I was next in line for a haircut, four more were waiting. It was good to see the shop busy again. Dreyfus Miller was sitting next to me, talking up a storm but saying little of nothing. He was too busy flapping his gums to notice that I was only half listening. He waved a wrinkled newspaper at me and said, “Look here. You seen what them politicians been getting up to in Montgomery?” I raised my eyebrows and shook my head which was enough to set him off on another sermon.
The three sitting across from me were all Davis boys, come off Stouts Mountain for haircuts and farm supplies. The whole family was a quiet bunch, busy in their own heads. They sat with crossed arms and pinched brows, looking out the window at nothing and everything all at once. Tom Ford was in the chair. He owned Ford Feed & Seed which had been in his family for three generations. Rumor was that he had eyes for the new barber and I don’t suppose anybody could blame him. His wife passed near two years ago and the new barber was plum pretty.
It took the men in town a while to get over Sim Whitlock selling the barber shop to a woman. Some swore off the place and drove all the way to Corbel for a haircut. They didn’t want any woman putting up frilly curtains or dousing their necks with smell good or replacing the hunting magazines with beauty rags. Of course, there was more to it than that but that would have been down right impossible for the regulars to express so instead they said things like ‘ain’t no skirt gonna come at me with clippers’ and ‘what kind of skint head you reckon we’ll get when she’s all puckered up over her time of the month’. But Sim Whitlock was dead set on giving Connie Pickett and her son Bryce a chance.
She was a soft-looking woman, a talker. She could go on and on about a broken truck axle or a bolt action shotgun just as easy as she could about shelling peas or frosting a cake. She painted herself up more than other women in town but I put that down to her line of work, dealing with the public and keeping up appearances. She was more than pretty. She was a right wizard with a pair of clippers and she graduated from Barber College top of her class. Hear tell, not a moment too soon. Wouldn’t nobody think that being a single mother, going to school and raising a teenaged boy was easy but to make matters worse her ex-husband stopped paying child support. There wasn’t a thing the courts could do because he up and moved overseas to Saudi Arabia. Contractor work doing God knows what with God knows who. I think Bryce must have taken after his daddy. There wasn’t even a hint of Connie in that boy.
Connie was shaving Tom Ford’s neck when Bryce came back with lunch. She was making the boy work in the shop to pay off some trouble. Word was that Bryce was a downright menace. Ever since they’d moved to town he’d been trying it on with the police, breaking windows, painting the fountain and, of all things, throwing toilet paper way up high in the trees out front of the Court House. And even though there was no proof, everybody suspected he was responsible for Lollie Beattie’s three cats turning up dead and the theft of Avery Kemp’s rifle that he’d toted around in the gun rack of his Chevy pickup for nigh on twenty years. There was nobody else in town brave enough or stupid enough to take anything off Avery Kemp. He’d been a special case ever since he got back from Vietnam.
Dreyfus Miller stopped talking long enough to have a good look at the boy. That set him off on another rant about baggy jean, unlaced shoes and what politicians should do about the youth of America. I shrugged my shoulders and tried to turn in my chair so that my leg didn’t rest right up against the heater.
Connie stopped and watched Bryce in the mirror. “Did you get everything?”
Bryce dropped the food on the counter and started toward the back room.
“Bryce, I’m talking to you. Did you get everything?”
Tom Ford winced and shot the boy a fierce look. He said, “Yes ma’am.” He’d been counseling Connie on what it took to raise a boy proper and even though Tom didn’t have any children of his own, he was a firm believer in corporeal punishment. He was convinced that a boy of fourteen not brought up to say ‘yes ma’am’ and allowed to go around killing cats was a prime candidate for the state penitentiary, or worse.
Bryce looked at Tom and in a girly voice, exaggerated the words, “Yes ma’am.” I thought to myself right then and there, oh please boy don’t sass Tom Ford.
Connie said, “Hey Mr. Smartypants put my change back in the register.”
Bryce ignored her and went to the back room.
Connie smiled at Tom. She brushed hair of his shirt and said, “Don’t look at me like that. He’s a good boy.”
“He needs discipline. You aren’t doing him any favors.”
“It’s just a phase. He’s taking all this real hard.”
“Life is hard, Connie, but that boy needs a swift kick in the behind and if you don’t get a hold of him, you mark my words, one of these days he’ll do something can’t anybody fix.”
Tom stood up and Connie motioned for me to get in the chair. She said, “Sorry to make you wait, Dennis, I reckon you’ve had about enough of the soap opera around here.”
I said, “Don’t you worry about it Miss Connie. I don’t mind, not a bit. There’s nothing but a long honey-do list waiting for me back at the house.” She tried to smile but I could tell she was close to tears.
Tom was at the counter going through the bag of food that Bryce brought from the café. He took everything out and was opening containers and unwrapping sandwiches. He wasn’t happy. “Connie, I thought you told that boy to get two ham and two tuna. There isn’t but one of each in here.”
By then Dreyfus Miller had hushed up the political tirade and was watching Tom carefully. Even the Davis boys had given up their stoic stare out the window, perhaps sensing a change in the atmosphere, like animals gone skittish just before an earthquake.
Connie yelled for Bryce. She yelled for him again and again. On the fourth try he emerged from the back room looking sullen. She said, “Bryce, can’t I trust you to do even the simplest thing? All that lunch order you brought back is wrong.”
“It’s not my fault they got it wrong.”
“There isn’t half of what I told you to get. You put my change back in that register right now or you’re grounded for a week. I haven’t got the money to fund all your bad habits, Mister, and don’t you think I don’t know you been smoking down by the bridge.”
Tom rolled his eyes at her attempt to discipline the boy and he refused to step out of the way so that Bryce could get behind the counter, made him go around the long way. Bryce pushed buttons on the till, banging the drawer to get it open. Connie patted my shoulder and said, “Dennis, it’s your lucky day. We’re giving away fourteen year old boys with every haircut.”
I said, “No thank you, I got a mule at the house that gives me a nip every time I turn my back, don’t need no fourteen year old boy doing the same.”
Tom gave a laugh and that was all it took to send Bryce into orbit. He said, “This piece of shit register won’t open. Here just take your damned three dollars. You act like it’d be a crime to pay me something for busting my ass around here.” And with that, he threw the money at Connie.
Connie shouted, “Language!”
But Tom had a hold of Bryce and I thought, that boy’s gonna get a taste of it now. He said, “Don’t you talk to your mother that way.” He got Bryce by the scruff of the neck and pushed him down toward the floor. “You pick up that money and hand it to her proper.”
Bryce did as he was told but his face was red as fire. He pulled free of Tom and said, “Just because you’re trying to get into her pants don’t make you my father.”
Tom started toward him but Connie got in between them and said, “Bryce, you apologize to Mr. Ford right now!”
But Bryce did something none of us expected. That boy grabbed hold of the cash register and lifted the thing clear off the counter and right there in front of everybody, he threw it. He threw it hard as he could and I’ll be danged if it didn’t go straight through the plate glass door. Connie’s scream fractured the air and for a second, it looked as if Bryce had even shocked himself. But his wits came back soon enough and he took off running.
One of the Davis boys stood up and shook glass out of the cuff of his overalls. He said, “Lord, you reckon that boy’s got Avery Kemp’s stole rifle stashed somewheres?”
Tom gave Connie a menacing look. She nodded. Tom took off, boots crunching through sharp debris. He was right after that boy. Connie walked to the door with clippers and a comb still in her hands. She looked both ways, up the street North towards the soda shop, back South towards the Dollar General but there was no sign of them. She brushed a lock of Tom’s hair from her shirt and whispered, “Don’t hurt him.”
Author: Amy Burns
Amy Burns is originally from Birmingham, Alabama but makes her home in Scotland where she is a PhD student at the University of Glasgow. Her poetry and prose has been published in print in Biscuit Short Story Winners' Anthology 2009: The Possibility of Bears, Let’s Pretend (InFidelity) Anthology, Green Muse, QWF, unbound press and online at 971 Menu, Clapboard House, From Glasgow to Saturn, Brown Williams Journal, Short, Fast, and Deadly. She has worked as an editor/publisher of the literary journal unbound press and is now the editor of Spilling Ink Review.