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Hair And Angels: A Christmas Story By Marcel Theroux
The Quietus , December 16th, 2018 10:58

Still looking for that last minute stocking filler? Marcel Theroux's An Unexpected Gift: Three Christmas Stories is one of the latest batch of small pamphlets from Rough Trade Books. Enjoy an exclusive extract below, entitled 'Hair and Angels"

So in a voice, so in a shapeless flame
Angels affect us oft…
—John Donne

I was in my shop on Christmas Eve when the angel came in. I’d stayed late to go through the accounts one last time, to see if things were really as bad as I thought. Come to think of it, I suppose I had been praying.

He was about six feet two—I’m just under six myself—had a thick Barnsley accent, shoulder-length blonde hair, and a huge pair of white wings. He flapped them twice. The first flap swept all the hair clippings into a neat pile in the corner of the shop. The second blew the door shut and turned the Open sign to Closed.

“Don’t be alarmed,” he said.

I assumed I was having a coronary. That’s how my father went: not pleasant, but relatively quick and, I imagine, painless. So I waited: for darkness to descend; for the sound of the radio to fade; for my vision to shrink to a dot like an old telly closing down.

“Are you alright?” asked the angel. He took a step towards me and his wings folded behind him with a muffled clap.

“I think I’m having a heart attack,” I said, gripping the head-rest of a chair to hold myself up.

He sounded puzzled. “Really? Have you got a chest pain?”

“No,” I said. I looked around. Everything in the shop was exactly as it always was: the row of chairs for waiting customers along the rear and side walls; the magazines; the postcards from Magaluf, Cyprus, and Malta tucked into the mirror; the blue carafe of Barbicide; the faded black and white headshots of models with hairstyles that nobody’s ever asked for.

“Well, what makes you think you’re having a heart attack?”

“You,” I said. “The wings.”

“Don’t mind them, Cosmo,” he said. “I’m only here for a haircut.”

“How— ?” I stammered. “How do you know my name?”

“Don’t be daft. It’s written over the shop.”

He made his way to the chair. He was dressed in a long blue robe, but his feet were bare. He had beautiful, brown, Greek feet—those ones with a long second toe.

The adjustable chair was too narrow for his wings, so he took another from the side wall and placed it, back to front, right by the mirror. Then he pulled up his robes and straddled the chair, folding his arms on the back-rest. His wings poked through two slits in the back of his robes. The feathers were grey where they sprouted from his shoulder blades, but got lighter as they fanned out to the wing edges; those were gleaming white. I was almost afraid to go near them. They stirred with a rustle like a cat in a hedge. And they had a distinct smell—a bit sharp, a bit oily, like a waterbird.

“How would you like it done?” I asked.

“Nothing complicated. Clipper cut. Number two all over.”

“Number two is very short,” I said. “A lot of gentlemen are preferring to wear it longer these days.”

“My hair’s very thick,” he said. “And it grows back quickly.”

“Would you like me to taper the back?” I lifted a lock from his temple with my thumb and forefinger. It was more than thick. His hair was so dense and heavy that I couldn’t understand how he managed to hold his head up.

“Straight across is fine.”

I examined the strands of hair more closely.

“You’ve got golden hair,” I said.

“Out of a bottle,” he said, with a wink.

“I mean, your hair is actually made of gold.”

“It’s only 14 carat,” he murmured. “But anything purer wouldn’t really be practical.”

I stared at the clipper attachment. I’m a barber, not a jeweller. What was I supposed to cut gold with? I went into the back and searched the drawers, but I already knew I didn’t have anything that would do the trick.

“Still waiting for that haircut, Cosmo,” he shouted at last. “You always this slow? No wonder business is bad.”

“I’m sorry, sir,” I said finally. “These clippers won’t work on your hair. I don’t know what to do.”

He turned and looked at me. “But you’re not going to cut it with clippers, are you, Cosmo?”

“No?” I reached clumsily for a pair of scissors.

“You don’t get it.” Suddenly his voice boomed through the shop. It sounded like he was shouting at me down a tunnel.

“The scissors are just another instrument. You’ve got to cut it with something else!”

He stood up out of the chair. His wings rose higher from his shoulders. I cowered in front of him.

“Please forgive me,” I whispered. “I don’t have anything suitable.”

“Nonsense!” he said, with that terrible sternness.

“Begins with F, ends with H, five letters. Cut it with that!”

He sat back down and reached for a Sudoku book from the magazine rack.

“Fish?”

“Five letters! We’re going to be here all night. Dear me. Faith, Cosmo, you’ve got to use your faith.”

Muttering a prayer under my breath, I snapped on the clipper attachment and ran it up the nape of his neck. The shorn gold dropped onto the floor of the shop with heavy thuds, half a kilo at a time. I felt myself exhaling with relief.

“Going anywhere nice for the holidays?” I asked.

His eyes met mine in the mirror. I could see he was one of those customers who prefer not to chat. I’m comfortable with that.

When it was done, I got the hand mirror to show him the back.

He nodded. “Very nice. What’s the damage?”

I glanced at the big pile of clippings, gleaming around my feet.

“Don’t worry,” I said. “This one’s on the house.”

He looked slightly offended. “I like to do things by the book.”

“Then it’s £6.50, sir.”

He reached into a fold in his robes and pulled out a twenty. I took down the tin box from the shelf to get his change. “Pound coins all right? I just gave away my last fiver.”

“You keep it, Cosmo. Not much I can do with a load of shrapnel.”

At the door of the shop, he paused to rub his scalp and shake out his wings. Then he was gone, into the falling snow. But no, I never saw him fly.

An Unexpected Gift: Three Christmas Stories by Marcel Theroux is published by Rough Trade Books

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