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American Crow 103
Photography by Susan Hillyard
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Shiloh Hellman

"Lettuce Head"

     I stood in front of the smeared gas station mirror watching a coarse watery sludge leak from my shower cap.  My once golden blonde locks, now saturated with a dense coating of herbal dye, resembled a platter of three-day-old guacamole and I was beginning to worry.  As I gazed at my reflection in a state of mild horror I could hear my uncle Bob’s sandals slap against the concrete outside the bolted door.  “So,” he said, “are you finally dark and smoldering?”  I didn’t answer, wondering instead just how the tepid paste streaming down my cheeks in tracks of seaweed-green could ever resemble the autumn chestnut swatch on the front of the package.  I was seventeen and we were on our way to a wedding.
     “Now please,” said my uncle, the palm of his hand beating against the metal door of the Petro-Canada bathroom “tell me you read the instructions this time.” It was a fair question but as I was driven by the call of destiny and had little time for anything more than a squinted glance at the crude illustrations on the inside fold-out, it seemed inherently pointless. “Relax uncle Bob–everything is under control. Once the  ‘stache dries I’ll add another layer and we are good to go.”
     “You’re moustache?” he said. “You’re not supposed to use that stuff near your eyes or mouth­–you could go blind.  And what does good to go mean?”
     “Don’t worry.” I said, “It’s all herbal.” I wiped my forehead with a rough paper towel to catch the streams of dye still escaping beneath the worn elastic of the shower cap.  I then opened the door with a whoosh, blowing a stack of paper towels off the sink as my thirty two year-old uncle stood beneath the splintered doorway, battling an uncontrollable urge to explode with laughter. Within moments he surrendered to this urge completely, gripping his kidneys as he began moaning with pained hilarity.  I watched in my soiled cap, sopping facial hair and dye-streaked eyebrows. “Well...I guess this means I should have gone with Midnight Black,” I said, walking towards the car as laughter continued to erupt in a series of dry heaves. 
     Once in Bob’s tiny sedan I tried my best not to drip green globs on his new seat covers. “Now be careful,” he said, peeling the plastic off one of the many tubes of scented baby wipes he kept in the car. “I don’t want my seats looking like pesto dip.”
     “I’m not even dripping, Bob so you can relax. Besides it’s only a Kia.” Bob yanked a wad of wipes from the tube and fanned them in front of me.  The stench of aloe and potpourri filled the cabin. “If you prefer you can hop on a bus, “ he said.  “I’ll gladly pull over but I doubt they’d stop since you look like you’ve been bobbing for plutonium.” I smacked my hand down on the dash and turned to him. “FINE!” I said, grabbing the wipes and layering them across the lap of my lightly spattered sweat pants. “Whatever makes you happy, uncle Bob.”
     It was the wedding of my stepfather Earl’s best friend Luigi and his live-in girlfriend, Pam. Pam, a self-confessed Love Boat fanatic had insisted that they marry on a cruise ship to fulfill her girlhood dream. Luigi had saved every penny he had to make it happen and even though I knew they were both weirdos it still didn’t change the fact that the universe had made Pam’s sixteen-year-old daughter Summer just for me. I knew it was only a matter of time before she would fall under my spell and we would be together for eternity. Of course this was all still classified information.
      “So tell me,” said Uncle Bob, his words punctuated by the snap of wintergreen gum. “Would this stunt have anything to do with little Summer?” 
     “What do you mean stunt?” I said, keeping it cool.   “We were writing letters to each other for awhile but that was it.  If you’re saying that she has anything to do with my current makeover you are sadly mistaken. Besides–they’ll be so many other chicks on board I probably wont even have time for whatever her name is.”
     “Oh really?” he said. “I remember that time we all went bowling and she told me she only dated tanned dark-haired Italian guys.  I looked over at you and thought you were going to kill yourself right there with that eight pound bowling ball.”
     “That’s the stupidest thing ­ I’ve ever heard.  I was just very focused on my game that’s all” I shook my head and wiped another stream of dye off my cheek with the back of my hand. 
     We pulled off the highway, the sun broiling the windshield. It was late August and people were strolling through the city in shorts and tank tops, basking in the sweltering weather.  As the car braked and rested beneath the eye of a red stoplight Bob swiveled his neck towards me and tilted it on his shoulder. “By the way what is up with your complexion? You’re looking a tad florescent.”
     “It’s called a tan, weirdo.”
     “You sure you didn’t smear on that sunless tanner crap you got at the mall last time?  Because I’ve used highlighters that were more subtle.”  
     “Thank you for your input, uncle Bob. Now please watch the road so we don’t end up in the harbor.”
     He was right though. Before we left my mothers apartment I had applied a wad of Hawaiian Tropic sunless tanning cream I had shoplifted from the Maple Ridge mall.  I had smeared it on a little haphazardly, but so thin I really didn’t think it would make a difference.  Still the color seemed to be more akin to Cheetos powder than bronzed perfection.  Part of me wondered if it was karma but I wasn’t worried. If anything it was just in an in-between stage much like the seaweed wrap currently on my cranium.
     We pulled in near Stanley park and I got out of the car, held my shower cap in place and ran into a wooden cabin that housed the men’s room.  I knew the dye had set in for only a couple of hours but time was running out.  I pressed the metal faucet tap and stuck my head beneath the spout, my nose nuzzling against the white bowl of the sink.  The water limped out of the faucet and I lathered a sopping mass of blue liquid soap through my stiff hair in an attempt to loosen the cement-like mixture.  My uncle stepped through the doorway, a beige towel in hand. I could hear him snorting through the splash of tap water.  “I’m almost there,” I told him.  “I can really feel it start to come off now. Hate this smell though.  Are you smelling this?” He didn’t answer but I could sense that his laughter was even more pronounced than before, as it was bordering on cries of sheer torture.  “You’ve gotta– you’ve gotta take a look. It’s priceless. Absolutely priceless.”
     “What–is autumn chestnut not my color or something?” I said.  “What exactly are you trying to tell me?” I kept scrubbing my head, watching piles of herbal sediment collect in the sink and clog the drain.  By now uncle Bob was waving the towel, pleading with me to surrender my quest for smoldering perfection.  I lifted my head slowly and squinted into yet another soiled bathroom mirror.  At first I thought it might have just the lighting.  Then I opened my eyes wider and saw that whatever had made its way to the top of my head wasn’t anything close to autumn chestnut.  It wasn’t even winter almond.  It was far worse.
     “Holy shit” I said.  “What the fuck happened?  It looks almost green.”  I frantically rubbed the towel against my scalp, trying desperately to wipe away the nauseating hue that had suddenly latched onto my follicles. . “It’s not really green is it Bob? Come on tell me. Jesus Christ.” My uncle was aching.
     “It’s not just green,” he said.  “It’s bright green. Then again it could just be the lighting.”
     My hair had turned the kind of unnatural shade of green I had seen flickering on neon signs in seedy liquor stores and in Superman movies when the Man of Steel was faced with a glowing rod of Kryptonite...and it was all on top of my head, though my facial hair and eyebrows seemed to have been miraculously spared, ending up the color of thick chimney dust.  “What in the hell went wrong?”  I blurted, my voice raised to a shaky octave. “What the holy freaking fuck?” My uncle Bob had staggered out of the men’s room and I could hear him gasping desperately for oxygen amid the cooing of pigeons and the rapid strides of park joggers, no doubt wondering why there was a strange man currently locked in a fetal position outside the men’s room.  I stood there speechless, flashing back to my first memory of Summer in a cherry-blossom dress, with eyes like sparkling brown jewels and lashes pirouetting towards an endless blue sky. Her image soon faded into nothingness as my eyes once again focused on the awe-struck teenager staring back at me with a near-fatal case of lettuce head.
      “Maybe you just grabbed the wrong box,” said Bob, trying his best to regain his composure as he stumbled back through the open door of the bathroom. “But it said autumn chestnut,” I said. It clearly said autumn chestnut. What else could it possibly be other than autumn chestnut?”
     “Maybe it was a misprint or something,” Bob said. “Like they didn’t exactly mean chestnut but some other nut entirely. Maybe autumn pistachio.”
     “I’m screwed,” I whispered.  “She’ll never want me.”
     I scraped the excess dye off my head and changed into the dress shirt and a pinstriped blue sport coat I had bought for ten-fifty at Value Village. I also had a pair of black slacks that my mother bought new, one of my grandfather’s silk blue ties and an old pair of brown loafers, which I revived, with a coat of shoe polish.  When I was done changing in one of the three available stalls I stared at my reflection. My hair resembled an electric cabbage and my skin was bright orange. I looked like a jack-o-lantern pimp.
     Bob appeared after a quick change of his own, adorned in a western style vanilla dress shirt and a dark sequined vest complete with a beaded star over each shoulder.  I thought about making some sarcastic comment but my mind had turned into a static abyss of white noise.
     We walked to the harbor where a small crowd gathered at the base of a looming cruise ship.  Bob’s hand was pushing me forward across a stone walkway that lead to the harbor as I forced a psychotic smile.  Earl, my twenty-seven year old stepfather stood directing the wedding traffic with some of the groomsmen and upon noticing the sight of the two us coming towards him, did what had to be the double take of his short life. “Hey there Earl,” smiled Bob as we approached the tuxedo-clad best man. “Hey…uh… guys,” he said.  “I uh…was wondering what happened to you.  But now I’m not quite so sure I really want to know that much.  Where did you get your hair done?”
     “It started at a gas station and ended in a Stanley Park restroom,” Bob said, patting the back of my shoulder. “Aren’t the spearmint highlights just fabulous?”
     Earl stood there awkwardly chuckling. “You’re just always full of surprises aren’t you?” he said, waving me towards the main deck where I heard Summer’s voice coming from. I grabbed the back of Bob’s studded vest, pulling him back from a small stairwell.  “I can’t go up there,” I told him.
     “You have no choice,” he said.
     “Yes I do.”
     “No you don’t.”
     “But I…”
     “Trust me.  For once in your life just go with it.  In a few hours it won’t even matter anyway.”
     We walked up the set of white steps that led to the main deck, my eyes hidden behind Bob’s shoulders.  I could hear voices raised in celebration as I tried to convince myself that I was blowing everything out of proportion. After all this day wasn’t about me.  Be brave I thought.   As I got to the final step and could hear the last words of my uncle echoing in my head: for once in your life just go with it.  For the first time I knew he was right.
     “Check out the mountain dew on that dude,” a voice yelled. I turned around and saw a guy roughly my age standing next to Summer with jet-black hair and a pressed grey suit. His coat, unlike my partially moth-eaten Value Village special, seemed to actually match his pants. 
     “That’s trippy man, “ he said.  “Does it glow in the dark too?””
     “I’m not really sure,” I said.  “Guess I wouldn’t be surprised though.” I could see Summer, even though I was doing everything in my power to avert all eye contact with her.  I could see her violet dress and the tiny white flowers woven into the braids of her hair.  I could see her soft hands with glittered fingernails, clutching a bouquet of fresh orchids.  And I could feel my brain melt into a pool of watery grey Jell-O.  She spoke and began bursting with laughter. “You look hilarious,” she said. “You look like you spent more time on your hair than I did.”
     “Well,” I said.  “Two much canned spinach does have its consequences.” They all laughed as I felt Bob pat me on the back as I turned and headed for the bathroom, trying my best to smile while I felt the first pangs of seasickness wash over me.
     Once in the sanctuary of the restroom, a place I had began to feel strangely at home during the course of the day, I heard the ship’s motor churn. My uncle was once again on the other side of the door as I stood gazing at my mortified reflection. “Just think of it this way,” he said.  “How many times in your life do you get to visit such a diverse array of bathrooms all in a single day?  Land…sea…if we can get to an airport we just might be able to set some kind of public men’s room record.”
     “Yeah right. Have you seen my mom?”
     “She tried calling your name just as you were desperately fleeing the scene.  Just between you and me I think the hair is a hit.”
     “Not exactly the one I was looking for.”
     “It never is. By the way the ceremony is starting soon. They want to get it done while the lights still good.  Will you be making an appearance anytime soon?”
     “That depends,” I said.  “Will you be drinking this evening?”
     “By the end of the night,” he said.  “I’ll be as wasted as a liberal arts degree.”
     “Well then,” I said.  “I guess that’ll make two of us old buddy.”

Shiloh Hellman
Shiloh Hellman began his writing career in Elementary school, producing such notable works as Why I Like Abe Lincoln, How Rainbows are Made and Boogers: More Than Just for Picking. In the fourth grade a book report on Jack London earned him four gold stars from Ms. Farnsworth, leading him to consider a career in writing.  After some soul searching he decided on a nap instead.  He put pen to paper once again sometime during his second semester of junior college and has no plans to put it down. Currently he writes about his life and the life one imagines. He also enjoys music, cartooning and a small tabby named Mr. Hobbes. 


Spring 2012

John Chandler
Alta Ifland

Shiloh Hellman
Thad Nodine
Patrice Vecchione
Stephen Woodhams

Dane Cervine
Eileen Eccles
Peggy Heinrich

Lauren Crux

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