Miles had been home-schooling his kids, Mark and Polly. It was tough. He was exhausted. Mark found it hard to stay on task, and he got cross with Miles, which made Miles feel like a bad teacher and an even worse father. The kids worked at the dining table. One day Miles was bent over the table, facing Mark, helping him spell the word APOCALYPSE. He heard Mark say, “Okay, baldy.” At first, he thought he might have said, “Okay, buddy,” but he hadn’t. He had said, “Okay, baldy.”
He told them to take a break and watch some Bluey. As the kids ran to the TV, Miles went to the bathroom. He twisted his neck to try and see the crown of his head in the mirror, but it was no use. He was pretty sure he wasn’t going bald, but he needed to know. He pulled out his phone, held it above the back of his head, and took photos of the crown. He looked at the photos; they did not lie. He had a bald patch. When he zoomed in on the patch, he could see that he had maybe five hairs per square centimetre. That was thin. He felt cold, and sweaty, too. How could this be happening? He had always had thick hair. People said his hair was luscious. Imposing. His father had a full head of white hair right up until he died. More importantly, his mother’s father had thick curly hair. Miles had not planned for this. He knew that at some point he would get fat and old and wrinkled, but he had counted on his hair not leaving him. That was the one thing he knew he had.
He didn’t see Polly standing in the doorway. She was like a ghost the way she did that. A bit creepy.
“Daddy, why are you taking photos of your head?”
“Do you want to know the truth?”
“My hair is falling out.”
“My dolly’s hair’s falling out, too.”
“But you still love your dolly, don’t you?”
“Not as much as I love my new one.”
That night, as his wife pulled on the old t-shirt she wore to bed, he said, “Can I ask you something?”
“Am I going bald?”
“I am! Look at my head! Mark called me baldy. I took some photos and he’s right, I have a bald patch.”
“Let me see.”
He knelt on the bed, and she stood behind him, peering down at the crown of his head.
“You’re maybe thinning out a little, but that’s natural.”
“Don’t you get it? This shit happens really fast. I have about six months left, and then I’m fucked!”
“Keep your voice down, Jesus.”
“Will you still want to cuddle me?”
“Cuddle you or cuddle you?”
“Please don’t joke about this.”
He didn’t sleep well that night. He went into a sort of panic attack that seemed to last hours, but not go past an eight out of ten panic-wise. All night, he made lists in his head of all the people he had wanted to talk to since he was a boy, but hadn’t because he hadn’t felt attractive enough. He realised he should have done it because now he would be ten times less attractive. In fact, if he were to have his hair for the rest of his life, he would find a fresh wellspring of confidence, even though he would be the same man he had always been. Fucking hair, man. It’s just hair! It’s dead skin cells or whatever. Dead blood cells.
The next day, when his wife was done with her work and the kids were glued to their screens, he went for a walk in the park. He saw a man sitting on a bench. The man had long hair, and the hair was damp from the shower. Miles had often toyed with the idea of growing his hair long — now he would never get the chance. How did this man dry his long hair? Did he use a hairdryer? Or did he flip it forward so it hung down over his face like a curtain? And did he rub it with a towel the way you rub sticks to make fire when you’re lost in the bush? Did it matter? The man was reading a book. Miles could not see the title of the book, but he could see the look on the man’s face. The man was trying to put out a sensitive intellectual vibe, and maybe the long hair was part of that. Miles was pretty certain all men who grew their hair long were like this, or they had been part of a rock scene when they were young. They had had some good times in that scene, the best times, and the hair was a way of never letting go of those times. Never ever.
Miles walked among the tall trees and thought about the man who worked in the local council. He was bald on top with a long ponytail going down the back. He also wore some sort of rock ‘n’ roll boots, and his wrists were clangy with bracelets. He was a bracelet guy. Some were leather but most of them were silver, and at least one of them had what you might call an amulet hanging off it. Miles wondered where he got these bracelets. Bali? Zurich? What was the bracelet selection process? What was it based on? What did a bracelet have to have for a man to stop and say “I must have that bracelet.” Miles wondered if he would turn into a bracelet guy. He needed something. Maybe a vintage motorbike, or a record collection, or Wing Chun, or UFC. Maybe he would have to get super jacked. He had seen lots of bald guys who build muscles to make up for the baldness. He has seen them as desperate, but now he had joined their ranks. And maybe that was okay.
On the other side of the park, he bent down to drink from the fountain. As he was lapping up the water, he saw Lola, a woman he had once worked with. She was one of those women who wore washed-out floral frocks from the Fifties, and she might have been fifty-five but she might have been thirty-five. More than once he had been in a meeting with her and had thought about removing her make-up with a credit card or spatula. Her Instagram bio said she was a baker, a shaker, a maker, and a procrastinator. She posted pictures of the things she baked, as well as photos of the men who popped up for a month or two and then disappeared. Miles had been in a company meeting once, with the entire company, like four hundred people, and he had been hovering several feet behind Lola. He heard her say to her friend: “Oh Miles? Yeah. Oh yeah, he has the best hair in the company.” It had made him so happy to hear that. He had a meeting later that day, and he thrashed it. He sold the fuck out of it. Had the whole room eating out of the palm of his hand. But there would be no more meetings like that. He did not have the best hair in the company. Or the park. Or even his family. He wiped the water from his chin, and he hid behind a tree, waiting for Lola to walk past.