by Prudence Fenton
Willard rolled over and slammed the snooze button. He opened one eye, pulled up the covers with his fat, hairy arm, and buried his head from the dawn light. He didn’t want to be wearing his human suit anymore. He was tired of being Willard. He was forty-two years old and had never left the summer construction job he’d taken more than two decades ago when he got out of college. Yeah, it made him laugh to think of his pursuits during those college days. Beer, women, and hard-hat dollars. The first two never wasted his time. The construction he dreaded—especially this week.
He’d agreed to take over the jackhammer job from his sick buddy, Luke. The shaking, the noise, the dust, and then the shaking all over again. Could he ever, would he ever, might he ever stop? Just stop, think, and find another goddang job. He saw those ads for ITT tech and had even gone online to check them out. The alarm clock wailed and his arm came out again and slammed it off. The clock crashed to the floor, joining his shoes, socks, and pants that lay in a heap next to a wastebasket filled with beer bottles. He stared over at the bureau he’d had since college, piled high with underwear, socks, and aftershave. He kept meaning to shave his beard and wanted to be prepared with the aftershave.
His feet felt the cold floor. Today Willard was going to do it. Shave his beard. He looked down at his bare stomach decorated with fur. Many women had told him he was a hairy guy. One even suggested he shave his back. The thought made him shiver. That could happen if he found the right woman. He would do the beard today. That jackhammer kicked up too much dust, and he feared his beard would be cemented on his face.
Maud, his calico cat, jumped on the bed beside him. She kneaded the down comforter with her claws. White feathers floated out. He petted Maud, then pulled up the blinds. The sun hit the far hillside. Today promised to be hot. His bedroom faced north so the air was still cool. He looked up at the wooden rafters, paint chips flaking from them. The bubbled walls beckoned. His bedroom could use some of his construction talents. He entered the blue-tiled bathroom, which suffered like the bedroom, with cracks and chips and pockets of hair and dust in the corners. Maud followed.
“Criminy, kitty cat, how can you stand me? I’m such a slob,” he said.
He waited for the maid that would never come, or perhaps his mother, who hadn’t cleaned up after him since he was eighteen.
He stood at the sink and stared into the mirror, and a big guy with brown, wavy locks and a bushy beard stared back at him. He picked up the scissors and began to cut.
He cut chunks from his chin, his cheek, his neck. The chunks fell to the floor and multiplied into a hair mountain. Maud watched, tail swishing from side to side. He pulled out his new hair trimmer and plugged it in.
The whirr pleased him, more than the chukka-chukka-chuk of the jackhammer that hit his belly and gave him indigestion. More hair scattered into the air. He chopped and shaved in concentration. Brown hair everywhere—soft, coarse, short, long, and then…his face, chin, neck. And then he looked into the mirror, and a different human stared back. Who was this guy with the pointy chin, the big Adam’s apple, the gray eyes, the narrow head? Would anyone recognize him? He had lived the past twelve years hidden under a sheaf of hair.
He felt the cool breeze on his head. Shivering and shaking, he put his hands up to feel his rugged face, his thatched head from uneven trimming. Where had this guy been? He went to get the aftershave.
* * *
It was 11:00 a.m. when Willard climbed the wooden stairs to the office trailer. Plastic desks and a makeshift counter with the giant time clock on the right filled the trailer. Two twin secretaries Flo and Evey in tight pink cashmere sweaters manned the desks. Fake wood plastered the walls with two small windows providing a view into the site. Willard took his place at the end of the line to punch his time card. The air-conditioning hit the back of his neck. He kept reaching his hand up to feel his chin and cheek.
Conway, the foreman, came in. He scratched his thick blond beard and pulled shoulder-length blond hair back off his sweating neck.
“Hey, has anyone seen Willard? I need to move him from jackhammer to drywall on the eighth floor,” Conway said.
“Hey, man, I’m here,” said Willard as he punched his time card.
All eyes turned toward him. No one spoke. The secretaries frowned at him, the workers in line crowded around him.
“You ain’t Willard, no way,” said Flo.
Conway pulled off his black rim glasses and peered into Willard’s face.
“What the eff…? Man, that is you,” said Conway. He punched Willard in the arm. “You even trimmed your eyebrows like a damn woman. You’re an ugly cuss without the hair.”
Willard winced. His eyes smarted with that remark. That thought had crossed his mind too.
Willard then stood up straight and flashed a big, white-toothed smile at the secretaries. No one had ever seen his lips before.
“Time for a change, you know. It’s what’s inside that counts, Conway. You might want to lose your blond locks someday,” he said.
“Yeah, right,” said Conway, looking far away from the new Willard. “Get up to the eighth floor with the drywall crew. I want it finished today.”
“Sure thing,” said Willard. He walked out, picked up his tool belt, and took the metal stairs two at a time. On the seventh floor, he stopped to look at the view of the Cleveland skyline. He loved Lake Erie. And hell, he had built most of the skyscrapers in town. The day was heating up, humid with a light breeze. Once again he ran his hand over his new head and face. The open grids phase was his favorite time in a new building. He felt affinity with the steel. Naked grid-iron, pure, undressed, waiting to contain and define something new.
BIO: Prudence Fenton began her writing career for the Odessa American Newspaper in Odessa, Texas, and then got sidetracked into film and animation as a producer and creative director for animation and mixed media—Peewee’s Playhouse, animated Peter Gabriel videos, Liquid Television, Disney TV Animation, etc., and has recently returned to writing. She has been published in the Echoes Magazine (Wisconsin) and is currently finishing a novel for kids.