Margaret F. Chen

Margaret F. Chen's stories have appeared or will be forthcoming in The Shine Journal, Monkeybicycle, A Long Story Short, Yesteryear Fiction, and Metazen.  She received an Honorable Mention in the February 2010 Glimmer Train Contest for New Writers and was named a Semi-Finalist for the 2010 Kirkwood Prize. 


Mullet (February 20, 2011. Issue 25.)

Nina was outraged.

“I told her!” she shouted, grabbing fistfuls of her hair, “I wanted a layered bob with bangs! And look, look, look at this! What is this!”

“It looks all right to me,” said her little sister, Kathie. “It’s just…different.”

Nina hissed, “It’s a mullet, for goddsakes! A mullet!”

To reinforce the awfulness, Nina googled mullet on her laptop, and was bombarded by a dozen photos of shirtless, tattooed, overweight men, sporting long, curly hairdos with short bangs and short sides—sort of like Nina’s cut. Kathie giggled.

“Now I have to drive all the way to San Diego to fix this,” fumed Nina. Her former stylist, Rachelle, was in San Diego. It would be a good hour’s drive. This was what she got for sashaying into a place called Cheap Cuts. As if any old place would do.

Rachelle was also an aesthetician, and had been after Nina for some time to do the permanent make-up thing. You won’t have to apply that black eye-liner every day anymore, insisted Rachelle. Or the eyebrow pencil. I promise, you’ll love it.

Nina always said no, but today, she wavered. Not once had Rachelle messed up on her hair. And she had fixed her mullet, sort of—chopped off the back part so that it now looked like a very short bob.

For moral support, Rachelle took Nina around the salon to look at all the other women who had had the procedures done on them. Nina was surprised that there were so many. The women looked pretty normal—just women with make-up on. The women, most of them older than Nina, gently but firmly encouraged Nina to do the procedures. It seemed very important to them that Nina do the procedures.

So Nina, drawn into this sea of soft, feminine approval, of caresses and smiles, succumbed and let Rachelle do the eyeliner and brows. It would save so much time, and she would always look good.

It won’t hurt, Rachelle promised.

But it did hurt. It hurt like hell.

A girl, staring at Nina’s Goth-black eyeliner and brows as she walked out of the salon, said, “Oh that’s so pretty!” But Nina did not feel pretty. She felt numb.

At home, Kathie avoided comment.

“I know it’s awful,” said Nina.

Later that night, while staring at her black-rimmed eyes, her thickly-penciled, black brows in the mirror, she said to Kathie, “I miss my old face.”

“Doesn’t that stuff ever wear off?”

“Rachelle said it would, but I read otherwise on the internet.”

“I guess that’s why it’s called permanent make-up—,“ Kathie stopped. “I’m sure it really will wear off, Nina.”

Nina sat down on her bed, stunned. “Ohmigod. I don’t want to look like this all the time.” She realized—too late—that she had liked having different looks. The changeability of her old face.

Now she had only this face. This carved-on, glamorous—this hateful—new face.

Kathie said, “Well, at least, your hair will grow out.”