Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday

Brushing out her long flaxen hair every morning while waiting at the red-light to change, Phoebe thrilled the hair fetishist whose car usually halted in the line next to her red Toyota Corolla. Her skin reflected the honeyed tone of a young woman but her face had enough definition to indicate interesting visual character.

Her friend Leah told Phoebe she needed to highlight her face with a more adult, a more flattering haircut, but Phoebe loved the sensation of holding her hair out and brushing first under and then over the surface. She liked knowing that men desired her even before they saw her face-to-face.

Then, two years ago, Phoebe’s life began to change. Almost, but not entirely, on a whim, she began reading feminist theology. She joined a discussion group that gathered at a local Unitarian Church. After a year of meeting with that group, Phoebe began to experiment with traditional high church rituals and the traditional spirituality those rituals implied. She discovered that rites form the basis of beliefs and have great power to transform life.

As she got more fascinated with traditional rites and simultaneously with feminist theology, she began, almost indifferently at first, to think about her sexual play and then about all the ambrosial rites of courtship that her sexual play celebrated. She thought about how her beauty enhanced her ease in such play. And all the while, she brushed out that incredible hair every morning during the drive to work.

Then she began preparing to take part in Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. Lent begins forty days before Good Friday. Ash Wednesday is the day after Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday. Mardi Gras is also known as Pancake Day.

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On Pancake Day, people once took all the eggs and other fats that they were to restrain from using during Lent and dumped them together to make pancakes. This kept these fats from being wasted or being temptations to use during Lent. So we now have Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras in French) or Pancake Day.

The day before Mardi Gras, Phoebe washed her long, full, weighty flaxen locks. She slowly dried her hair in fresh air before she lovingly brushed it out. On Mardi Gras, her hair flowed over her head before cascading down her back, past the small of her trim waist to just above her perfect bottom. Bright winter light caught the highlights and gradual variations in hue of her tawny hair.

She wore fine linen dress, snow-white but patterned with subtle weavings, over her trim body, unfettered by bra or panty. Her smile, with her ivory teeth exposed beneath twinkling cerulean eyes, propagated desires that break the hearts of lusty old men. But all day, as she had for a couple of weeks, she deliberately recalled the fate of all living things. She contemplated our wretchedness.

But she still paraded through the Vieux Carré with friends. She flirted. She danced. Her friends and she drank cold beer and even sucked the heads of a few dozen crawfish someone had boiled in hot spices. Her former lover wanted to take her home again. A would-be lover made the same offer. She smiled but did not go.

Then late in the evening at the turn to midnight, far away from the revelers in New Orleans now being driven away, she took off the party dress. She watched herself in a long mirror in her bathroom. The honey blond tones of her soft skin glowed under incandescent light. The muscles of her body framed her exquisite form.

She took a pair of old scissors – the kind a seamstress uses – and held them to her forehead. Then, cutting as close to her head as the width of the blades themselves, cut long hair from the front of her head. She slowly repeated this ritual, over and over.

After the top and sides of her head had the look of an uneven but devastatingly bad haircut, she brushed the trail of hair still rippling in less volume to her hips. Painstakingly, she cut into the dark unseen back of her head. After the remnants of her exquisite hair barely and unevenly covered her head, she waited. All night, she silently waited for morning. She had never felt such serenity. In the morning, she wore a bandanna – perhaps like one a medieval peasant might have worn to communion at her church.

She left without the bandanna. She left with ruined hair and a smudge of black ash on her forehead. Oddly, her sex life got even better. The hair fetishist had long ago noticed that Phoebe stopped for coffee at the little coffeehouse near that long lasting signal light. The day after Ash Wednesday, he discovered a sudden need for morning coffee.

What do you know? He had his own barbering tools – clippers and a razor.


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