Is That All There Is
By Jane Hyphen
Chuck sat on the edge of the bed, staring at his hands. They were smooth, like the hands of a younger man, untouched by hard graft. He was a hairdresser by trade and after a period of internal probation he’d been able to continue working, albeit for a few dollars, in the prison barber’s shop. It was a very responsible job, heavily supervised and rather risky but he enjoyed it and the other inmates had, mostly, come to respect Chuck.
He felt so anxious that he found it impossible to relax his legs, they kept shaking, he crossed and uncrossed them while breathing deeply and swearing under his breath. The thing was he knew the arrival of his new cell mate could change everything, every aspect of his day to day experiences. He’d had good ones, odd ones, a very bad one. He crossed his fingers, ‘Just let him be normal,’ he whispered.
Footsteps approached, the jangle of keys. There was a murmur of voices, the regular calm but somewhat stern tones of the screws. ‘Just in here Buddy, go ahead.’
The cell door unlocked with a clang and flew open. The man walked in, he was tall but stooping slightly, he didn’t look at Chuck, instead going straight to the tiny window and peering out muttering something about a great injustice and shaking his head. The door slammed shut.
The first thing that struck Chuck was the guy’s hair. It was a veritable pearlescent U-fo, neither white nor ginger, neither tidy or untidy, somewhat quaffed; an F grade combustible amount of hair spray had been applied to it. Chuck stared mesmerised. In all his years of hairdressing he’d never seen anything like it and his smooth hands were itching to restyle it into something more in keeping with the human head.
‘H..hello. I’m Chuck,’ he said, rather more breathily than he’d hoped.
The guy didn’t answer but he let his head drop as if in deep thought and began to sing in a soft deep voice, quietly at first. It took Chuck several seconds, until the guy reached the chorus, to recognise the tune, it was one his mother used to play when he was a child, ‘Is That All There Is,’ by Peggy Lee. A beautiful woman, the thought of whom had always instilled butterflies of excitement in his belly, God bless her soul.
Suddenly the guy turned around very slowly and calmly placed the palms of his hands in the air while continuing to humm the song rather than sing it, perhaps he had forgotten the words. He lowered the volume of his voice and let the humming fade until he was silent.
Chuck couldn’t take his eyes off the man’s face. If the hair was unusual, the face was even stranger, white eyebrows, indefinable features like a blur. He looked sort of familiar but Chuck had long since removed himself from civilian life and all the circus which accompanied it so he was out of touch with current affairs.
‘You’re just so….orange!’ he said. The words came out almost uncontrollably.
The guy smiled just a little and nodded, ‘Yes, yes, yes. It’s been said but you know people say that to be nasty….nasty nasty little people out there. They don’t know the truth. They’re liars, those nasty people, most of em are liars.’
‘But you do look more orange than most people. I..I’m not trying to criticise, this is just an observation. Are you unwell?’
‘Well I eat a lot of carrots, yes, yes I do. Lots and lots of carrots. I have grated carrots, steamed carrots, roasted carrots, I have carrot soup, carrot stew, I eat carrot tablets, carrot tea. I built a wall out of carrots to keep the other dirty vegetables away and I made them pay for it.’
‘Wow, that’s a lot of carrots.’
‘I’m a very successful person…Hey, do you have a job, what’s your profession?’
‘I’m a hairdresser by trade.’
‘Oh,’ the orange guy placed both his hands gently on top of his hair and adjusted it slightly although it bounced right back into place. ‘I’m gonna need a right hand man to help me run things.’
‘Run the show! I’m gonna need a man by my side and not someone who's a wimp, I need someone with guts. My right hand man, he crossed over to the dark side, yeah he sold out, he was weak. So you're on board yeah?’
Chuck shook his head, ‘On board with what?’
The guy walked right up to him and placed his orange hand upon Chuck’s shoulder. ‘On board with the future. We’re gonna do this.’
‘Triumph over evil. All the good, honest people out there are relying on me.’