The scabs across my forehead are thick reminders of Dad, but I don’t pick them. I touch them. Tap them. Tap four times. And four more. Stop it. Touch the handle of the straight razor instead. Rub it. Smooth it. Don’t pick the scabs. Think about blonde hair. I’ve collected enough black hair. And brown and red. Four colors in four days, all to make Mom come home.
I pass a blonde teenager in Times Square. Spin around. Follow her until she stops at a crosswalk. The straight razor is open in my hand. I grab her ponytail and slash four times, cutting off a good chunk. She jerks away. Shrieks. What the hell? I run, her hair clenched in my fist. Behind me someone asks what happened. That kid just cut off my hair! I count my strides. One-two-three-four. Jump over a sidewalk crack. Count again. Jump. Today is the fourth day. I’m off to a good start. Mom’s jacket swings as I run, the pockets fat with hair. Black. Brown. Red. In my head I see Mom at night, fancy in her red wig and red dress, leaving again to go to work. I beg her to stay. Evan, stop whining. You want to eat, don’t you? Wear my old jacket if you miss me. Don’t pick your forehead. I’ll be home tomorrow morning.
The next blonde is on the uptown Lexington train. I get off when she gets off, but there are too many people and I can’t get close. She cards herself into a secure building. I find another on the Westbound M34 bus. She’s with two friends. They go into Macy’s. She tries on earrings. Laughs. I laugh too. Once. Three more times. She sees me and hurries away. I follow her until a security guard walks me to the street.
I pick at a scab. The wind whips Mom’s jacket open. I zip it closed and put a hand into the pocket with the black hair. Soft. Curly. I clench it. Unclench it. Clench. Unclench. Four times. My other hand holds the straight razor inside the sleeve. One of four things Dad left when he split. The razor, a hole in the wall the size of my forehead, and two names. Bastard. Whore.
I stop picking my forehead and tap the scabs instead. I want to pick again. Need to pick again. But I tap. Four times across all the scabs, replacing the memory of Dad with one of Mom, fancy in her black dress and black wig. I beg her not to leave me alone with the hole. Don’t be stupid, Evan. Nothing’s going to climb out of the hole. Stop panicking. Don’t pick. Put on my jacket and go to bed.
It’s still the fourth day. Evening, but not dark. A blonde woman ahead of me has on a stocking cap. I weave through a small crowd and walk up next to her. She turns her head toward me. I yank off her hat. Brown hair at the roots. Not real blonde. She stops in shock. I keep walking, dropping her hat on the sidewalk. I have all the brown hair I need in the top left pocket of Mom’s jacket.
Mom looks pretty in her brown wig and blue dress. I’m unrolling all our toilet paper and stuffing it into the hole. It’s not enough. She shakes me. Evan! Stop putting everything down the hole! She snatches the roll. Stuffs it in her purse. Look at your face! She pulls the roll back out, unwinds a wad and pats my forehead. Three times. Mom, pat it again. She says no, stop being crazy. I can’t deal with you right now. Pat it again, please. She grabs her purse and heads for the door. I pat the toilet paper against my forehead one more time. Four pats. It comes away red with blood. Mom slams the door and leaves without telling me to wear her jacket.
Her jacket is my blanket. I’m shaking. I’ve failed. It’s the night of the fourth day and I haven’t collected enough blonde hair. I don’t see the stranger because my eyes are squeezed shut. Are you okay? I open them. She’s blonde. And nice. I sit up. She sits down. I pull out my razor. Can I have your hair? She screams. Jumps up. Trips and falls backward. I scramble onto her. She waves her arms at my razor. Blood drips across her face. I reach for her hair. Slice once. She pushes on my chest. Slice twice. She kicks out. Slice three times. She bites my arm. Slice four, and I roll away. Run away. She’s sobbing. Like Mom. What have you done? All my wigs? You sliced them all? Don’t cry, Mom. I put them in the hole, so Dad won’t come back.
She slaps me. Hard. I beg her to slap me three more times. She grabs her phone. Pushes buttons. Don’t call him. Please don’t call him. I won’t put things down the hole anymore. I won’t pick my scabs. She walks out the door, the phone pressed tight against her ear. I slap myself three times.
That was four days ago. Today, I’m happy. I did it. Four hair colors. Four days. I pull the hair from Mom’s jacket and put it in piles on the floor next to the wall with the hole. There’s enough here to make four new wigs. Mom will stop being mad and come home now. I still want to pick the scabs. Need to pick them. But I don’t. I put on her jacket and tap my forehead. Night goes away. Morning comes. Mom doesn’t. Still I don’t pick. I tap. And sit by the piles of hair. All day. Where are you, Mom? I tap my scabs. Four times. Eight times. Twelve. My fingers turn bloody. I keep tapping. Again, and again. And again.