Howls and Whispers



by Chella Courington

A vicious virus made her insubstantial to herself, hiding in her little room and writing most of the isolation away. Her partner was more active, feeding and rolling sourdough, grinding and measuring Guatemalan coffee beans. Neither worried about appearance since they saw only each other, and their attraction had moved beyond looks years ago.

But he was concerned about how long his hair was growing. It bothered him. He didn’t want a man bun or hippie tail. He didn’t want it flying beneath his Steely Dan ball cap. So he ordered a set of razors and clippers for her. She had a talent for cutting hair. In college she set up shop in her dorm room, Sundays from 4 p.m. to midnight. That’s where he met her—under silver shears in Harrison Hall.

She was delighted to cut his locks again, hair more abundant and lustrous than her own. When he was a boy, adult women would run their hands over his dark curls, lamenting that he’d deprived some grieving girl of a god-given right. So slipping her palm through his strands and letting them fall between her fingers before cropping was natural, even exhilarating. His warmth spread from his scalp through her arms and shoulders as his hair floated to the floor, gathering at her feet. 

When she handed him the mirror, he smiled, seeing the shape of his head. He returned to the kitchen and she to her little room until dinner. They ate Havarti and ham on bread warm from the oven with a green salad and then drank a Cappuccino. After their nightly rituals they slid between satin sheets and fell asleep, wrapped like Magritte’s lovers.   

The next morning his hair was twice as long as the day before, a Rorschach sticking to his face. “Could it be the new shampoo?” he asked. She shrugged and trimmed again, and that night he didn’t wash it. The following morning it was even longer, covering his face and hers. Again, she pulled out the clippers, noticing hair growing from his neck. She gave it a yank. He screamed. “Have you added anything new to your diet?” she asked. He shook his mane. The fourth morning it touched his knees. When she leaned over to start the cutting, she saw something odd, almost a stifle joint like a dog’s hind legs. She cleaned her glasses and finished the trim. That night he complained of his knee and went to bed. 

Each day his hair became more of a nuisance, growing everywhere there was open skin except for his mouth. She gave up cutting and started brushing. He accustomed himself to living in a fur coat—kept the thermostat as low as possible and slept on top of the quilt. His ankles became hocks, his nails claws, and his lovely, articulate speech, howls and whimpers. If you saw him you’d think dog though he didn’t resemble any breed recognized by the International Kennel Club. 

Yet, a silver lining sparkled. While the couple always had an active sex life, she’d been disappointed that he didn’t experiment more. Some light BDSM was the kinkiest he’d gone.  Now he was eager to try anything, any place, any occasion. Sadly, however, the more he changed, the harder it became for them to fit. And with time he didn’t truly understand what she wanted. He seemed content to hump her leg. Even so, he was affectionate, constantly by her side and pressing against her at night. He was forever tender and luckily not a picky eater since she now did all the cooking.

The sourdough died. The Guatemalan beans went stale. But she was as happy as she’d ever been. She wrote and wrote and rewrote, finally having a tale to tell.

* * *

Chella Courington is a writer and teacher whose poetry and fiction appear in numerous anthologies and journals including SmokeLong Quarterly, Potato Soup Journal, X-R-A-Y Magazine, and The Daily Drunk. With three chapbooks of flash fiction, she recently published a novella-in-flash, Adele and Tom: The Portrait of a Marriage (Breaking Rules Publishing), featured at Vancouver Flash Fiction.  Courington lives in California.

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