In Stacia’s Book
By Maggie Nerz Iribane
Poppy still had flashbacks about that first appointment, when she’d entered the salon
and Stacia sat in her cutting chair, smirking, legs crossed, pointy boots poking.
“What kind of a name is Poppy?” Stacia said, adding, “Late. I charge extra for late.”
Poppy cringed when recalling that original haircut, that first time Stacia pushed and
slapped her head, pumped the chair up high with a forceful leg, laughed at Poppy’s
previous cut. She even rolled her eyes when Poppy said she loved teaching second
Poppy could also recall her first sight of the perfectly shaped Stacia cut framing her
face. That cut-for which Poppy received a torrent of compliments from women, men,
even seven-year-olds-made her feel like an entirely new person. That cut prompted
Poppy to promise herself that she’d never go anywhere else, and that she would
always be on time and totally respectful of Stacia.
Stacia insisted Poppy get her hair cut every six weeks, charging an absurd, never
consistent amount each time, depending on her mood or perhaps the weather. Once,
she charged one hundred dollars, an unheard of price for a haircut in their mid-sized
town, forcing Poppy to tutor extra hours that week. Stacia seethed with insults,
frowns, and contempt the entire time she wacked, chopped, and hacked Poppy’s hair
with her razor, a gleaming instrument removed from a black velvet case. After an
(admittedly gorgeous, transformative) haircut, Poppy had nightmares of Stacia
carving her whole body up into little pieces with that razor. Awake, she lived in
mortal terror that Stacia would dump her from her book. Sometimes, after her hair
appointment, Poppy hated everything about herself, everything except her awesome
haircut. Walking to her car, she often wept over Stacia’s abuse, only stopping for a
moment to grin at her reflection in a passing window.
Stacia’s rough ways inspired Poppy’s approach of Principal Audra, the one who
referred her to Stacia. (You needed a reference to get in Stacia’s book.) Poppy
introduced the topic tentatively.
“Have you ever noticed Stacia can be kind of-?”
“Poor Stacia, she has all those problems at home,” Audra said.
Problems at home? Stacia never shared anything personal with Poppy.
Finally, after waking up in a puddle of sweat, trembling in fear after a Stacia dream,
Poppy called a therapist and made an appointment.
Lucy, with her fresh skin and big eyes, seemed about 16, but was the only affordable
therapist who had an opening. Her face contorted in various expressions of shock and
dismay as she sipped her Dunkin frappucino and listened to Poppy’s story, which
gushed in an almost unintelligible stream.
“I’m really sorry. This is super unusual,” Lucy said.
“Of course, I would never want Stacia to find out I-” Poppy said.
Lucy’s brown eyes grew even larger, rounder, suggesting deep pity.
After a few sessions, Lucy suggested she come with Poppy to her next appointment,
just to observe.
“Stacia wouldn’t like that.” Poppy said.
Lucy came anyway.
Poppy was surprised by Stacia’s smile when the two women entered the salon.
“Any friend of Poppy’s is a friend of mine,” Stacia said, gently adjusting the cape she
whipped around Poppy’s slender form. Poppy tensed, remembering the time Stacia
pulled the neck so tightly that Poppy choked and gasped, a long horizontal redness
lingering at her throat for days.
While Lucy sat happily in a side chair, Stacia engaged Poppy in steady, pleasant
conversation, cutting precisely but gently, without her usual pushing and shoving.
She charged an agreeable 45 dollars that day, and as the two women walked out to
their cars, Lucy glanced at Poppy a little sadly.
“Do you think there are other things going on in your life that might be causing your
anxiety about Stacia?” she asked.
Poppy cringed, repressing the bubble of annoyance pulsing in her chest.
That night, Poppy began a new 1000 piece puzzle, a picture of a babbling brook in
spring, distracting herself from the fear of Stacia’s retribution.
While searching for corner and edge pieces, two texts chimed in at the same time:
Stacia: You are in BIG trouble, dear.
Lucy: I know this might be weird, but do you think you could get me in Stacia’s book?
With shaking hands, Poppy blocked both numbers.
She returned to her puzzle, anchored by the picture coming together before her on the
Maggie Nerz Iribarne is 53, lives in Syracuse, NY, and writes about witches, cleaning ladies, struggling teachers, neighborhood ghosts, and other things. She keeps a portfolio of her published work at https://www.maggienerziribarne.com.