Why I am a redhead...
a nearly true cautionary tale

Illustration and short, short story by Mo Conlan

My cousin Chloe and I were best friends growing up in the Midwest with its county fairs, cornfields and big-shouldered cities. After college, she moved to New York, began working for a publishing company, while I stayed home. I visit her every year or so. She doesn’t say it out loud, but I know she thinks of me as her dull cousin from back home, stuck on the un-chic, non-trendsetting Plains of the Midwest.

 Sometimes, I think she might be right.  I don’t like New York. I can’t understand the language of the taxi drivers and they drive so fast it scares me.

When Chloe and I walk to events, I get bumpercar-ed by pedestrians. I have learned to walk as closely as possible in her wake. Still, I have bruises, and get dark looks from strangers. “Just keep up with traffic,” Chloe tells me, exasperatedly.

Chloe lives in an apartment that is one big rectangle with living areas carved out by furniture. She is thrilled because it is in Manhattan, has a window and a doorman. It is about the size of my living room back home. For one third the price, I live in a house with several walled rooms, windows galore and a yard.

Chloe is lucky to have kept her job in publishing long after those “girls” she began with fell into the bog of bad man choices, bad economy, and changing times. The industry is down to bare bones and short breaths. Chloe has kept her job because she can spot a best-seller, and because she has been sleeping with her boss for 20 years. He can’t afford a divorce. That is fine with Chloe; she doesn’t want him 24/7. She keeps her job; he keeps his wife; they keep their secrets. This is New York.

“I know New York has theater and art and the Statue of Liberty. But we have that, too, except for Lady Liberty, of course,” I say, defending my Midwest home.  “And we have the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, for heaven’s sake,” I tell her on my current visit.

She looks at me and smiles condescendingly. “Of course you do.”

I have been jounced by taxis, am travel weary and a bit off as I hear Chloe tell me we are going to a “reading” later in the evening.

“Good,” I say. “I go to readings all the time back home.” Then I have a nap on Chloe’s sofa, which doubles as a bed. Everything in the small space doubles for something else.

We walk, I in her wake. We enter the foyer of what appears to be a loft building.

At a desk, a woman with towering, country-western red hair asks for our names and ushers us into an adjoining room. Its shaggy carpet is watermelon red; the walls, strawberry and raspberry stripes; the ceiling, dark merlot. All red. I had steeled myself for New York, but now I am in hell.

 Before I can collect myself, I am ushered into a red silk robe, red chenille slippers, and eased into a chair. A handsome young man dressed in a red-sequined jumpsuit appears immediately. He holds out a glass of pomegranate juice to me and to Chloe, who is seated in a chair next to me.

“Is this part of the reading?” I ask Chloe.

“What?” She chugs her pomegranate juice.

I do the same, and my glass is immediately refilled. I have a second glass, and relax into the chair. I am so relaxed I think there must be a slug of vodka in the juice.

“Is this part of the reading, an art happening” I ask --  not such a bumpkin as all that.

“What reading?” Chloe asks.

“You said we were going to a reading.”

“I said a ‘redding,’ ” Chloe says. “Don’t you have them?”

I shrug. “We have something called ‘White’ parties where everyone wears white; lugs tables, chairs, and food to an outdoor venue; then they admire and photograph each other. My sisters, go. I’m not chi-chi enough. And I think it’s a bit of a scam.”

“ ‘White parties’ are passé,” Chloe says, laughing.  “Red is now.”

Before I can say a word further, my chair is pushed back and an Adonis in a glittery red jumpsuit seizes my locks and exclaims, “Good texture. Copper, I think.”

When I more or less come to, I look around. Each man and woman in the room, a good dozen or so, sports red hair of various hues, from my own coppery bob, to Bozo the clown red. Chloe’s plum red hair is nearly black.

“No reading?” I ask, disconsolately.

“Redding,” Chloe repeats.

 I long for a good Midwestern poetry slam.

Still,  I do  rather like my new coppery hair. And we get to keep the silk robes.

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