Dorothy’s Endowment by Theobald
“No Mom, you can’t do that, that is about the weirdest thing I have ever heard of.”
“Hang on Sis, let’s hear Mom out. I am sure that there is a good reason for this decision.”
“Thanks LJ, yes Peggy, there is a good reason for what I am going to do and I suppose that I should have explained myself better from the start,” said Dorothy to her son and daughter. “At least I owe it to you to tell you the truth, which is a little different to what appeared in the accident report. Please hear me out and let us see if that makes any difference to your views.”
Peggy, always somewhat impulsive, shrugged her shoulders. “I can’t see what the accident has to do with this ridiculous idea of yours….”
“Hold on now Sis, let Mom continue,” interrupted LJ, slowly growing impatient.
“The accident happened on a stormy night and dad did lose control and skid into the back of the big semi, but what was not in the report was that I had my head on Dad’s lap and he had his hand on my head….”
“Mom, you weren’t giving him a…” stammered Peggy.
“Cut it out, that’s totally uncalled for and I think you owe Mom an apology,” roared LJ. “If you are going to be rude and obstructive I think that we can find another time to continue this conversation.”
“OK, sorry Mom, but this is so far out that you can’t blame me for losing it, I’ll try to keep quiet for now.”
“Accepted, and there is no more time, it is 35 days since the accident which means that we have less than five days, but I am getting beyond myself. Dad was stroking my hair, as he so often did when we were driving somewhere, but that night visibility was bad and must have been worse as we came up behind that truck. Suddenly Dad swerved for some reason and the car went into a skid. I could not see what it was that he was trying to avoid, it all happened so quickly. As in the report, the car skidded into the rear corner of the trailer. The airbags deployed. I was cushioned by the side of the driver’s bag, but Dad took the brunt of the side impact, his head striking the truck as the car side panelling collapsed under the impact. As you know, I was extricated from under the steering wheel, the report stating that I had been flung sideways out of the seat belt.”
“I still think you are over-reacting. Aren’t your motives possibly driven by guilt, and what is the significance of the 40 days?” asked LJ. Peggy nodded in agreement.
“I hope you are up to this. For the past 31 days, almost every night I have sensed your father, my husband, in my bedroom with me, looking at me from the bottom of the bed or sitting right beside. There is no malevolence there, more like a deep feeling of loss, of desire or of something that he wants, and the only thing I can think is that it is my hair. You both know how he used to touch it, stroke it and even nuzzle it when he could… it is the only thing it could be.” Dorothy looked at her children, expecting some rebuttal.
LJ was first to respond. “We know that you have always displayed some psychic ability, but with what you have just told us I feel that there is now the possibility that you are holding yourself responsible for dad’s death and you are trying to compensate for some supposed guilt, and you still have not explained the time limit.”
“I am not imagining this, nor am I fabricating it out of a sense of guilt. I am convinced that my Joe’s spirit is troubled and that I must act within this window of 40 days or he could be doomed to wander through eternity in that continual state of turmoil.” Dorothy’s look was one of fear as she made this last statement.
Peggy stood up, mumbling something about having a husband and kids to feed. She said good-bye to her mother and brother, looking relieved that she had an excuse to get away.
“Look Mom, as you know Jane has gone to spend a week with her mother, they are discussing wedding arrangements seeing as there are only four months left. What I can do is come and stay here with you. Maybe I can give you some moral support… or whatever,” offered LJ. Dorothy gratefully accepted.
The following evening LJ arrived as planned. He carried his case up to his old room and unpacked, finishing as he was called to dinner. Nothing was discussed around the table and they watched some TV before retiring to bed at around ten. At about two in the morning LJ was awakened by a chill that seemed to have filled the house. He slipped out of bed, put on his gown and crept to his mother’s room. The door was slightly ajar and he silently pushed it open. In the dim light he could see the sleeping figure in the bed, but for some strange and inexplicable reason he could swear her hair was moving, as though it was being stroked, then he saw the indentation in the bed, like someone had been sitting on the covers and the material had retained the impression. LJ caught his breath, the hair jerked and the indentation in the bed slowly disappeared. Feeling weak at the knees he stumbled and tried to grab the door frame for support. The noise of the door swinging against a chair must have wakened Dorothy. She turned onto her back and opened her eyes. “He was here. You saw him, didn’t you?” she asked once she realised that her son was in the room.
“Yes Mom, I saw something. It must have been Dad. I should have known better than to doubt you on such matters. Try to sleep again and we can take this up again at breakfast.”
Dorothy had breakfast ready when LJ came down dressed for work. He kissed his mother on the cheek and took his place opposite her at the table.
“I am going to make some enquiries and arrangements today. It is Wednesday and time is moving on. I think that Friday will probably be the best time for us to make our final offering, and it is our deadline. I will tell you tonight what I have accomplished and we can take it from there, LJ.”
Mother and son completed their meal in thoughtful silence.
LJ returned a little before six in the evening. He had almost completed a search of the house when he heard the garage doors opening. Dorothy came into the kitchen, hugged LJ and put the kettle on for coffee. They settled into the breakfast nook and Dorothy started. “I had a bit of a problem with the cemetery caretaker, but it is amazing what a 100 note will do. Friday at 12 will be ideal. The caretaker will send his people off to lunch and he will make himself scarce, fortunately the grave site is in a secluded section of the graveyard, but we will not have much more than half an hour. I have also bought a brass urn. It is about 150mm across and almost as deep. The lid fits securely, but I want to seal it on as well anyway. I spoke to the stonemasons and they had only planned to start with the head stone next week or the week after, so that is no problem. How did you do?”
“There are still some aspects of the whole idea that bother me, but we can discuss those later. I still have a few days leave due to me, so I can stay home on Friday. I have also located one of those double shovel things that they use for digging holes for fencing poles, which should speed up the process. I’ll get it tomorrow and will practice in the back yard with it first. The ground in the grave should still be soft, so it should all be finished reasonably quickly,” LJ answered, summing up his contribution to date.
“Then there is really nothing to be done till tomorrow night. If you feel Dad’s presence in the house again tonight I would prefer you just remained in your room, I am positive that I am in no danger and I enjoy the visits, and there won’t be many more.” LJ agreed to his mother’s wishes and the conversation turned to incidentals for the rest of the evening. At around two the chill returned to the house. LJ remained in bed as requested and it was some hours before he sensed the cold leaving.
At breakfast LJ told Dorothy not to bother with supper, he was taking her out that night. He picked up the digging tool during lunch and returned home from work just after five. The trial dig worked well and LJ was able to dig to a depth of almost a metre in twenty minutes in a corner of the back yard, the ground being harder than it would be in the cemetery.
The restaurant was cosy and intimate, the food was good and the wine left both mother and son with a warm glow as they left just after nine to return home. Dorothy got out of the car as soon as it stopped in the garage. She let herself into the house and went straight to her room. LJ closed up and followed her into the house. A little while later she came downstairs wearing a tight-fitting white sweater and white slacks. She had released her hair and brushed it out so that it hung to just below her shoulders, the blonde, streaked with grey that looked more like silver, shone in the lights from the small chandelier in the center of the room.
Dorothy sat down next to LJ and took his hand. After a few minutes she said simply, “I suppose it is time to get started.” She rose and, still holding his hand, led him into her bedroom. A chair had been placed in front of the dressing table, facing the mirror. The clippers that LJ recognised as having been used so often on his own hair were laid out, as was a large bath towel and next to them the ornate brass bowl, with its lid close by.
Dorothy sat on the chair and handed LJ a blue velvet ribbon. “Tie my hair into a loose ponytail just about in my neck.”
LJ did as asked. “Mom, I can’t understand why Dad would want you to cut off your hair when he loved it so much, and loved you so as well. I have never known Dad to apportion blame where it is not due, so he could not be punishing you for the accident and the loss of his life. I just do not understand the whole reasoning behind what we are about do.”
“I had hoped that you would not think of that,” Dorothy replied. “I was feeling lost and lonely about two weeks ago so I went into the den and sat down in Dad’s chair. I, like you and Pegs, seldom went in there, it was Dad’s sanctuary and we respected it as such. Anyway, I opened the bureau and was idly flipping through some books and magazines when I saw a scrapbook with a photo of me on the cover, a picture taken about fifteen years ago showing my hair down to my waist. I felt good that he had taken the trouble to make a scrapbook of me so I paged through it. The first quarter of the book was me at various times with various hairstyles. Then followed photos taken from magazines showing different women with progressively shorter hairstyles, the last part of the scrapbook was of women with shaven heads, obviously shaved bald and not bald due to some other cause or from chemo treatment. It seemed as though the pictures were attached so that they could be changed periodically.”
“It would appear that Dad had a closet hair fetish. He never let on in the slightest.”
“No,” replied Dorothy, “I never had the faintest notion. He never tried to force me to change to any particular hairstyles throughout all the years, therefore I am convinced he would not object to me cutting my hair off, especially as I am doing it for him.”
LJ picked up the towel and placed it around Dorothy’s neck, pinning it in place. He picked up the clippers and looked at his mother’s face in the mirror in front of him. Dorothy nodded. “I am as ready as I will ever be, let’s do it.”
LJ switched on the machine and adjusted the clipper upper blades back to prevent clipper nipping and to leave a slightly longer stubble. Dorothy tilted her head backwards and indicated to LJ to begin. He placed the clippers on her forehead and slowly pushed them backwards, the severed hair falling, to be caught by the ribbon. He clipped the top of her head and moved to the right hand side, cutting up as slowly and carefully as he had on the top, the left side followed. When this was completed Dorothy raised her head and he lifted the loose ponytail with the rest of the hair attached to it, placing the buzzing blades on the right hand side of his mother’s neck. Dorothy again nodded and the clippers started their slow passage up towards the top of her head where the first cut had ended. Holding the hair high, LJ took successive cuts, moving around to the left until the back of Dorothy’s head was clipped bare. The entire gathered fall of hair came loose in his hand and mother and son stared at the reflection in the mirror, unable to pass comment on the smooth round scalp that appeared to be covered with a dusting of ash.
Taking the hair at the ribbon, he gently shook it to let it fall into a single tail and placed it in Dorothy’s hands. She brought the hair up to her face and gently rubbed it against her cheek, a tear falling onto the blonde mass as Dorothy softly kissed her hair as a parting gesture. She turned slightly and twisted the hair into the bowl, its shining mass standing above the rim.
Picking up the bowl and putting his free arm around his mother, LJ led her to the kitchen to finally seal the container. As he was mixing the epoxy sealant, Dorothy placed a small red velvet sachet in the container on the top of her hair. LJ looked up and gave his mother a quizzing look. “There are certain things that are secret between a woman and a man, even if the one person is no longer present,” she admonished.
LJ lifted the lid of the bowl and applied a small coating of the adhesive to the rim. Dorothy moved the stray hairs away from the rim and took the proffered lid, taking one last look at the contents of the bowl; she put the lid firmly in place, ensuring that it was seated evenly on the bowl.
Dorothy placed her hand on the bowl for a moment, stood up and turned to her son. “Thank you… good night,” she whispered.
LJ had just switched off his light and was settling in to sleep when he was aroused to the faint sound of buzzing in the house. Getting out of bed, he traced the source of the sound to the bathroom where light was shining from under the door. He opened the door and found his mother standing at the mirror, his father’s old electric razor vibrating in her hand. “And now Mom?” asked a surprised LJ.
“I look awful, I feel dirty and this stubble scratches, itches and catches on the pillow, I want it off.”
“That’s all very well, but you will be in the same position in less than a week,” answered LJ as Dorothy switched off the machine in her hand.
“Your grandfather often spoke of his early years in Greece, the village life and traditions there. One tradition which I have decided to embrace is the period of mourning that widows observe, a period of mourning which could be for the rest of the poor woman’s life, but never less than a year. Living in a twentieth century western society, I decided to honour my husband’s memory by remaining shorn for the shorter period of a year, rather than wearing the formal black attire and shawl.”
“You don’t intend to walk around bald for a year, do you?”
“No, not in public, I will wear a scarf, hat or wig. Around the house I will probably spend most of my time uncovered, and if friends do not accept me as I am for my own reasons, I hardly need to regard them as friends, not so?”
“What about Peggy, she’s going to freak,” stated LJ.
“Don’t worry about Peggy, I will handle her. How are you going to explain this to Jane?”
“Jane is no problem, she is as mad as hell at me that she could not be here. She has always had a fascination for the paranormal, so prepare yourself for quite a grilling from her.”
“This whole affair is something I would love to share with somebody who could look at it objectively, and I am sure that the three of us at least, will be able to make some real sense of it in time to come,” said Dorothy, holding up the now quiet razor to her son.
“No, I think we rather do a wet shave with lather and safety razor, OK?”
“If you think it will be better, sure, but let’s get it over with, we have quite a bit to do tomorrow and it is late already,” she pleaded.
LJ took his razor from the bathroom cabinet and fitted a new blade. Taking a face cloth, he held it under the faucet until it was wet through with hot water. He wiped it gently over Dorothy’s scalp until the short hairs and the skin were thoroughly wetted. From an aerosol can he squirted some shaving gel onto his fingers and smeared it onto his mother’s cropped head, working it into a rich foam. He waited a few minutes and applied some more gel, again working up a good lather. Placing the razor on Dorothy’s forehead, he gently pulled it back, leaving a smooth white path behind it. Shaving was easy, with the softened blonde stubble quickly succumbing to the long gentle strokes of the double-bladed razor. Dorothy seemed to sense just how to hold her head to give LJ the most comfortable angle for shaving, and in some ten minutes LJ was able to wipe down a smoothly shaved scalp, only a few patches having to be shaved a second time to clear some stubborn roughness. “I can’t believe I have just shaved my mother bald,” stammered the dumbfounded son. He again rubbed his hand over her scalp, and then bent down and planted a spontaneous kiss on the top of her head.
Dorothy started laughing as she rubbed both her hands over her smooth scalp. “I think this looks much better, far better than I expected, don’t you agree?”
“You actually look quite stunning. I never thought a bald woman could look so good.”
Dorothy stood up and, taking her son’s face in her hands, said, “Thank you, thank you for being so understanding, thank you for helping me. I could never have managed without you, thank you for your support Joseph.”
LJ was startled, he could not remember his parents ever using his given name. Dorothy continued, “It is no longer fitting for you to be called ‘Little Joe’. You are grown up, and now more than ever before, you need to be placed into the correct perspective as a man. So from now on, no more LJ, no more ‘Little Joe’, and no more humming the theme from ‘Bonanza’… and now it really is bed time.”
Friday turned out to be bright and sunny, a reflection of Dorothy’s mood as she prepared and served breakfast. She was dressed and had taken extra care with her make-up, placing more emphasis on her eyes as they now appeared so much larger and drew more attention due to the lack of distracting hair. Joseph found himself stealing admiring glances at his mother, and was almost certain that she was looking at herself in anything that offered a reflection.
Dorothy was dressed in the same outfit that she had worn for the funeral, but this time she wore a larger hat, obviously to cover the fact that she was not wearing a wig. At eleven they were ready to leave for the cemetery. The lid had securely bonded to the bowl and the joint looked like a perfect seal. A ribbon had been attached to the lid’s handle to lower the container with its precious contents into the ground.
They arrived at the grave site just on twelve, having driven the car to almost alongside the mound of earth that covered the final resting place of their loved one. It had been decided to place the container in the approximate position where the chest of the body would be, and aware of their time limit, Joseph immediately went to work digging the hole. It took just over fifteen minutes to reach the desired depth, Dorothy holding the brass bowl all the while. Joseph laid the tool down and looked towards his mother. She came closer and he put his arm around her waist. She handed him her hat, gently kissed the bowl in her hands and slowly lowered it into the hole, tears tracing a wet path down her cheeks. When the container reached the bottom of the hole she dropped the remainder of the ribbon after it and stepped back. Only after Joseph had completely filled in the hole did she replace her hat.
They drove home in silence, each lost in their own thoughts. Dorothy said that she wanted to have a rest and Joseph suddenly found he had some business to take care of that afternoon. He returned to the house just before five, finding it quiet and seemingly deserted. After a short search he found his mother on the couch in the den, asleep from the sound of her regular breathing. A few minutes later he gently shook her awake and handed her a freshly made mug of tea. She nodded her thanks and drank it pensively. “We don’t need to go out tonight, do we?”
“No, not if you don’t want to,” answered Joseph. “We can order a pizza or something.”
“Thanks. While I was asleep I got this feeling that something important is going to happen tonight, therefore I would like to make some preparations and not get to bed too late. I also want you to shave me again later.”
Reaching up, Joseph ran his hand over the smooth scalp. “You don’t need it. There is no visible stubble and I can hardly feel any roughness, you probably won’t need a shave for another two or three days.”
Dorothy rubbed her head with both her hands, seemingly longer than necessary, and said, “I know, but as I said, I have this feeling and I want to feel and look my best for whatever it is.”
A while after supper Dorothy told Joseph that she was ready to be shaved. He followed her to the bathroom where the shaving implements had been laid out, plus the towel that Dorothy normally used as a turban after washing her hair. She ran hot water into the basin and soaked the towel in it. Sitting down, Joseph applied shaving gel to her head and spread it into an even foam covering. He took the towel, let it cool to a moderate temperature and let Dorothy put it on her head in the normal fashion. Five minutes later he removed it and spread another coating of foam over the remains of the previous layer. Using a new blade he repeated the procedure of the previous night. When he was finished Dorothy felt all over her head, massaging the scalp, first with one hand, then the other and finally with both hands.
“Please shave me again. Tonight I want it to be extra smooth, in fact I think you can do it a third time just to make doubly sure.”
Joseph repeated the process twice more, shaving in several directions until there was no hint of roughness anywhere on her scalp. He spread a moisturiser on the delicate skin to prevent razor burn, and at the same time brought up a beautiful shine on her head.
After they had cleared up together she pulled her son to her and gave him a loving hug. He gave her head a gentle rub and kissed her good night on her forehead. Dorothy turned and went into her bedroom, not fully closing the door behind her. Joseph showered and retired to bed himself.
Shortly before midnight Joseph was wakened by a strange sound in the house. It sounded like very soft tinkling of wind chimes, mixed with a violin, and the harder he concentrated on it, the more elusive it became. He slipped out of bed, put on his slippers and gown and tried to locate the sound. From the passage he noticed a peach-coloured glow coming from his mother’s room. Startled for a moment, he realised that there was no smell of smoke but rather a fresh sweet warmth in the house that he could almost taste. He silently went into the room, slipping past the partly open door and was amazed to see his mother, on the bed, engulfed in a liquid luminescent cloud which seemed to move around her, caressing almost her entire form. More surprising, her eyes were partly open and she had a look of peaceful contentment on her face. The light stopped moving, reformed into a column and floated towards where Joseph was standing beside the door. It enveloped him for a few seconds and returned to the bed as a ball, concentrating around Dorothy’s head. It lingered for a while and slowly rose, seeming to melt into the ceiling. Joseph thought he could detect a faint odour of his father’s favourite aftershave.
Dorothy opened her eyes fully and sat up, pulling the sheets up under her arms. Joseph switched on the light and saw that she had gone to bed with her make-up re-applied. She wore a dark lipstick that his father had always liked, with matching nail varnish. Her eye shadow complemented the colour of her eyes and she had darkened, arched and extended her eyebrows to compensate for her shaved head. She was also wearing the silver and diamond stud earrings that her husband had given her on their silver wedding anniversary nearly five years earlier. She said softly, “He has left, in peace and contented. I could almost see him, feel him, it felt like he had embraced me and that he kissed me.”
Joseph walked towards the bed. She held up her arms and he sat down and responded, noticing from the shoulder straps that under the sheet she must be wearing the skimpy red and black négligé that he had seen once or twice, but never on her. They sat for a while, gaining strength and reassurance from each other, then they moved apart.
“Mom, what is that mark on your head, just above your right ear?” Dorothy reached up and touched the area, shrugging her shoulders.
“It is faint but definitely there and there was nothing there earlier this evening. It looks like… it’s shaped like a pair of lips.”