Illustrated by Megan Lalonde
Towards the end, we would do things only very early in the morning or very late at night; nothing in between.
In the beginning, we didn’t smoke cigarettes inside. Only she did. Agnus running fingers would comb through the blond copper of my hair. “Just don’t cut it,” I pleaded. “Don’t move,” she said. Particles of dust streamed in with the setting sun as I sat in the midst of this room for the first time, avalanched with boxes of what I assume to be junk.
To put it simply, I was her mannequin. Through her years in beauty school and everything else, I was her mannequin. It wasn’t until a year later that I realized she might be my best friend. Our relationship was built from passive aggression and I remember forgetting to be receptive as a teenager, so our friendship went under my nose.
A year after our first beauty school moment, she cut my hair. “Maybe you should just shave it,” I muttered under my breath. “Shave the fucking thing,” I repeated louder. The hair salon was empty, closed. “You say that,” she replied, “but you’d hate me later.” I gave her a petulant look. I could behave only as a child around her. “Shave the sides then,” I said. I sounded desperate. For what? I couldn’t tell you.
She shaved the sides, she died my blond hair black, she put makeup on my face and disgusting drinks in my hand. We were both too ego-centric to acknowledge each other’s influence, and I still can’t put my finger on hers. All I know is that I was someone that I hated as a child, adolescent, but with my black hair and eyes at least I couldn’t recognize who that was. We left the hair salon and walked to the disgusting bar that sold disgusting drinks that tasted like jello and tequila. Men looked at me in ways that brought me back to dark corners of my childhood. I looked away as they leaned in. “You look afraid.” Agnus said accusingly. “I’m just not interested,” I said, but considering what happened next I should have been much more afraid.
She started talking to one of the men beside me who had a tuque pulled over his eyes. I slowly drank the disgusting drink while trying to pick up the microscopic signs that pointed to the exit, to me bolting from this seat, this bar; even though I knew I wasn’t going anywhere until she was. The tuque slammed his 7th or 8th drink on the counter and stood up. Agnus followed him, gesturing for me to do the same, and we went out through the back door of the bar. The back door was a significant detail to me--it was meant for the staff, for people that belonged there; I nearly slipped on the glistening February parking lot looking back at it. Two other men joined us and together we walked towards a small car that had once been red.
“He’s gonna drive?” I whispered to Agnus, tilting my chin to the tuque man who couldn’t seem to understand his keys. “We’re only 15 minutes from home, don’t worry for nothing.” I couldn’t tell you why I got into that car. Perhaps it was something to do with the desperation in the hair salon. Two guys sat in the front and Agnus and I sat between cans of beer and one other man in the back. Despite her collective demeanour, between tight lips, she ordered me to put on my seatbelt and I took comfort in knowing that she was also afraid. The car swung from the parking lot and the back wheels slid to one side as if drunk themselves. As we approached the highway, the man beside me had his hand on my thigh and the warmth from his palm summoned the taste of synthetic sweetness from my drink I had to the back of my throat. Popping cans sounded from the front and joints were being rolled on the dashboard. This was the first time I shamelessly prayed to God. Agnus couldn’t meet my eyes. Instead we both scrutinized the road in front of us and reached a state of focus and severity that was the only thing that kept us from being killed or accompanied that night.
That severity was encrypted in us both. It was what defined us against the world and what marked the transition from friendship to sisterhood. We started smoking cigarettes inside. The shower curtain was always stained with hair dye. One night, that same winter, we drank beer on the sidewalk and talked about all the dark corners of our childhood, unaware of the new one’s we were living. We licked spicy chicken wings that were wrapped in tin foil from our fingers. The street lights didn’t turn on that night and my small town was paled by the moon. Severity turned into a kind of hostility that we drank to encourage.
“I wish I had enough money to get a tattoo,” I said absentmindedly.
“It’s not that expensive,” Agnus replied, “You just need to save up.”
“By the time I’ve saved enough I probably will have changed my mind.” The thought troubled me.
“That’s your problem, Hannah. You just change your mind and drop things.”
“People, commitments. One day you’ll wake up and drop me too.”
I didn’t know what to say to that. I didn’t know if she was right or wrong. I was somewhere where answers weren’t important.
“I wish I wasn’t like that,” I said.
That night was a mistake. I can’t say what we did, but I woke the next morning with belongings that weren’t mine, money that wasn’t mine. She came into my room at 6am smelling of snow, “We’re getting you that tattoo. Don’t you dare regret anything.”
Instead we walked into town that day and spent all the money on candy and cappuccinos.
Two years later my hair was long again and my things were all in boxes. So were hers. She had signed a three month contract for rehab and I had signed a year-long lease somewhere far away from here.
“Hannah, we will see each other. This isn’t really a goodbye” She said on the morning of my move.
I nodded reassuringly, but she had been right. I changed my mind.