By Bud Smith

Short Story

Good Luck: Episode Fifty-Four


Yesterday, at work, my bald coworker told me about the worst haircut of his life. How he had known it was going to get fucked it up before it happened. As he walked towards the barbershop, he saw through the plate glass window. A lone blue-dressed woman, slumped over asleep. The barber. He opened the door and jangled the bell real loud, still she slept. So he went back outside, came back in, and really jangled the bell aggressively, shook the door. That didn’t work either. He stood in the center of the shop, between piles of other people’s hair. A yellow pile. A red pile. Two black piles. Where was the broom? He tried to will her awake. She began to snore. He thought to leave but had to get the haircut and there was no other place to go. He was in a wedding party that evening. He reached out and gently touched her blue shoulder. She gasped. “Oh my God. How did that happen?” She wiped drool from her mouth. She stood up, pointed to the chair. He sat down. She asked what kind of haircut he wanted. He told her number twos on the side, fade the top. She stood over him with the buzzer. “Honey, you need Rogaine.” He realized she was drunk. He said, “It’s not bad.” She said, “If you start now maybe you can save a little.” Then she put the buzzer into his head, cut a crooked ditch all the way to the scalp. There was nothing he could do but sit there through the worst haircut of his life. And he’d known it was coming. He’d known to turn back. He even tipped her. When his wife came home, she said, “What the hell happened to you?” She sat him down on the toilet lid, shaved his head clean.

After work I went to the bank for the first time in a year to cash a paycheck. I remembered my checking account on the first try and was proud. On the way out, a down-and-out security guard gave me a provocative wink. Across the highway I saw Taco Bell. I pulled into the lot but it was complicated. Taco Bell was to the far north of the lot and I couldn’t get here. Unwittingly I drove into a Burger King drive thru and was almost trapped. I saw my error, I threw the car in reverse. I went around the Burger King and was forced back out onto the highway on the south side of the lot. That was fine. I’d enter the main vein of the lot past the Burger King and would be able to get to the Taco Bell through some maze-snake means. But then I saw a Wendy’s on the far west side of the lot and thought okay, I’ll settle for that in convenience. So I drove to Wendy’s but there was a line of ten cars and so forget that. In the distance the Taco Bell sign loomed. Now I wasn’t so sure the lot went that far. But I thought I saw the path. On the way, I passed a dollar store and a tire shop. But the northwest corner had a Popeye’s. So I went in there instead. Happy. And got the new chicken sandwich. It took a long time. Two young lovers were leaning against the soda machine, staring at their phones. A woman with scrambled hair asked them to move. She got a diet cherry Coke. When she was finished, the young lovers went back to leaning against the soda machine. Why there? I asked them to move. I clicked Coke Zero. Cherry too. I sat in my car and ate the chicken sandwich. It was very hot but I didn’t want to wait for it to cool. I took a bite and opened my mouth and exhaled out quick and deep to cool it. I watched people walk into the supermarket empty handed. I saw a man walk out carrying an armful of colorful carrots. Purple and yellow and orange. The chicken sandwich had some kind of cornflake breading I wasn’t crazy for. And it had no seasoning. I guess I’m more of a Kentucky Fried guy. I chewed the chicken sandwich. Someone had died recently, been killed in a Popeye’s for the sandwich. I guess that’s how they had gotten me on the hook.

That night, while in bed, I wondered if I’d changed. The easiest way to find out, without waking my wife, was to get out of bed, and walk down the hallway, open the hallway closet, and try on my winter coat. It fit. It hadn’t fit in a long time. But it did now. I wasn’t old enough to believe it fit because I was dying. So I believed it fit again because I had improved. I shut the light off and walked back to bed. She asked me where I’d gone. I told her the good news.

This morning, Happy Thanksgiving. I just woke up to a red cardinal, repeatedly flying into the large window between this room and the rest of the world. The cardinal may never get what it wants. Here it goes again, trying anyway.

artwork by Ileen Kaplan



BUD SMITH lives in Jersey City and works construction. He is the author of the novel Teenager (Vintage, 2022), among others.

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