An excerpt from a new story by Reneé Bibby, published in the first Splice anthology
Grown out from a close shave, Kingston’s hair spoke to the woman beside him on the number six bus: tiny, high-pitched voices in unison admired the boldness of the flowers on her blouse. Kingston thought, Not this old rigmarole. The woman grinned up at his hair, which was long enough now to start coiling in a slight poof, and started a story about finding the blouse with the tags still on it at the Goodwill half-price sale, and kept talking even as Kingston tried to read the Times.
At work, Kingston went straight to the bathroom to look at his hair in the mirror. He told it to behave. His hair made no promises.
Kingston liked his job. Upper management asked for his input, sometimes took his advice. His direct reports gave him positive ratings on semi-annual reviews. He watched the network TV shows and kept up with sports, so he had material for chats in the breakroom. He played weekend golf well enough to keep up on the occasional outing, but not so well as to be taken as ambitious. He bought Girl Scout cookies and overpriced wrapping paper for his coworkers’ kids’ fundraisers. If someone asked him a question, he usually knew the answer.
We are two years away from retirement; we have a good setup, he thought to his hair at the meeting. Do not rock the boat. Do not.
“Anything else about third-quarter projections?” asked Jim.
“Given the yearly return margins, we should invest in flexible work schedules for staff,” said Kingston’s hair.
Jim glanced at the hair, then at Kingston’s face. “What was that?”
Do not share private conversations I’ve had with others!
Kingston’s hair went on ahead: “Marsha in accounting has run some preliminary numbers and it seems feasible to implement without a loss of productivity.”
All eyes swiveled to Marsha. “Well,” she said, “it — it does.”
“Kingston’s… hair?” Jim said. “What’s this about?”
No way Kingston would let his hair take over. “My staff,” he said in a rush so fast it was almost a splutter, “my staff have been asking about more flexibility. Some of them drive down from Vancouver and that’s an hour’s commute. They have kids to pick up, and sometimes parents to take care of. We’ve seen lower than usual satisfaction numbers on the staff survey, so I had Marsha run some numbers. Some preliminary data—”
“The Stanford work survey,” his hair interjected.
“—has indicated a higher level of employee output in flexible schedule setups. We could test a pilot group with some options.”
Other managers murmured support for the project. Jim surveyed the room before arriving at a decision. “Well, then, Marsha,” he said. “Get me the numbers. We’ll take a look and get back to you.”
In the bathroom, Kingston threatened to shave his head if his hair ever spoke out at a meeting again.
“Hey,” his hair argued back, “you couldn’t have asked for a better opening to pitch the idea!”
“That wasn’t a pitch meeting. That’s not the order of operations! I had a meeting set up with Ron and he—”
“Ron? That joker? Nah, he’ll steal all the credit.”
“So what? If that’s what it takes to get the program up and running.”
“Why are you hiding behind Ron?”
“I’m not hiding! I don’t have an ego that needs feeding. My way is smart. Political. Understanding how to work a system for optimal outcomes.”
“You mean, it’s making sure the idea has a white person push-ing it forward.”
Kingston saw his own look of rage in the bathroom mirror and wondered if it were powerful enough to sear the hair off his head. He said, “This is not about race.”
A toilet flushed and Matt DiGorgi clanged out of one of the stalls. He was a potato-shaped Accounts Payable intern with a thicket of overgrown curls an unfortunate shade of Ronald McDonald red. He edged towards the adjacent sink with an apologetic glance at Kingston and hunched to wash his freckled hands with an epidemiologist’s ideal amount of soap and time, murmuring, “Sorry, sorry, just, ah, a second,” all the while. At the towel dispenser the cheap feed jammed. Flushed and sweating, Matt rammed big fingers into the gap to eke out a few strips of paper. He dared to look into Kingston’s eyes in the mirror. He gestured to his own curls, “Hair, ammirite?”
“Get the hell out of here, man!” the hair hollered.
Matt scuttled away, trailing apologies after him: “Sorry, yes, right, sorry!”
“You’re fooling yourself if you don’t know that everything is about race,” said the hair.
Kingston pointed at his hair. “I’m picking up fresh razors on my way home.”
Read ‘That Boy’ in full in the first Splice anthology, which is available to order now.