The Wig Mistresses
September 8, 2013
A few days ago Alice urgently declared that the wig must be washed. “I’ve been wearing it every day,” she said. “It’s time. Come over tonight close to my bedtime so that nobody sees me without it.”
I’d like to say I rushed right over that very night like a dutiful daughter, but I admit that cutting into my reading time to wash a wig on a stormy night made me drag my feet a little. Going to The Place at 8:30, Alice’s suggested arrival time, buzzing to get inside, waiting in the rain for someone to show up and open the door, searching for an aide to let me back out again into the rain and darkness an hour later – no, this did not appeal to me. Besides, the wig has taken over. How many wig posts are there? Let me remind you:
I’m sure I’m missing a few.
I could understand why she wanted me to come at night, but I wouldn’t agree to come so late. I arrived at 6:30 the following rainy night and we did what she calls “Old Business” for an hour or so. This means reviewing her checkbook, reading the cards and letters she has received from friends and relatives (many of whom are still in birthday mode), and going over her bills. By 7:45 her last pill of the day had been delivered and swallowed in front of a weary witness from the medical department. We were unlikely to be interrupted by anyone again.
“Time for New Business,” Alice said. We headed to the kitchen.
She could have purchased an extensive line of products for wigs. There had been a lot to choose from.
But we had bought only the shampoo and conditioner. The two bottles now sat next to the kitchen sink.
Alice instructed me to remove the dish drainer, wash the sink “thoroughly,” and then wash the dish drainer itself.
I cleaned the sink until it gleamed, then picked up the drainer and began soaping it. “Why am I doing this?”
She looked at me as if I had no business being her child. “Because we’re going to turn it upside down and drape the wig over it when we’re done and let the water drip into the sink.”
It pleased me that Alice is still on the ball like this. To me, a completely impractical person who gives physical reality only the limpest of daily handshakes, this sounded like the insight of a genius.
If you are anything like I am about housekeeping, you might be asking this question: Do Rubbermaid dish drainers actually get dirty? Answer: Yes, on the underside if they sit day in and day out in the sink.
Already I was having a good time, even though she wouldn’t let me take any photographs of her or any of our activities. (“What is it about you and that camera?”)
She had read the directions. “Over and over,” she said. “Now you read them. We can’t make any mistakes.”
The directions were in large print on a pink sheet of paper and full of threatening CAPITAL LETTER warnings. No wonder she’d wanted help with this project.
Water MUST BE COOL – NOT WARM!
Use only TWO TEASPOONS of shampoo. You do NOT need more!!
Swirl the wig GENTLY in the shampoo water for TWO FULL MINUTES.
NEVER RINSE YOUR WIG UNDER RUNNING WATER. You might as well throw it in the trash.
Use COOL WATER for the rinse. Submerge the wig and swirl GENTLY once again.
Place wig inside a clean towel and PAT DRY. Do not SQUEEZE or TWIST.
Hold conditioner TWELVE INCHES from wig and spray on. DO NOT STYLE. Your wig will return to its style once dry.
Alice and I stood side-by-side at the sink. We could feel the FIERY HOT, NOT WARM breath of the Wig Mistress who had written these directions blazing up and down our backs as we faced our task. Under no circumstances were we to get into a situation with this expensive item wherein it ended up in the trash.
I closed the drain and held up a teaspoon, ready to measure out the shampoo. Alice tested the water several times, gingerly nudging the faucet by tiny increments this way and that. “Too warm. Too cold. There. No! That’s hot. Uh-oh. Cold again. Oh my!”
We felt in such grave danger of making a mistake that we started giggling uncontrollably.
At last we straightened up. There was, as they say, no way out but through. The time had come for her to remove her wig. “Are you ready for this?” she asked, as if I had never seen her when she was not wearing a wig.
She pulled off the wig revealing a thin cap of matted curls, pink skin showing through here and there. She looked like she had a very short hair cut. Nothing to be ashamed of, I assured her. She shook her head. Not buying it.
Then we followed these steps, except NO POURING OF WATER AS SHOWN IN STEP THREE. Instead, this time I gently guided our silver fish around in the COOL water.Once we’d finished Step Four, folding the wig into a towel and patting it many times, it was time to spray it with conditioner and put it over the dish drainer. Because the wig was quite dry already, Alice made an executive decision to skip that part and proceed to Step Five, which meant she placed the wig over a vase she had turned upside down on her desk for the occasion.
She put a towel under the vase in case of drips (there had been none so far), and then we sat together admiring the clean wig. Within moments its waves and curls had returned. We’d become wig mistresses ourselves and were no longer afraid.
The inside netting was still damp so Alice put on her night-cap. “Thank you for helping me wash my wig,” she said.
She walked me to the door of the apartment. “Now you be careful out there. It’s dark and its raining!”
Now she cared about the dark and the rain.
I kissed her on the cheek and walked down the long, empty hallway. No apartment doors stood open. People who had been strolling or riding in their wheelchairs or pushing their walkers up and down these halls when I arrived were now closed in, ready to sleep or watch television or read.
Lights were off in the deserted dining room, but I thought I caught a glimpse of someone seated alone at a table in the shadows of the coffee shop. As I approached I could see it was Mr. Fickle slumped in a chair, his head nodding forward. He was very still.
For a second, I was worried. Was he sleeping or had something happened? I said, “Hello, Howard.”
He raised his head. “Well, hello there,” he said sleepily. I was sorry I’d awakened him. “How are you?”
We talked for a few minutes, mostly about rain and the coming winter and other depressing things. I wanted to change the subject. “I wish I’d brought Brio with me,” I said. “Next time I come over I’ll have her with me. Maybe we’ll run into you and she can say hello.”
“Where is she now?” he asked.
“She’s home. It’s getting late so she’s probably on the bed by now, waiting for me to come home and go to sleep.”
“In the bed, huh?” The old flirt was completely awake now. “You better wait for me!”
I waved good-bye to Mr. Fickle and continued on. I should have seen that remark coming the moment I mentioned bed. I walked past the post office, the Fireside Room, the hair salon and the front desk wondering if Mr. Fickle really missed sex or if the innuendo grooves in his ninety-four year old brain were just so deep by now he couldn’t jump those tracks if he wanted to.
An aide appeared out of nowhere to unlock the front door and let me out. Good karma from the wig washing, I figured. I wished her a good night and stepped out into a soft, warm rain that made me glad to be alive in (still) summer, in (still) Portland, Oregon, with (still) a mother who wants me to do things with her that quite often turn out to be more fun than I expect them to be.