Hypothetical Question of the Week: If you were forced to have an extra body part implanted on your back, which would you choose? A finger, ear, breast, or nose?”
“Abbey Lynn Garner!” Granny Po exclaimed from the manicure table, pointing at me with her emery board. “Where did that crap come from?”
I smiled and held up a wrinkled tabloid. “From your magazine.”
Granny Po rolled her eyes and went back to filing Caddie’s nails. “Hmph. Well, what are you doing reading that trash, anyway? Not exactly appropriate for a fourteen-year-old.”
“Fifteen,” I reminded her. “My birthday’s in a few weeks.”
My great-grandmother shot me a look that said the extra year didn’t amount to much. I could be twenty and she’d still think it’s not appropriate. The beautician’s chair squeaked as I leaned back and propped my feet up. Tabloids really aren’t my style, anyway, but there was nothing else to do. I’d already cleaned, folded towels, organized a messy array of curlers, and taken a quick inventory. We hadn’t had a single customer all evening except Caddie, but she practically lived at Polly’s Parlor and didn’t count.
“Come on, Granny Po. Answer the question,” I teased. “You know you wanna.”
“No, I don’t wanna. Sounds like something from all those reality shows on TV. Lord.” Granny Po sighed. “Well, if I must . . . then, no breast. Couldn’t sleep with a boob on my back.”
Caddie, named after her father’s Cadillac, turned from the table with a confused gaze, her dangling pearl earrings slapping back and forth against her plump neck. “I don’t understand the question. Good heavens, why would someone want a body part on their back?”
“Nobody’s really going to do that,” I explained. “It’s a hypothetical question, Miss Caddie. You know, just for the p’s and g’s of it.”
“What, pray tell, are the p’s and g’s?” Granny Po asked, as the shop door opened and Edith walked in, her cowboy boots thumping on the hardwood floors.
“Poops and giggles,” Edith said, pulling off her barn jacket and throwing it on the sofa. “You never heard of that? Abbey, how about a quick trim. No shampoo.”
Granny Po picked up the cuticle lotion. “Should have known. Edith Jones, don’t you corrupt my Abbey with your talk. Lord knows what else she’s picking up from you.”
More than that. At her horse farm next door, Edith uses a different word for poop. I stood, pulling up on the low-rider jeans that always make me feel like my rear is about to pop out, and reached for a cape from the shelf. Edith sat and raised her chin as I snapped the vinyl cape around her neck and repeated the question.
“A finger, ear, breast, or nose. Interesting,” Edith mused. She grimaced, pinching her nose shut with weathered fingers. “No nose. I wouldn’t want to walk around with a nose on my back, and I don’t think I gotta explain why.”
“Why?” Caddie asked, picking up a frosted beige polish. A look of comprehension crossed her face. “Oh, . . . never mind.”
Edith grinned. “If you picked a finger, you could scratch your own back!”
“Or stick yourself up,” I added, raising her chair by pumping my foot on the lever. The worn hydraulics moaned with each inch.
“Well, I still don’t see what’s funny about the question,” Caddie said, in her soft Southern accent, while taking out the new hearing aids that always made her uncomfortable. “If the good Lord wanted something extra on our back, He’d put it there Himself.”
Caddie primly smoothed the floral smock over her rounded hips and accidentally dropped her hearing aids to the floor. The seams of her pants stretched to capacity when she reached down for them.
Granny Po snorted, her eyes taking on a mischievous gleam. She said, “Yeah, and I think the good Lord certainly gave Caddie something extra in the rear-end department.”
“Like two giant pumpkins stuffed in polyester,” Edith added, while Caddie grabbed the table ledge to keep from falling out of her chair. “Just like her dearly departed husband, Gary, after eating her greasy cooking for thirty-one years, God rest his soul.”
“God rest his soul,” repeated Granny Po.
I tried to hide my smile but wasn’t quick enough.
“What’d you say, Polly? You know I can’t hear good without my hearing aids.” Caddie strained to sit up, then glanced at me. “Abigail, dear, are these nasty women making fun of me?”
I sprayed Edith’s gray hair with some water, then picked up my scissors. After living with Granny Po for the past four years, I’ve learned it’s best not to get in the middle. But still, I couldn’t help myself. “Miss Caddie, if you chose an ear, you’d hear everything they say behind your back.”
Edith laughed and reached back for a high five. Caddie frowned and patted a curl, looking like a kicked puppy. “And here I thought you were on my side, Abbey darling. Well, if y’all keep this up, then I’ll just leave.”
“Caddie? The beauty queen? Leave before your nails are done?” Granny Po said. “There’s a better chance of Edith winning an Oscar than you leaving with tacky fingertips.”
Edith clutched a wrinkled hand to her chest. “I’d like to thank the Academy, my agent, my momma, and all the people I had to sleep with or kill to get to the top.”
Poor Caddie. Even though they’ve been friends for years, she always takes their banter seriously. I gave her a sympathetic grin while shaping Edith’s hair. “Ignore them, Miss Caddie. You know they’re just jealous.”
“That’s right. Sick, jealous women.” Caddie selected a bright pink polish and pointed it at Granny Po. “And don’t y’all say a thing about my beauty-queen days.”
“Beauty queen my foot,” Granny Po said. “You were a farm queen, and farm queen is not the same as beauty queen. And the reason you won is because the only other person competing against you was Louise Demmings. She looked too much like the pigs she raised to ever have a crown on her head.”
“Why, Polly Randall, that was downright mean! No wonder nobody wants to rent this shop from you, what with all this negative atmosphere!”
Granny Po squinted, putting a fist on her plump hip. “Caddie Daniels, I cannot believe you just said that!” Hoo-boy. The antique cuckoo clock above the parlor’s door, which was always five minutes too fast, chirped while Granny Po stared at Caddie. For two years Granny Po’s been trying to rent the shop so she can retire to a life of lingering morning coffee and afternoon soaps. But every potential renter who’s visited the parlor has turned it down. Fast. The white sign on the front lawn that reads BEAUTY SHOP FOR RENT . . . FULLY EQUIPPED, INQUIRE WITHIN now has rust spots, so everybody knows it’s a touchy subject.
Caddie really was the 4-H Farm Queen in 1961. She once showed me the pictures, a shiny tiara perched on her then blond hair and a white sash draped across her then slim body. Granny Po told me she raised only one small hog, just enough to qualify for the contest, and she bribed her older brother to do all the farm work. That pig went straight to the butcher, after it peed on her leg in the show ring, but the crown was hers and don’t you forget it.
It was time for me to diffuse the situation. I reached for the remote, buried under newspapers, and turned on the television. “Hey, Wheel of Fortune is coming on in five minutes.”
Nothing could stop their bickering faster than Wheel of Fortune. Caddie turned her chair to face the TV. Granny Po stopped worrying about her shop and stood. “I’m hitting the ladies’ room. Abbey, fetch us some iced tea, will ya?”
“Oh man! I don’t want to miss the first puzzle!”
“You best hurry, then! And bring those cheesecake cookies while you’re at it.” Granny Po ducked into the hallway that led to the bathroom before I could respond. So much for please. Edith glanced in the mirror at her hair, then took off her cape, even though I wasn’t finished. “Eh, that’s good enough. It’s not like the horses are going to care.”
She reached into her pocket for a folded wad of money and pressed it into my palm. I didn’t open my hand until I walked through the door that separated the beauty shop from the other side of the duplex, where Granny Po and I live. Twenty-five dollars. Fifteen for the haircut; ten for me.
Edith is a good tipper, and every good tip gets me closer to my goal of having a million dollars by my thirty-fifth birthday. Which is why I’m glad Granny Po hasn’t rented the shop yet. The money’s good, you can’t beat the commute, and if a new owner came in, there’s a big chance I’d have to say, “Good-bye, job.”