Once the door had closed behind her, I removed my shoes and stepped out of my trousers. Should I keep my socks on? I thought, on balance, that I probably should. I pulled down my underpants and wondered what to do with them. It didn't seem right to drape them over the chair, in full view, as I'd done with my trousers, so I folded them up carefully and put them into my shopper. Feeling rather exposed, I picked up the little packet that she'd left on the bed and opened it. I shook out the contents and held them up: a very
small pair of black underpants, in a style which I recognized as "Tanga" in Marks & Spencer's nomenclature, and made from the same papery fabric as tea bags. I stepped into them and pulled them up. They were far too small, and my flesh bulged out from the front, sides and back.
The bed was very high and I found a plastic step underneath that I used to help me ascend. I lay down; it was lined with towels and topped with the same scratchy blue paper that you find on the doctor's couch. Another black towel was folded at my feet, and I pulled it up to my waist to cover myself. The black towels worried me. What sort of dirty staining was the color choice designed to hide? I stared at the ceiling and counted the spotlights, then looked from side to side. Despite the dim lighting, I could see scuff marks on the pale walls. Kayla knocked and entered, all breezy cheerfulness.
"Now then," she said, "what are we doing today?"
"As I said, a bikini wax, please."
She laughed. "Yes, sorry, I meant what kind of wax would you like?"
I thought about this. "Just the usual kind...the candle kind?" I said.
"What shape?" she said tersely, then noticed my expression. "So," she said patiently, counting them off on her fingers, "you've got your French, your Brazilian or your Hollywood."
I pondered. I ran the words through my mind again, over and over, the same technique I used for solving crossword anagrams, waiting for the letters to settle into a pattern. French, Brazilian, Hollywood...French, Brazilian, Hollywood...
"Hollywood," I said, finally. "Holly would, and so would Eleanor."
She ignored my wordplay, and lifted up the towel. "Oh..." she said. "Okaaaay..." She went over to the table and opened a drawer, took something out. "It's going to be an extra two pounds for the clipper guard," she said sternly, pulling on a pair of disposable gloves. The clippers buzzbuzzbuzzed and I stared at the ceiling. This didn't hurt at all! When she'd finished, she used a big, fat brush to sweep the shaved hair onto the floor. I felt panic start to rise within me. I hadn't looked at the floor when I came in. What if she'd done this with the other clients—were their pubic hairs now adhering to the soles of my polka-dot socks? I started to feel slightly sick at the thought.
"That's better," she said. "Now, I'll be as quick as I can. Don't use perfumed lotions in the area for at least twelve hours after this, OK?" She stirred the pot of wax that was heating on the side table.
"Oh, don't worry, I'm not much of a one for unguents, Kayla," I said. She goggled at me. I'd have thought that staff in the beauty business would have better-developed people skills. She was almost as bad as my colleagues back at the office.
She pushed the paper pants to one side and asked me to pull the skin taut. Then she painted a stripe of warm wax onto my pubis with a wooden spatula, and pressed a strip of fabric onto it. Taking hold of the end, she ripped it off in one rapid flourish of clean, bright pain.
"Morituri te salutant," I whispered, tears pricking my eyes. This is what I say in such situations, and it always cheers me up to no end. I started to sit up, but she gently pushed me back down.
"Oh, there's a good bit more to go, I'm afraid," she said, sounding quite cheerful.
Pain is easy; pain is something with which I am familiar. I went into the little white room inside my head, the one that's the color of clouds. It smells of clean cotton and baby rabbits. The air inside the room is the palest sugar almond pink, and the loveliest music plays. Today, it was "Top of the World" by the Carpenters. That beautiful voice...she sounds so blissful, so full of love. Lovely, lucky Karen Carpenter.
Kayla continued to dip and rip. She asked me to bend my knees out to the sides and place my heels together. Like frog's legs, I said, but she ignored me, intent on her work. She ripped out the hair from right underneath. I hadn't even considered that such a thing would be possible. When she'd finished, she asked me to lie normally again and then pulled down the paper pants. She smeared hot wax onto the remaining hair and ripped it all off triumphantly.
"There," she said, removing the gloves and wiping her brow with the back of her hand, "now doesn't that look so much better!"
She passed me a hand mirror so I could look at myself. "But I'm completely bare!" I said, horrified.
"That's right, a Hollywood," she said. "That's what you asked for."
I felt my fists clench tight, and shook my head in disbelief. I had come here to start to become a normal woman, and instead she'd made me look like a child.
"Kayla," I said, unable to believe the situation I now found myself in, "the man in whom I am interested is a normal adult man. He will enjoy sexual relations with a normal adult woman. Are you trying to imply that he's some sort of pedophile? How dare you!"
She stared at me, horrified. I had had enough of this.
"Please, leave me to get dressed now," I said, turning my face to the wall.
She left and I climbed down from the couch. I pulled my trousers on, consoled by the thought that the hair would surely grow back before our first intimate encounter. I didn't tip Kayla on the way out.
(This excerpt ends on page 16 of the hardcover edition.)