-wait rate, Mrs. Olid rolled her eyes and waving her finger at Rainbow Ruby began her interminable rant. “Tsk-tsk, Rainbow Ruby you’re a colourist, but your hair is over-the-top! Are you rebelling?”
Before Rainbow Ruby could open her mouth, Mrs. Olid spouted out more venom. “How long before it grows out? …. Think about your marriage prospects. No one wants to be upstaged. Instead of jewel-toned hair, get a girl’s best friend and real amethysts, emeralds and blue topaz.
“That hair jeopardizes employment prospects. Surely, you don’t want to be here forever!”
Biting her tongue, Ruby motioned Mrs. Olid into Susie’s chair. “She’ll be right with you. I’ll get you an Earl Grey and the last of Mama J’s cheese straws.”
In the next chair, Mrs. Prattle was getting a blow-out from Pixie Paulina, specialist in short-to-mid-length dos. After small talk, Mrs. Olid broached a sensitive topic about one of her close friends. “Have you seen Mrs. Butt lately?”
Sighing, Mrs. Prattle responded, “No, Mrs. Butt has been out-of-town lately.”
Mrs. Olid tattled, “she’s been seen out-and-about with a young hustler. Simply scandalous. How can an older woman with any self-respect go around with a man half her age? We’re judged by the company we keep.”
“Harumph! I’ve been housebound while my husband has been ill. Mrs. Butt will have a good explanation. Perhaps the chap is managing her property since her husband’s recent death. Gardener? Handyman? Financial advisor?”
“Not likely. She’s been seen about town laughing and carrying on with this man at her side.”
Set-‘N-Go Susie interjected firmly: “That’s enough, Mrs. Olid. Don’t spread rumours when the subjects can’t defend themselves. I heard Mrs. Butt is rejuvenating on a cruise after her husband’s long illness. Rollers ready; let’s get your hair washed.”
Living up to her name, Mrs. Prattle surmised: “I think I remember Mrs. Butt booking a couple’s cruise after her husband passed.”
“But who’s the man?” Mrs. Olid persisted.
“I don’t know. A house-sitter?”
Mrs. Gavena was sitting on the other side of Mrs. Olid after her wash and head massage. Speculating she said, “Kudos to Mrs. Butt if she landed a young man. Her life deserves some oomphstasy; caring for her husband so long must have been a grind. Wouldn’t mind being a cougar myself.”
Overhearing the conversation, Mrs. Wilson added “Well, my neighbour Mrs. Butt has been gone quite awhile. Her house is all closed up as she travels the world. That gentleman is definitely her travel companion.”
After whisking Mrs. Wilson away for a wash and conditioning, Brandy Braids seated her in Mrs. Prattle’s empty spot for the tedious braiding process. “Mrs. Olid, please refrain from making unsubstantiated statements. As organizer for the town’s biggest event, ‘Gala for the Forgotten’, Mrs. Butt may nix the whole thing upon hearing of pejorative gossip. Without her connections and event-planning expertise, THOSE WHO’VE SUFFERED GREAT LOSS like health, death, addiction, financial challenges or big city messes like homelessness WON’T GET HELP! Beneficiaries receive mentors as well as financial aid.”
No one paid any attention to ever-present Vangelis Trakis. Ears pricked, even after an overindulgent late-night, he munched on the smorgasbord of reception delectables. He thought that Mama J was such a great chef so missed her calling. But he had another story or almost.
Suddenly the room went deathly quiet. Mrs. Butts had entered amidst a flow of suppositions about her. Faces registered shock, eyes were averted and cast downward in shame. Catching a few whispers, she smoke-spouted with indignation, “I DEMAND a full apology at tonight’s Open Mike. Vangelis, restore my reputation on paper. FYI, my house was closed up while I tended my gravely ill sister abroad. I wasn’t GALIVANTING WITH ANYONE ANYWHERE! You slandered ME and MY grandson who came here to help me downsize.”
Mortified at the telling of tales in her shop, Mama J admonished everyone that night: “‘Gossip is so tasty – how we love to swallow it – Proverbs 18:8!’ Inadvertently, some stylists helped grow the story. Our apologies. We must think before we speak so we don’t anger others. Don’t fan the flames. Repent. Support the ‘Gala for the Forgotten.’ ‘The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit -Proverbs 18:31.’ NEVER FORGET: WORDS ARE POWERFUL. They can raise someone up or tear them down.”
Sniffling, Mrs. Olid said “I apologize…your lives are my life.”