Excerpt from Bullwhip by Carlos Rubio


bullwhip_125 Exactly at nine o’clock-opening time-Ms. Hilda irrupted into Chez Monique, the largest and most exclusive establishment in the city.
The girls, at that early hour preparing themselves for the day ahead by sharing a cup of coffee and the latest bit of sexual gossip, halted their exchange as the minute bells above the door alerted them of a customer’s presence.
What they beheld made them pinch themselves with incredulity and rub their eyes, in order to corroborate the fact that they were indeed awake.
Framed by the threshold was the large image of a tall, muscular woman. The Medusian hair escaped above the ears, barely contained by a gray felt hat pulled down over her forehead, almost reaching the hispid eyebrows that shook hands uninterruptedly over the bridge of her aquiline nose. Her upper lip was covered by the dark shadow of an incipient moustache.
Protruding from her mouth, and held firmly between her teeth, a massive and offensive cigar delivered its noxious and asphyxiating fumes into the salon.
Her body was encased in a dull gray gown that matched the constricting hat and was reminiscent of an ambulatory and undulating sarcophagus. The wide, flat feet, of course, wore the by now all too familiar orthopedic shoes with steel-lined tips.
“I’ve come for a complete makeover,” she announced without any preambles, stepping into the room and blowing the insulting smoke in the direction of the head operator.
The huge mirror on the back room of the salon reluctantly reproduced the grotesque and irritating vision.
“We are booked for the day,” explained the latter while taking a step forward. “The earliest we could fit you in would be next week.”
“Your appointments have been cancelled,” thundered Ms. Hilda, making a menacing fist and wedging her body into the nearest seat. “And you all better take your time; when I get up from this chair, I want to be another woman.”
And so it was.
The entire crew, after posting a ‘Closed’ sign on the door, went to work on the monumental task.
One of the operators, after reclining the chair in which Ms. Hilda had collapsed, wrapped her face in a hot, steaming towel, in order to open the pores and maximize the effects of the oncoming facial.
From the tip of the white, concentrically arranged cloth, the obscene cigar emerged, still spewing forth its offensive smoke.
Her hirsute, brusque hands, on either side of the chair, were immersed in hot water, a prelude to the manicure that was about to commence.
The massive shoes were removed, and her feet dipped in a galvanized bucket-the regular porcelain container was far too small for her feet. She had demanded that a pedicure be included in the treatment.
The facial towel came off. The attendant, with apprehensive, insecure hands, applied thick layers of a grayish, gelatinous cream which she extracted from a heavy, gold-top jar bearing a foreign label.
The sickening ooze worked its slimy way into every crevice, every pore, every wrinkle of Ms. Hilda’s caustic face. The scent that slowly evaporated from the concoction was reminiscent of a balanced mixture of jasmine extract and chicken shit.
While the sticky substance was working its nefarious magic, the operator, with a quick motion, gripped a set of gold-tip tweezers that rested on the glass shelf, directly below the mirror that covered the entire back wall of the salon. At once she went to work on the unruly thicket right above the eyes. One by one, starting at the bridge of the nose, she sadistically extracted the offending hairs.
From time to time, in a direct response to the deliberate torment of the gold-tip tweezers, a brief and controlled seismic trembling shook the entire extension of the face.
By the time the depilatory session was concluded, her eyebrows had been reduced to two pencil-thin lines, like abrupt and violent switch-blade gashes perpetrated by the avid and accurate hand of a young Puerto Rican punk.
The thick, dark hairs on her hands were removed as efficiently, but with a lot less parsimony. Hot, coarse layers of ebullient paraffin wax were poured on them simultaneously from kidney-shaped stainless-steel containers which one of the operators, holding a wet hand towel, retrieved from the bluish flame of a Bunsen burner.
Once they cooled, trapping the unwanted growth, the attendants on either side ripped them off quickly and mercilessly. The huge body in the chair, as if the unsuspecting victim of an unscheduled electrocution, jumped uncontrollably for a fraction of a second.
The chair was made upright once again.
At once-one with sharp scissors, another with a menacing brush and a third with humming clippers-three operators began their attack on the unruly locks that, now that the anachronistic had had been removed, uncoiled without restriction over the massive head. They brandished their tools with the sacred fervor of Saracens defending a mosque during a midnight siege.
They cut, chopped, shaved, pulled, massaged, combed, dyed and sprayed.
The unruly locks now lay on the floor, victims of the unrelenting fury of the sadistic operators. The head was shaven, in a three-inch horizontal path, over the ears. Above the abrupt clearing, the curls had been reduced to short bursts of hair that the cruel beauticians had sprayed with lacquer to such a degree that they now resembled a deadly burst of poisoned needles.
At ten o’clock they made a pause to drink a cold glass of imported hard cider and eat some left-over chicken canapés. They kept, in the back of the shop, a small refrigerator loaded with goodies.
After the brief repast, they lit up mentholated cigarettes and retold the latest jokes they had heard at a recent party.
A dry cough, like someone dissembling a sudden and intense rectal discomfort, reminded them that they had a client in the chair.
They returned to the salon, with renewed energies and magnified cruelty, after the mid-morning victuals.
They went to work on the face, now soft and pinkish after the concentrated and nauseating gelatinous treatment.
Their immediate goal was the complete and permanent eradication of the dark shadow whose offensive presence gave Ms. Hilda the semblance of a Colombian stevedore. From a dark-brown bottle they poured an effervescent, clear liquid on a long strip of fluffy cotton. Once the strip was saturated, it was placed on her upper lip.
While the operators waited for the hydrogen peroxide to exert its bleaching effect, with expert hands, they applied a thick rubber-like foundation and blunt layers of rouge on the rest of the face. The heavy lips were painted violently with a tawdry hue of crimson that gave them the withered and astringent appearance of an overly ripe strawberry.
The cotton strip was finally removed from her upper lip and tossed into a nearby waste can.
The dark, stiff moustache had been transformed into a soft, almost invisible and harmless fuzz.
The treatment was now complete.
From the chair they led her, through a connecting door, to La Nouvelle Femme, a most exclusive boutique that did a booming business with the most affluent clientele in the city.
The hours passed.
From a secluded dressing room, where her image was mercilessly reproduced and amply multiplied by the faithful and tyrannical mirrors, she finally emerged after almost exhausting the entire inventory.
She wore-radiant in her newly acquired look-a bright-pink outfit with a matching handbag. This miracle had been made possible due to the restricting trickery of a massive, doubly reinforced girdle. Her feet no longer endured the crass orthopedic wear, but stiletto-heeled shoes of a vertigo-inducing height.
In reality, she resembled a stuffed flamingo walking on stilts and wearing a sea urchin on its head.
She lit a mentholated cigarette.
“Today I feel, for the first time in my life,” she declared before leaving the premises, and luxuriously exhaling the smoke, “almost… divine.”

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