by Jessica Lévai
“Hair like silk,” proclaimed the humble typewritten label on the glass jar of conditioner at the organic boutique. Lottie had tried everything to tame her waist-length brown locks in the swampy July heat. Fears of pthalates and parabens brought her here, and the mental image of silkworms nestled in cozy cocoons completed the seduction. She gladly forked over forty dollars, declined the bag, and walked home with the jar nestled in her arm. “The Earth and her creatures thank you!” said the label.
At home she sniffed the contents. White and creamy like any conditioner, it had no fragrance, only an inoffensive nutty odor. She got a warm shower going, lathered and rinsed and worked the new treatment in, roots to tips. Her scalp tingled.
After toweling she moved the brush through her damp hair with the usual snarls and tangles. Dry, her hair was disappointingly dull. But she reasoned silk didn’t have to be shiny. It had to be strong and smooth, and maybe with a few more uses the full effect would kick in.
One night four weeks later, hair frizzing in the soupy air, Lottie took up the jar seeking a number for dissatisfied customers and gasped. At the bottom was a layer of round blobs. Like in boba tea, but smaller. She groaned at the thought of microplastics or worse, but the label touted only natural ingredients like goat’s milk and jojoba. Her head itched. Maybe she hadn’t used it right? She resigned herself to one last try and ran the shower. She worked in the conditioner, lumps and all. After, she threw her hair into a messy braid, which bunched and pulled until she went to bed.
Lottie woke with hair matted against her face, wisps stuck in her nose. She tasted gumminess on her tongue and stumbled to the bathroom, spitting a grayish mass threaded with chestnut against the sink enamel. She coaxed her hair from the braid, reaching for her brush to tame the mess. One stroke, two, and the bristle pad snapped from the handle. Freeing it produced more tangles and yelps every time she tugged. Stray hairs stuck to her hands and she wiped them against her pajama top. Once the bristle pad was free she looked in the mirror.
Her hair had turned almost entirely light grey, sticking like shadow to her cheek. More glommed to her hand. She slapped at it but the more she struggled, the more it clung to her, covering her mouth and nose and draping like a scarf around her throat. She hunted in the medicine cabinet for scissors, gashing her finger against the blades. She tore and tugged, blood beading in the fuzz now wrapped tightly around her head.