Alice snuck up on me from behind, grabbed me by my shoulders. ‘Margo,’ she said, ‘that hair of yours is a bloody disaster.’ I was being steered in the direction of the bathroom: ‘You should see it from here Margo, it looks like you’ve a bloody bird’s nest in there.’ She swung me through the doorway, ordered me to sit on top of the stool. I was five, six perhaps, so Alice must have been around ten. The stool was facing the sink, so she must have planned the whole show.
Tomorrow I will turn seventy. Patrick, my husband died eighteen months ago. We’d been together forty five years. Life does not always settle in with our plans.
Alice plunged mum’s hairbrush into my hair. I could feel each individual bristle. ‘I’ll fix this up for you Margo, you’ll see!’ Alice said, ‘and if you don’t move your head there just might be a lolly waiting for you afterwards.’
Next Saturday my daughter Christine is putting on a party at her place in honour of my birthday. We posted the invitations about a month ago, set the RSVP for last Friday.
Alice could not get the brush to move through my hair. Then she tried pulling it away from my head. ‘Your hair’s all tied up in the bristles; I can’t get the bloody thing out,’ she said.
By last evening Alice had not responded to the invitation so I rang her.
‘Stop Alice, please stop, you’re hurting me.’ I cried out. Then I tried to get the brush from her by digging my nails into the heel of her hand. I was successful in this.
Alice said ‘wasn’t that odd’ that I rang because she’d only been thinking about me ‘on and off’ all day.
I looked in the side of the mirror and saw Alice leaning against the doorway. She had her arms folded across her chest and a disgusted look on her face. ‘Exactly as I would’ve predicted Margo,’ she said. ‘You can’t see what you’re bloody well doing and so you’re just making things worse.’
‘You got the invitation Alice?’ I asked. ‘Yes, love,’ she replied with a laugh. ‘How could I forget you’re the birthday girl tomorrow!’
Mum must have heard the goings on in the bathroom because, all of a sudden, she appeared at the bathroom door. She was holding a twin in each arm. ‘Stop her mum; Alice’s hurting me!’ I called out. ‘Mum, tell her to stop’.
Alice asked: ‘Margot, do you feel just ghastly like I did when I turned seventy?
‘Margo’s hair’s a disgrace isn’t mum and so I’m fixing it up for her. You’ve got to have pain to have beauty, isn’t that right mum?’
‘I was hoping that you’d be able to come,’ I said.
Mum said, ‘Alice, go easy on your little sister, she looks up to you.’
‘Oh Margo love, I haven’t gotten in touch because I only opened your invitation today.’
I pushed my head forward over the basin and looked up into the corner of the mirror. I could see mum smiling down at Alice and so Alice, who had her back to the mirror, must have been smiling up at mum.
“Today? How come?’ I asked. ‘Oh Margo,’ she replied, ‘we only came back today from Port Douglas love.’
‘And isn’t true mum that a lady’s hair is her crowning glory? You say that all the time, don’t you mum?’
I said, ‘I had no idea you and Ken were going to Port Douglas.’ Alice replied: ‘I’m certain I told you months ago love, at Jim’s funeral don’t you remember?’
Mum told us both to settle down, and that she was taking the twins outside to play in the sunshine.
‘It is an exquisite place Port Douglas, you ought to go there yourself, love.’ (Alice assumes that what she wants is what everyone else wants or ought to want.)
The brush was still stuck in my hair.
‘Oh Margo and I’m afraid I can only make it to your party for an hour at best. Or do you think it would be better that you and I go out to lunch one day next week?
Alice said, ‘Wait there and don’t you dare to so much as move a muscle because I just had a bloody brilliant idea.’
Alice explained that some “dearest friends” of hers and Ken had to be picked up from the airport by them and then they had booked to go to some fancy restaurant.
While I waited for Alice to return I tried to get the brush out of my hair once again. It was impossible.
I agreed with Alice that there wasn’t much point in coming over for only an hour. But my feelings were hurt just the same. Exactly why I can’t explain, because Alice and I have never been what you’d call close.
Then I thought if I wet my hair the brush should just slip out from my hair.
I let Alice drone on. ‘If only you’d given me more notice, love,’ she kept saying.
‘What the hell gave you the bloody idea that wetting your hair would help Margo?’
I let slip into the conversation that Lionel and Len both said they were coming. They said they would not miss my birthday party for quids, I added. I knew she would not like hearing that.
Mum likes Alice much more than she does me, I thought. Just because Alice looks good and pretends to help her all the time. Alice is the meanest person alive and mum has no idea.
‘As I said before we could do lunch sometime next week love. Just us girls.
All of a sudden I saw mum’s large dress making scissors hovering about the top of my head. ‘Alice, you’re not cutting my hair,’ I screamed grabbing my hair with both hands.
I said, ‘Yes, that would be nice.’
I tried to get away; I’d started to climb down from the stool. Alice was much stronger than I.
‘Anyway dear Margo I have bought you a little something from Port Douglas which I know you’ll adore.’
‘I’m only cutting off the knots Margo. I give you my solemn promise it won’t hurt.’
Alice said ‘Oh and Margot I haven’t told you that Ken and I are going to Italy next month?’
Each time she cut off one knot she said she had to ‘balance the other side’: ‘Margo, you don’t want me to cut it so it looks all odd do you?’
I replied, ‘No, you haven’t told me but I’m not surprised as it seems to me you two have been travelling non stop over the last few years.
I was screaming my head off now, calling out for mum and crying between my screams; my eyes were filled with so many tears that I could no longer see what Alice was doing.
‘Have you thought of travel Margot? What about a singles cruise? There are some very good deals going around?’
When mum came in finally she started to scream at Alice. ‘What the bloody hell are you doing to Margo’s hair Alice?’
‘No, Alice,’ I said, thinking how I couldn’t possibly afford a bloody cruise even if I wanted one. ‘I’m a home body, always have been.’
‘I was only trying to make her look good mum? Make the best of herself…
‘Have it your own way then, Margo dear,
Later that day Alice sidled up to me and said that mum told her she had to tell me she was sorry she’d cut my hair off. Then she started to cry.
‘Remember the time we were kids and I cut off most of your hair?’ Alice said with a laugh. ‘You were a sweet little thing… impossibly stubborn.
‘I hate you Alice’ I said. ‘I hate you the most of everybody in the whole world.
‘Yes, and I still am a sweet little thing,’ I replied and laughed back.
And I hate you, you bloody squirmy little maggot, replied Alice.
‘I’m tired after all this travelling Margo so forgive me but I’ll have to get going. And you’ll make sure and have a happy birthday tomorrow won’t you? Oh yes and Ken said to wish you happy birthday too.’