Unplucked

by Christopher Gonzalez

I go to the eyebrow artist, because no one else can give me what I crave: Chris Pine’s sculpted brows. Beautiful, perfect. Thick enough to hold a smear of peanut butter, if I wanted.

Sarah told me the eyebrow artist collects hair from her clients in several jars which she displays like a sepia-toned rainbow on a rickety shelf. The little strawberry blondes are kept separate from the chestnuts; the jet black shines in contrast to the dusty corn with its gradient of dull yellows. There were options here. I liked that. I could change my whole look. I could get white brows—a joke Sarah didn’t laugh at. It’s already bad enough, she said, why make it worse?

We’re honest like that. I appreciate it, truly. From the bottom of my heart. Sarah calls me out when my shirt is wrinkled, or tells me when the guy I’ve been seeing for over three months is sleeping with the drug dealer who lives in her building. Ha! In turn, I tell her exactly what she doesn’t want to hear, which is that she can’t sing, doesn’t hit any of the right notes, but beats them into something else entirely: a noise that is alien, unsonglike, unenjoyable to a blistering degree. But—she makes each song her own in a way that makes me fear God. And there’s something special in that!

The eyebrow artist prefers not to use tweezers or wax; she pinches the individual strands between her nails, rips out entire follicles so they don’t grow back. This is ideal for Sarah. Her brows are flawless, highly arched. I told her I liked them, and she said, Not for you. She also warned it would be painful like nothing I had experienced before, which, when she said that, made me think of the firecracker incident last summer, the hell that snaked its way around my face and singed a layer of skin. My eyebrows and beard, eyelashes, ribbons of my neck—all gone. There might be blood, Sarah said. You might cry. And I laughed! I thought she was being dramatic. A little too concerned about my wellbeing.

Anyway, this was different. The hair would be stitched into my skin.

The eyebrow artist uses a sewing needle. The first puncture draws a bit of blood, which she dabs with a cotton ball. The pain is negligible. She’s working magic on my face, giving me a self that isn’t me, but the me I’ve always wanted to be. Isn’t that beautiful?

Chris Pine was a deliberate choice, I tell her.

She nods and says, It’s your life.

It is mine, so I describe how his brows compliment the rugged texture of his skin. Sure, he’s blotchy in places, I say. It’s not unappealing. In fact, he is comfort personified.

I don’t tell her Sarah didn’t approve at first. That she thought I should consider going with Daniel Radcliffe’s caterpillars. Even suggested Jake Gyllenhaal’s might be more appropriate over Chris Pine’s. They weren’t bad options. Plus, they were all far better singers than she could ever dream of being. I liked that.

After the firecracker incident, I spent my recovery time in the hospital staring at all three of their headshots, giving genuine consideration to each shape of brow, their coloring. I wondered how these men might see me with brows like theirs. I imagined Chris, more than Jake or Daniel, would be the least creeped out by an eyebrow doppelgänger. Could maybe warm up to the idea. And Sarah, I decided, could deal.

The eyebrow artist massages cooling oils into my brows, down my cheeks and neck. Everywhere she touches is still tender from the burns. I flinch at first, then settle into the tingling. Almost done, she says, and I don’t want it to be true. I imagine the look on Sarah’s face when she sees me. It might kill her! Which I don’t want but would like for her to think about, to feel the intense gut-dropping sensation of confronting her own mortality in the face of mine. If you don’t stop laughing, the artist says, we’ll be here all night.

I try to push Sarah out of my head, but everything else is too funny: that drug dealer, who I later learned sold Sarah confectioner’s sugar instead of the cocaine she paid for in cash. The fact that there was nothing between him and my ex. No messages to pull up, no proof. No meeting. But Sarah said it, she spoke it into existence. Sarah said it. How funny is that?

Turn over, the artist says, and I respond, Gladly. I face left then right, then left again, so she can get a good look, make sure there are no mistakes. These are Chris Pine’s brows we’re talking about. They deserve the best treatment.

She begins combing them upward to catch tiny flyaways, and I start laughing again. She sucks her teeth, waits a second for me to compose myself but it all goes full-belly. I’m wheezing, a clump of trimmed hairs caught in my throat. The look on the drug dealer’s face, that was the funniest! Absolute confusion when I showed up to his apartment with a cherry bomb rattling in my hand. Sarah, fucking Sarah, had said, This will shake him up. This will show him.

The eyebrow artist isn’t sure what to do when I flip from laughing to crying. My ears are ringing, I’m coughing so hard, and she is handing me tissues. No, no, it’s fine, I say, and begin picking at the newly sewn hairs, so little and undeserving of this. I rip out a patch and know I’ll keep going until they’re stripped clean. Sarah said it wasn’t the right style anyway, I try to say, I mean to say, but I can’t form the words, can’t understand what to do with the sound of my own voice.

Christopher Gonzalez serves as a fiction editor at Barrelhouse and a contributing editor at Split Lip. His stories appear or are forthcoming in a number of journals and anthologies, including Best Small Fictions 2019, Forward: 21st Century Flash Fiction, Lunch Ticket, Wasafiri, Third Point Press, and Cosmonauts Avenue. Cleveland-raised, he now lives and writes in Brooklyn, NY and spends most of his free time on Twitter: @livesinpages.

Artwork by: Lucas Pezet