“Shape-ups at Delilah’s”
by Rion Amilcar Scott
from the October 7, 2019 issue of The New Yorker
Rion Amilcar Scott is a completely new name to me but maybe not to many of you. His debut collection of stories, Insurrections, won the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize a few years ago, and his second collection, The World Doesn’t Require You, came out a couple of months ago. This is his first story to appear in The New Yorker.
Here we have a woman named Tiny opening up a haircutting business in Cross River, Maryland. From the interview in The New Yorker (here) I see that Cross River has come up in Scott’s previous collections, and that this town has been afflicted by the Great Hair Crisis.
The night after Jerome’s brother turned up on a Southside sidewalk, bloodied and babbling in and out of consciousness, Tiny took Jerome’s hand, sat him on a stool, wiped tears from his cheeks, draped a towel over his shoulders, and whispered, Relax, baby, you can’t go to the hospital like that. Your brother’ll wake up to that damn bird’s nest on your head and fall right back into another coma. For the next two hours, Tiny sheared away Jerome’s knotty beads until his head appeared smooth and black, with orderly hairs laid prone by her soft, smoothing hand. Back when they met, she’d told him she cut hair, said she was damn good, too. Jerome had nodded, smiled a bit, as if to say, How cute, and changed the subject. But now, the way his eyes danced in the mirror, the joy that broadened his face, it all said, Where in the hell did a woman, a W-O-M-A-N, learn to cut like that? She circled him as she did her work, looking at every angle of his head. She lathered up the front and went at it with a straight razor so that his hairline sat as crisp and sharp as the bevelled edge of the blade that cut it. Tiny imagined slicing her finger while sliding it across the front of his head; her imagined self then smeared the blood all over Jerome’s face. After she finished and had swept the fine hairs from his shoulders and back, Jerome and Tiny collapsed onto the floor, spent, as if they had just made love for hours. On a bed of Jerome’s shorn hair, they slept into the early morning.
I haven’t read beyond that opening, but I’m interested in a story that treats haircutting as both an intimate and a mystical art. And I’m very interested in the town of Cross River, which was, as Scott says in his interview, “founded after the only successful slave revolt in America.” Beyond that, I’ll let you discover the other mysteries of this town for yourself.
Let me know what you think!