Kitty's nails are long as the road out of Flashtown, and the cigarettes she smokes on the sly cause them to yellow. But she's in Nellie's Hair Salon, and Nellie doesn't give up anybody's secrets though she knows every last one of them.
Kitty's weeping even as her hand hovers over the bowl of cuticle softener. "It's that sad song," she says. Loretta Lynn's "Love is Like Bad Noodles" plays on the boom box.
"Hon, let's face it," Nellie whispers. "You started the waterworks cause a Wylie."
Wylie Brown broke it off with Kitty just because she squirted a beer in his face. The Whack-Job Girls think Wylie's an idiot, but Kitty's the only one in town without a husband, so they try to understand. They wouldn't want to be alone.
That's what the men have started calling the regulars at Nellie's since all the trouble started, the Whack-Job Girls. And the Girls call them the Short-Fuse Dudes. The Girls don't have to sit around and take it. Not according to Oprah.
Ever since they started reading Oprah's magazine—left on a table at Lee Fong's new restaurant—every last one of them has realized Flashtown is behind the times in the man/woman department. The Dudes can't believe they have the gall to read that magazine and eat at Fong's. Since then, the women have pooled their money for a subscription in Kitty's name since she, after all, is the one without the husband.
That's also the reason Kitty is the one getting hot pink hair extensions—she has no one to forbid her. None of the women in O wear shags anymore. Why should they have to?
"So you gonna get back with him?" one of the Girls asks.
"He's a good guy," Kitty says. She sings:
You asked me if I wanted Top Ramen
Like you cared about me oodles
But when you don't keep it hot enough
Love is like bad noodles.
"He's not worth it," says the Girl. "His bank is shutting down the little people—wouldn't even let Lee Fong fill out a loan application for the restaurant. He ain't even give a white person a loan in six months. Unless you already got a combine and don't need the money anywho."
Nellie and the Girls aren't teenagers anymore. Now that they can buy pies in town as well as make them, they've started talking about what really matters. Like yesterday afternoon, six of them hoofed over to the post office and tore into the postmaster for opening one of his old fling's letters. The Short-Fuse Dudes wanted to laugh it off.
"Natural curiosity is all," the Rexall pharmacist shouted over the Change of Address cards.
"No woman deserves to have her private business shown around," Nellie shouted back. And she should know since she's the one who gave the postmaster's fling a paraffin treatment last spring to soften her hands. Nellie knows who needs softness in their lives, and it's her job to provide it.
The postmaster wouldn't let it go. "She shouldn't write what she don't want people to read."
The Whack-Job Girls squirt setting gel through post office boxes. "We'll have you arrested on federal violations," the pharmacist says, "if every one of you don't march home and start dinner pronto."
What could the women do? If the FBI drove over, who'd fix the kids' meals and get them to school? Who'd be the only one in the house who could find the hemorrhoid lotion—sitting right inside the medicine cabinet? Nellie's husband's doctor says he won't cut his hemorrhoids off unless they're dragging on the ground and the dog's chewing on them.
So, yes, today the Girls at Nellie's indulge the Noodle song for the fifth time since they know Kitty's hurting and they've got to stand together.
You took me to the Noodle Shop
And ordered me the Pad Se Eu
Your cell phone kept a'ringin
Cause so many ladies are after you.
Wylie, Kitty's man until yesterday, bursts into Nellie's salon: "Kitty, this hissy fit of yours is all over Flashtown. It's ridiculous. If you hadn't yelled at the new manager over at the pet store for feeding the mouse to the snake and then squirted me with the beer, we'd still be together."
"You were rude."
The Whack-Job Girls quietly put down their scissors and blow dryers and step forward.
"And eating at Mr. Fong's so-called Great Wall of China Buffett," Wylie says. "That bean crud'll poison everyone. Flashtown's flash-fried steaks with white bean mash and butter beans put us on the map."
"Oh, Wylie. I knew you cared. Barging in like this." Kitty waves her hands like she's going to fly off, trying to get her polish to dry.
"People don't all have to be the same, Wylie," Nellie says, stepping in front of Kitty. "We're tired of it. We want us some culture."
The new pet store manager, who has a tattoo of a Chinese serpent wrapped all the way around his upper arm, fangs bared, opens the door.
"I come to apologize," he says. "Not everyone likes snakes. Name's Jeremiah." He holds out a meaty hand to Kitty.
The women can't take their eyes off his serpent, though mostly they're admiring his muscly, tattooed arm, his thick neck burgeoning from a worn tank top, the pelts of hair under his arms. His cute little behind fills out a pair of Levis, like they've seen in O. A few of them sigh.
"Now ladies," Wylie says. "This ain't proper. You're all married."
Jeremiah and Kitty can't seem to stop shaking hands, touching. "I like a man who's willing to apologize," Kitty says. "But forcing a gal to watch a mouse get sliced bloody by a snake isn't right."
Jeremiah winks. "I haven't been able to get that snake to eat all week," he says softly. "I thought the poor girl was going to die on me. I should have been paying more attention."
"I'd call that art," Kitty says, turning his hand still in hers to get a better look at the coiling reptile on his arm. "This meeting was meant to be, what with me seeing that snake finally eating a meal. You have a girl, mister?"
"But, Kitty," Wylie says.
"If you wait right here, honey," she says to Jeremiah, "I'd like to talk to you about that art form on your arm. Over a beer?"
Then she and Nellie step out into the alley to talk over their latest cultural find and have a smoke.
BIO: Bonnie ZoBell has received an NEA Creative Writing Fellowship, a PEN Syndicated Fiction Award, and the Capricorn Novel Award. Recently included on Wigleaf's 2009 Top 50 list for very short fiction, she has work included or forthcoming in The Los Angeles Review, Night Train, Storyglossia, American Fiction, The Greensboro Review, decomP, Rumble, and NO--Journal. She received an MFA from Columbia, teaches at San Diego Mesa College, and can be reached at www.bonniezobell.com.