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Collection II
Volume II, Unit 7
by Matthew Dexter

Reflections in the Rust

Reflections in the Rust (Volume II. Unit 7)
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Reflections in the Rust

Jasmine wants a haircut and a dye, not any hair color, mind you, only the best amber-golden haircut on earth. Nothing else will do. Jasmine’s mother has red hair, explosive, lively, energetic, like her exuberant"Jasmine's mother has red hair, explosive, lively, energetic, like her exuberant personality." personality. Jasmine is more than merely boisterous; she’s convivial"Jasmine is more than merely boisterous; she's convivial, friendly, and hospitable to everyone—not just family members, but homeless people on the street.", friendly, and hospitable to everyone—not just family members, but homeless people on the street. Her mother doesn’t let Jasmine walk the labyrinth of unmapped back roads on the other side of town, where the homeless sleep, but Jasmine knows those men and women need to eat too, that they’re capable of walking extraordinary distances to get what they need. They may not always hang around the local grocery store where soccer parents flash contemptuous"... soccer parents flash contemptuous glances at [the homeless], as the hungry beg for change with polite, bashful elegance.... Sometimes mothers sneer at them, laugh to their friends as they talk about the next cocktail party..." glances at them, as the hungry beg for change with polite, bashful elegance, timid, empty hands extending sheepishly from the body; but they’re in front of the arcade or the movie theatre, innocuous places parents forget about, where you’ll find the grimy hand of God.

Sometimes mothers sneer at them, laugh to their friends as they talk about the next cocktail party or the latest sale at Neiman Marcus.

“Tithhh…,” goes Jasmine’s mom.

“Get a job,” say some of her mother’s most myopic" 'Get a job' say some of her mother's most myopic friends; the most narrow-minded in the bunch, and the most bigoted." friends; the narrow-minded, the most bigoted in the bunch.


... as the hungry beg for change with polite, bashful elegance, timid,
empty hands extending sheepishly from the body...

Illustration by Rosa Lykiardopoulos

These women are not only intolerant, they’re miserly"These women are not only intolerant, they're miserly, penny-pinching, tightfisted, stingy, Botulinum-toxin-infested contemporary Ebenezer Scrooges.", penny-pinching, tightfisted, stingy, Botulinum-toxin-infested contemporary Ebenezer Scrooges. But Jasmine’s mother is not cold-hearted like some of the others; she just doesn’t love the homeless. She treats Jasmine’s younger brother like a king and her little sisters like princesses. But Jasmine wants to be the queen. Changing her hair color to separate her appearance from her mother’s (albeit beautiful) look will make her open that chamber door, release her locks from the dungeon where they’ve been trapped for sixteen years. Jasmine’s Dad lost all his hair years ago, but he treats his eldest daughter like gold, loves Jasmine “more than a juicy tangerine moon and the sun.”

But Jasmine is shopping for clothes at Bloomingdale’s and her mother has such swagger"... her mother has such swagger as she walks between the racks... with the confidence and reggae dance rhythms of a famous rapper... —the most over-the-top parade of confidence the Bloomie's clerks have ever seen." as she walks between the racks, gets lost in the labyrinth of hangers and sleeves with the confidence and reggae-dance rhythms of a famous rapper, as if she were Bob Marley or ’Lil Wayne at the mall—the most over-the-top parade of confidence the Bloomie’s clerks have ever seen. Some of them look at each other and shrug, but Jasmine knows it’s more than just her Mom’s hubris"... Jasmine knows it's more than just her Mom's hubris, knows her Mom's the best and the supreme overconfidence and utter certainty are merely a necessary byproduct of being the best shopper in the country...", knows her Mom’s the best and the supreme overconfidence and utter certainty are merely a necessary byproduct of being the best shopper in the county, the woman who can find the best sales, deals, and daily discounts. She can pinch a penny from her nostrils as she laughs at the homeless outside Sears if she wants to; but she will not give a dime to the unfortunates.

Dad’s more frivolous"Dad's more frivolous with his money, gives the homeless at least a couple of dollars every time they ask." with his money, gives the homeless at least a couple of dollars every time they ask. He doesn’t go out of his way to find them, but he’s connected to them, he’s their El Dorado, the pot of pennies at the end of the rainbow—enough for a McDonald’s value meal—or at least a couple of items off the value menu: Sausage McMuffin with Egg, Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese, a Big ‘N Tasty and a large soda, at least.

“They’re only gonna spend it on alcohol,” Mom says.

I know that’s not true. The inequity"The inequity of this society she can never understand; never will; having been born into a rich Connecticut family where servants and cooks were considered lucky to receive such a generous wage and such warm beds..." of this society she can never understand; never will; having been born into a rich Connecticut family where servants and cooks were considered lucky to receive such a generous wage and such warm beds, with Egyptian-cotton linens boasting enormous thread counts. I, on the other hand, know the mysteries of inequities, can thread the needle perfectly and with great ease, weave my way up the yellow-brick road, listen to Lauren Hill CDs, have friends from all races, all ages, and all walks of life.

She drops me off in front of the movie theatre, doesn’t notice the homeless woman sitting in the alley between CVS and the bakery that never closes, where the bare aroma of fresh bread fills the air with majesty and hope.

“Hope those boys aren’t going to follow you into the movie,” Mom’s closest friend Crystal says.

Crystal is pretentious"Crystal is pretentious, thinks she's better than everyone, even Mom.", thinks she’s better than everyone, even Mom. Mom doesn’t see it, though. Mom only sees the jewelry and the perfect hair and the designer clothes purchased at exorbitant prices—no sales.

“Check out that bling-bling,” Mom says.

I cower in the backseat cushioning in shame, in embarrassment.

“She’s iced up—right, hun?” she asks.

I don’t answer. Mom still thinks Eminem is Vanilla Ice’s cousin; she doesn’t want to know about the real world, about the struggle.

Maggie’s waiting in front of the bakery, sitting on the yellow fire hydrant, hair soaking wet, beautiful as always. She’s my best friend. We’ve known each other since kindergarten. Maggie taught me how to braid my hair and how to look at boys in order to scare them away when they get too close. When it comes to how I should do my hair, Maggie has credence"When it comes to how I should do my hair, Maggie has credence, even credibility and authority on the subject, having dyed her hair blond years ago and never looked back.", even credibility and authority on the subject, having dyed her hair blond years ago and never looked back. Her roots are always perfect. Boys go around spreading rumors, disseminating"Boys go around spreading rumors, disseminating lies about me at school, and [Maggie] always defends me with the facts, and those lies die lke echoes on the apple trees..." lies about me at school, and she always defends me with the facts, and those lies die like echoes on the apple trees in the mall courtyard. Mom is always quick to nix my dreams of changing my hair, just as she nullifies"Mom is always quick to nix my dreams of changing my hair, just as she nullifies my desires to wait for her in the food court; she says it will disrespect God's wishes, but I know the heavens have another plan for me." my desires to wait for her in the food court; she says it will disrespect God’s wishes, but I know the heavens have another plan for me.

I hand the woman a ten-dollar bill as she approaches. When she sees Alexander Hamilton’s face she lights up like a roman candle exploding into the ether. There’s nothing of the usual moroseness"... she lights up like a roman candle exploding into the ether. There's nothing of the usual moroseness of the homeless about her, she's ecstatic, electric, like Mom after a decent shopping spree..." of the homeless about her, she’s ecstatic, electric, like Mom after a decent shopping spree during the Fourth of July sales. The miserable, glum face changes into an expressions of hope, compassion – love, even.

“God bless you, dear,” she says. “God bless you.”

She kisses Maggie and me on the cheeks as arrogant parents walk by with screwed-up faces. The homeless lady does not notice them. The blessed saint of a vagrant does not work on intuition; rather deep, discursive"The blessed saint of a vagrant does not work on intuition; rather deep, discursive reason, not wandering between words or prayers or dirty roads; she focuses on my hair and knows what's on my mind. I've told her before." reason, not wandering between words or prayers or dirty roads; she focuses on my hair and knows what’s on my mind. I’ve told her before.

“Let’s buy some scissors,” she says. “Do it now!”

Her face turns into a golden lantern. Before Maggie or I can stop her, she’s inside CVS. People walk out with scowls on their faces, laugh when they get far-enough away from her scent. Suddenly, I am filled with an insidious"Suddenly, I am filled with an insidious desire to run up and punch them in the noses, but, knowing this will only lead to problems and less money for the homeless, I hold it inside my stomach." desire to run up and punch them in the noses, but, knowing this will only lead to problems and less money for the homeless, I hold it inside my stomach. Their virulent"People walk out with scowls on their faces, laugh when they get far-enough away from her scent. Suddenly, I am filled with an insidious desire to run up and punch them.... Their virulent prejudice inspires a desire to lash out..." prejudice inspires a desire to lash out; fortunately this emotion diminishes as the chemicals in my brain return to normal.

“Here it is,” says the lady.

She has no bag, tears the comb from the plastic, does the same with the scissors, and begins brushing my hair back. The price tag is still connected by plastic band to the brush as she blesses me. The labor is ponderous"She... tears the comb from the plastic... and begins brushing my hair back.... The labor is ponderous for her, as my hair is in tangles... but the lady manages to brush through the heavy load on my head." for her, as my hair is in tangles from the humidity, but the lady manages to brush through the heavy load on my head. People stare. Maggie pulls us back to the alley.

“Let the exacting" 'Let the exacting planet think what it wants,' Maggie says. 'This life is enough of a challenge without thinking about everybody's opinion.' " planet think what it wants,” Maggie says. “This life is enough of a challenge without thinking about everybody's opinion.”

“How much money did you spend?” I ask.

Maggie and I look into each other’s eyes, dreading that the woman has spent all (perhaps more) of the money we gave her. The lady changes the subject; our suspicions diminish as she begins asking questions about my family.

“Tell me about your Mom,” she says.

The woman knows how to supersede"The lady changes the subject; our suspicions diminish as she begins asking questions about my family.... The woman knows how to supersede an obstacle..." an obstacle; she’s smarter than what those with homes and perfect lives give her credit for. Maggie watches as I ossify"Maggie watches as I ossify my face, feel it become stiff, and look ahead, hard, as my memory floods my locks and I enter that dungeon of the past." my face, feel it become stiff, and look ahead, hard, as my memory floods my locks and I enter that dungeon of the past.

The lady doesn’t want to flatter me with a sycophant’s"The lady doesn't want to flatter me with a sycophant's curiosity, she wants the truth." curiosity, she wants the truth. Maggie pulls out the box of blond hair dye, pours a munificent"Maggie pulls out the box of blond hair dye, pours a munificent amount on my freshly-brushed locks." amount on my freshly-brushed locks. I try to oust"... my memory floods my locks and I enter that dungeon of the past.... I try to oust the memories, expel them from my brain, but they coagulate like blood behind broken homeless pupils in the coldest months of winter." the memories, expel them from my brain, but they coagulate like blood behind broken, homeless pupils in the coldest months of winter.

“Mom lost all her money in the Black Monday stock market crash of ’87, a couple years before she met Dad,” I say, holding back tears.

The woman brushes the dye through my hair.

“Grandpa put a gun down his throat and almost pulled the trigger; Grandma jumped from the penthouse balcony on the Upper East Side.”

The woman hugs me, dye stains her shaggy clothes. She pulls out a Number 2 pencil and kisses Maggie on the hands, begins sketching on the back of the box of scissors while we wait for the dye to sink in. After about twenty minutes she shows us: a vignette"[She] begins sketching on the back of the box of scissors while we wait for the dye to sink in. After about twenty minutes she shows us: a vignette of me in the alley. The picture says it all." of me in the alley. The picture says it all. My expression is one of love, of hope, and a dirty figure stands behind me with her arms reaching toward the heavens. Maggie and I hug her again, hand her the rest of our movie-and-dinner money: twenty dollars. Then we all walk together to the creek to see how my hair looks in the shallow reflections of rusted gold water.