“Wigmaker” is the title story in a collection of C. E. Coughlan’s short prose pieces published in 2007 by Smart Cookie Publishing.
Every day she sits down at a table by the window and cuts long pieces of hair and sews them together onto mesh caps and backing strips. Sometimes she clasps the strands into ponytails, or trims them into bobs and shags, and when they are wigs, she puts on rubber gloves, dips the wigs into big pails of water and squeezes them out with her hands. She plugs in a blow dryer and curling iron and brings out a tray of mousse, gel, hairspray, combs and brushes. She spends hours combing and tweaking each wig, and fits them over white plaster heads that sit in rows on shelves along the back wall. On sunny days the blinds are closed so you can’t see in, and when it’s cloudy, she pulls the blinds open and there are more wigs than on the day before: dark reds, nut browns, jet blacks, a wavy blond one and a few that look orange. Sometimes all the heads have wigs on them; sometimes they’re bare. One day my favourite wig—the thick blond one with the waves—was gone. Maybe the new owner is a cross-dresser, or a chemo patient, or perhaps a married woman who wants to change the dull-eyed way her husband looks at her. On Sundays the blinds are always closed. What do plaster heads do on their day off?
Most afternoons, she cleans the heads that don’t have wigs with a feather duster, and sometimes she cradles two or three in her arms close to her chest, wipes them with a washcloth and rocks back and forth. Last week she got up on a stepladder to reach for the black crimped wig and bumped one of the heads, and it teetered for a moment, then fell and hit the desk and smashed into pieces. She climbed down, picked up a dustpan and brush, and dropped from view. I imagined her on her hands and knees on the floor, sweeping and crawling along. When she got up, she put away the scissors and glue, tucked the hair into bins, sat by the window and rested her head in her hands. She was still sitting there, head in hands, hours later when it got dark. The next day was cloudy and she pulled open the blinds and stood in front of the shelves. She did not take off her coat. She did not slide rubber gloves over her slim hands. She just stood there and stared at the heads. Eventually she climbed the ladder and rearranged the heads according to the colour of their wigs, from light to dark, and when she was finished, she pushed the work desk away from the window and turned off the lights.