A short story I wrote as a creative writing contest entry for the college I attended in California. It was originally an assignment of 500 words to take a real event in my life and turn it into fiction. I used “The Great Head Shave Party of February 14, 2010”, as my inspiration. It really happened. And someday I’ll have to find the videos I recorded that day.
A Chemo Coronation
She picked up the large brush and inhaled the sweet musky scent of vanilla and leather. Her mother’s favorite body powder. She feathered it on to her face and it tasted sweet, not at all like dirt. At 8 years old, Chalice had a lack of finesse about beauty paraphernalia and as the dusty haze settled she looked in the mirror, satisfied with the results. She looked down at the powder covering her mother’s vanity tray and box. She lifted the lid of the box and grabbed the bright purple lipstick her mother never wore. Chalice couldn’t understand why not. It reminded Chalice of her favorite neon post-its, so bright and cheery. Mom said it made her look like a middle aged woman trying too hard to look like a groupie. Chalice didn’t know what a groupie was but she liked the lipstick anyway. She carefully slid the color on her lips, just like her mother, taking care to check her teeth for purple stains.
“Today,” her mother had said, “Will be a fun day. A day of silly and crazy. We will make today an event that even St. Peter will watch from The Gates.” Her mother smiled. “I’m certainly not gone yet. Peter will just have to wait this one out, right?”
Chalice started to slowly braid her curly hair. “Get as much as you can into a high pony tail. Then braid it so each end is tight and secure. Locks of Love will need it that way.” her mother had said.
Her tears streaked the fresh powder on her cheeks and trailed to her lips. The salty taste snapped her back to the girl in the mirror. Fear overwhelmed her with the thought of nothingness. She didn’t fear the death of her mother, she was afraid that when she eventually died herself that she and her mother would never be reunited. She feared an eternal darkness with no awareness of self.
The door quickly opened.
“You ready?” her mother asked.
Chalice stood up, checked her face in the mirror for tear stains, and pulled down her shirt tails. She followed her mother into the living room.
Refreshments were laid out with decorations that were neon orange and lime green. Her mother’s favorite colors. Friends and relatives were dressed to match the decorations.
The smell of hot metal choked out the sweet scent of the red velvet cupcakes on the table. Her mother gave her a good thunk on her back and pushed Chalice deeper into the smiling teeth of bald heads. As she followed the path of people who rounded the room the crowd parted with half-steps. A banner hung, lopsided, above the bay window. It read “The Great Head Shave. February 14, 2010”. A chair was under the banner and above the chattering voices she heard a click and then the buzzing vibrations of the honorary tool of the evening.
“You’re next,” her mother grinned.
Chalice sat in the simple wooden chair that her aunt had dubbed “The Throne of Doom”. The hair trimmers, now called Excalibur, attacked the center of her head first, giving Chalice a reverse mohawk.
The lot of them were on a quest to kill cancer with laughter and frivolity. Chalice wanted to roll her eyes but she was glad for the break in between the doctor’s visits and chemotherapy treatments that her mother had insisted she attend.
They had been out on the boat when cancer made its grand debut. Her mother had been sunning herself in her new bikini and talking to Chalice’s aunt.
“See, touch it. Doesn’t that feel like it’s growing?”
“Seriously, dude. Go have that looked at.” Her aunt had said.
“I’m not going to those doctors at County.”
“Well then if you get dead from cancer or some shit, I call all your jewelry.”
“Guess you should have gotten that mammogram two days before your birthday, huh? I’d hate to say I told you so but…wait, I’d love to say I told you so.”
When her mother finally did get health insurance, the doctors never had any definitive answers or information. They knew it was cancer but they had no more information than that. It was always this could happen, or that could happen.
When her mother came out of surgery the news was size, stage, and treatment. Golf ball, 3, and chemo every other week. “Oh, and you had a mastectomy and 5 lymph nodes removed, come back in a week to have your surgical tubes extracted.”
Chemotherapy was not just a shot in the arm and see you next week. Each appointment required a blood analysis 48 hours before, to make sure her mother was strong enough; followed by two weeks of steroids and white blood cell injections (that her aunt came over to stab her mother in the butt). This was another laughter-induced event that Chalice had to tolerate. But before chemotherapy could even begin, her mother had to have a port surgically inserted under the skin so that the constant chemo injections didn’t destroy all her veins.
“Let’s bring DVDs and card games next week.” Her mother said. “Those old people are way too depressing to watch.”
Once there was a man who massaged his wife’s feet. Her mother asked Chalice’s aunt, “Hey that looks nice. You should rub my feet. I have cancer, you have to do what I ask.” Her aunt declined.
In the Throne of Doom her aunt shaved around the crown of Chalice’s head. It didn’t take long for her braid to fall to the floor. Another friend of her mother’s gathered it up, and put the braid in a plastic bag, then threw it onto the pile of other bags in a box marked “Locks of Love.”
Her mother was the last person to sit on The Throne. Her hair had begun to fall out after the second chemo treatment. It fell out in sheets and she had asked Chalice’s aunt to just shave it off back then. But her aunt had never shaved a head before and the results were less than neat.
Her mother glanced at herself in the mirror. “This is about as sexy as lipstick on a pig. That ghastly purple lipstick. I look like I should be in a concentration camp. This isn’t even a pretty bald.”
But today Excalibur sliced through the chaos of her mother’s head effortlessly. Patches of bald and shaved hair were blended into one so that her mother’s head was finally one uniform bowl of skin. Chalice’s mother had no braid to donate, but when she stood up a golden knit crown was regally placed upon her head. Her mother’s coronation was complete.