This is a fun little thing. We had an extra assignment for one of my classes in which we were given a list of cosmetology-related words and had to write a short story using those words. When my teacher gave us the assignment, I said, “You’ve got to be kidding me. This is RIGHT up my alley!” What better way to combine my old career and my new one, my love of writing and my love of cosmo, my skills with words and my skills with hair, skin, and makeup… than to write a story? At just under 1,000 words, it’s a bit of flash fiction that only takes a few minutes to read.
So, here you go. Enjoy!
The music came on suddenly, awakening me from a deep sleep. I heard a snore as I blinked my eyes, adjusting to the dark room. My assistant was still asleep, it seemed. I heard the inspectors outside the room. We were being awakened early to prepare for the examination. At least they granted us the courtesy of prep time. Ever since we’d crashed our spaceship on their cold planet, we hadn’t been granted much.
I kicked off the sheets and made my way into the bathroom to cleanse and dress. All we had to do, I thought while splashing water on my face, was provide the Empress with a new haircolor. If she approved of our professional skills and was pleased with the color, we would be set free to return home in one of their ships. If we failed to please, however, we would remain in the prison of their alien laboratory forever, submitting to their ongoing analysis of our kind: the human species.
I wasn’t one to stress, but my assistant was a bit of a head case. Back on Earth, she required therapy, but on this planet, I could only hope for the best. We weren’t going to be using thio, thank goodness. One time, my assistant performed a perm on a client who walked in off the street. She was so worried about fitting the rollers correctly that she developed a rash, hot to the touch and a bright red color — like dermatitis, but merely from stress. Fortunately, she was able to complete the perm successfully, but we made a note on the client’s record card to book her with a different stylist if she ever came back.
As I stuffed my towels in the hamper, I heard her wake up. We dressed together in our alien prison jumpsuits, and made our way to the café for coffee and toast, the simple human breakfast this species allowed us. When we had eaten, an alien guard led us to a sparkling-clean, white room in which we were to prepare our dirty human selves to touch the Empress — a practical precaution, in case we had any kind of infection.
A computer monitor and phone were attached to the wall, but the only other things in the room were astringent, Kleenex, and a disinfectant gel, with which we were to clean ourselves. I wondered if it was EPA-registered or not. The alien guard stood by, watching. Its gaze made me feel we had done something illegal, but we had only crashed on the wrong planet. I sighed. This would be over soon. We cleansed every possible bit of pathogenic bacteria from our cells, it seemed, until our skin was taut from having no more oils. I hoped this deep cleaning would at least clear up the acne on my forehead.
After we tossed our soiled jumpsuits in the garbage, changed into new suits the guard gave us, and had our cleanup double-checked by the guard, we were finally led into the examination room.
The Empress sat on a marble stool in the center of a bright, circular room, draped in a white cloth with a black towel around her neck and her hair covered in a white cap, so we didn’t know what it looked like. To her side was a table with a haircolor brush, two bowls, five yoyettes, a roll of paper towels, a digital timer, and two pairs of gloves. Several guards stood around the edges of the room, alert, their gazes as sharp as razors. A sensation like needles crawled up my spine and I shivered.
“You can do this,” I reminded myself. I had a cosmetology license, a professional certificate, and a year of advanced education in haircolor. I knew what I was doing.
We stepped toward the Empress and bowed, and she nodded slightly in return, her blue eyes surprisingly gentle. Then a guard came forward and placed on the table a tube of haircolor labeled 7N, a bottle of 20-volume hydrogen peroxide, and a pair of — was that really? — manicuring nippers. The Empress nodded again, and the guard removed her cap.
I nearly laughed with joy when I saw her shoulder-length hair was a virgin level 7 with about 10% grey around the temples. So that’s what she wanted: grey coverage. I understood. She nodded again, the guard stepped away, and we got to work. The nippers, it turned out, were to open the haircolor tube.
My assistant mixed the color while I sectioned her hair, and then I applied the color all-over until her greys were definitely covered, and set the timer for 45 minutes. When the time was up, the guards rolled in a portable sink (amazing the things they have on other planets!) and we rinsed the color, then blow-dried with a dryer that dropped from the ceiling on a long cord.
Finally, the moment of judgment. A guard presented the Empress with a mirror as my assistant and I held our breath. As she gazed at her reflection, the faintest smile crossed her lips, then she broke out in a giant grin.
Apparently that was all the guards needed to see, because we were suddenly whisked away and into a small space pod into which all of our belongings had already been packed. They must have known we would be successful! The doors shut with a whooshing sound, and the guards, touchingly, waved goodbye. Then the pod beeped three times, and we lifted off the alien planet and headed toward home.