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Avery made himself comfortable in the chair closest to the window.  The mirror he faced was scratched and cloudy, and covered on all sides with stickers, taped-up photos, and Magic Marker graffiti.

Then she was there, standing behind him.  Nona.  She finished tying on an apron and pushed at his head, this way and that, roughly.

“Maybe shorter on the sides and—”  Avery began.  The music changed to that song by the Killers that had been everywhere last summer.

“Yeah, I’ll take it from here,” Nona said, not meeting his eyes in the mirror.  Avery grinned, and shut up.  He watched her razor up the back of his neck and scissor-snip the top into a wild, spiky tangle.  She worked her mouth as she bent to check how even things were on the sides, and muttered something to herself, her warm breath puffing against his earlobe.

Avery checked her style—the beat-up, half-laced work boots, a cheap silver snake thing clamped around her upper arm—and recognized it, of course.  She was one of his kind.  But there was something else: Nona’s face, pale, and faint lines on her forehead.  Purple skin under her eyes.  Her hair, a mess of twisted black dreadlocks, had streaks of grey growing out from the roots.  Why did that set his heart humming?  Avery wondered.  The way her strong bare arms did, and the heavy softness of her breasts under the apron front.

The whole cut took less than ten minutes.  He thanked her, and she nodded, wiping her hands on a small towel after flicking it down his shoulders.

Avery paid the guy on the stool his forty bucks, and checked his wallet for a tip.  All he had was another twenty.  “I don’t have any change,” the manager said, shrugging.  He slipped an earpiece in, unconcerned.

Avery turned to Nona.  “Just my luck,” she said.  “Don’t worry about it.”

“This you?” he asked, reaching over to touch a battered postcard stuck in one corner of her mirror.  He’d been staring at it during the haircut, a grainy black-and-white image of a woman bent forward and howling into a microphone.  He pulled it out.  Dates and clubs were printed on the back.

Nona looked up into his face as he studied the card.  “It’s my last one.”

He handed her the twenty.  “I’ll take this as change.”  One of the Mohawk dudes snorted, a hooting laugh that both Nona and Avery ignored.  One half-turning-up of her mouth, that’s all Avery allowed himself to savor, standing there, one beat of perfection passing between them.  Then he pushed back out onto Thompson with the postcard stuck in his pocket, hands shaking in a powerful kind of jones, grinning at everyone and no one, just like your basic village idiot.

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EMILY GRAY TEDROWE is the author of the novel Commuters (Harper Perennial 2010). Her short fiction has appeared in Other Voices and the Crab Orchard Review, and received a Literary Award from the Illinois Arts Council. Born in New York City, she now lives in Chicago with her husband and two daughters; on the internet, she’s at www.emilygraytedrowe.com.

6 responses to “An Excerpt from Commuters

  1. dwoz says:

    No Fair!

    this is like taking out a big box of chocolate Grand Marnier truffles, and eating one in front of me!

    Can’t I at least get a sniff or perhaps a lick?

  2. I was lucky enough to get to read this book in advance and blurb it! This is a captivating story of love and family. Beautifully told! Go Emily!!! Everyone READ THIS BOOK: http://www.amazon.com/Commuters-Novel-Emily-Gray-Tedrowe/dp/0061859478/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1278121197&sr=1-1

    In other news… what happened to my picture???? Does this have something to do with my hard drive imploding?

  3. zoe zolbrod says:

    Love that he loves her gray hair. I’m going to order to the book.

  4. Marni Grossman says:

    Love this. Your language is so vivid. Particularly liked the last line: ” Then he pushed back out onto Thompson with the postcard stuck in his pocket, hands shaking in a powerful kind of jones, grinning at everyone and no one, just like your basic village idiot.”

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