We're closing up shop for the winter break now at HLO, so we hope you enjoy the rest of the holidays and see you in the New Year! Our final yuletide treat is an excerpt from Krisztina Tóth's Pixel: The Hair's Story.
The Hair’s Story
It’s snowing again, a tall man in a hat and a young blonde woman stroll around the small pop-up forest of dead pine trees. It takes years for this kind of tree to grow to two metres and be cut down. The woman was practically a child when the forest these trees came from was planted.
One of the trees they find too tall, another too sparse. Besides they don’t want a regular spruce, they want a Nordmann fir because it drops less. They split up and continue searching about between the rows. Eventually the man considers one to be about right and gestures to her, this one’ll do.
‘Helga,’ he shouts, ‘come here!’
‘Oh, it’s too big for my place,’ she shakes her head.
‘We always get one this size,’ he shrugs, ‘the taller the better.’
He’s about to add that the children love tall ones but he stops himself just in time. The woman doesn’t answer and goes on looking around herself. Eventually they pick out a short, dumpy little tree. He pays.
The seller pushes the fir into the funnel-shaped, clever little contraption and it draws a net tightly over the tree. The man lifts the longish bundle onto his shoulder and carries it to the car like some kind of hog-tied hostage. The seller looks on, and claps his chilly hands a few times in his fur-lined gloves.
The man lowers the back seat and slides the tree in from behind. The woman sits in the front and glances down at the compartment beside the gear-stick. There’s a CD in it and a hairbrush, full of long, dark hairs.
She has long hair too but she’s fair-haired. We can’t see it now unfortunately because it’s tucked up under her hat, only her fringe is showing. Probably because of the snow, she obviously didn’t want it to get wet.
They arrive at the newly-built apartment block. In the stairwell they prop up the tree and call the lift. They get out on the fourth floor, the woman lives in the loft space. Suddenly she thinks of last year and the year before, and the year before that too, when she always hoped that they’d be spending the next Christmas together. She watches the man, as he routinely carries the fir through the living room and puts it out on the balcony. She knows that in a second he’ll put his arms around her, he’ll tell her again how much he loves her, then in a warm tone promise that he’ll definitely pop over between Christmas and New Year’s.
The living room’s already decorated, an Advent wreath is on the coffee table. In the corner is a blue luminous globe now wrapped in silver ribbons. Until two hours ago the woman had hoped that they would have a little time, maybe even make love. She’d put a bottle of dry champagne out on the balcony to chill. She’d been in the bathroom doing her hair when over the hairdryer she heard her mobile ring. All the man said was he wouldn’t have much time, and they could buy the tree but afterwards he had to rush off.
Now the woman takes out a tiny package, tied with a ribbon, and asks him to open it specifically on Christmas. If not under the tree, then at least that evening. He’s embarrassed and says he planned to bring her present after Christmas. The truth is he hasn’t bought it yet because he hasn’t been able to get to a shopping centre on his own, but of course he can’t admit that.
The next day he means to go shopping in the morning but he doesn’t make it. Once again he’s wandering about the little pop-up forest of dead fir trees. He picks out a nice tall one. The same seller in the padded bodywarmer draws the net over the fir tree as the day before. Who wonders to himself, didn’t he see the same bloke yesterday with a blonde woman, but he’s not sure.
‘You’re sweet for putting the seat down already,’ says the slender dark-haired woman beside the man when they reach the car. They slide the tree in and drive off.
At home he wedges the Christmas tree into the stand. They bought a majestic black pine, the star on the top brushes against the ceiling. The father brings up the decorations from the garage, and then drives to Granny’s. They’re to be back by five, everything will be ready by then. His wife asks him to buy some fairy lights and angel hair to decorate the tree from the stand in the street if it’s still open, because last year’s lights are completely gone.
It’s difficult to get away from Granny’s. She’s sick but she’s been let out of the hospital for a week, and she insists on the children spending the afternoon at hers. She doesn’t want to come over to theirs, she’d rather stay on Teréz Boulevard. Allegedly she has to defrost the fridge. She’s cooked monstrous portions of food, and when her son arrives she’s just searching for the tops to all the different Tupperware boxes. She lists what’s in what and then spends ages searching about for the gift tags she’d written earlier. The children whine, they want to watch the end of the burglar film at Granny’s, so the father decides to take the things down to the car until then.
Outside it’s a cold winter’s night, the snow is falling softly, the street is empty. The tree-seller spreads tarpaulin over the remaining trees, propped up against one another, and sets off home, the champagne on the woman’s balcony is just freezing. The man loads the Tupperware into the boot and remembers the surprise in the glove compartment. It’s dark now, it’s Christmas Eve, close enough; he decides to open it. He doesn’t have to fumble for too long, the ribbon comes undone easily and from the red paper pours a heap of thick, golden hair, cut off in one go.
Terrified, his heart pounding, he wraps it up in the paper again, pulls a plastic bag over it and puts it back in the glove compartment. On the way home he can’t pay attention to the slippery road or the children, his mind is running continuously on the hidden package. For a second he even considers throwing it away somewhere.
When they get home he sets down Granny’s boxes in the kitchen and goes back for the rest of the bags. The children are making a din and his wife calls from the kitchen:
‘Did you get some lights?’
And since there’s no answer, she asks again:
‘And angel hair?’
He starts at the word like he’d been caught red-handed and answers almost terrified:
‘I forgot. Shall I get some?’
Because if he’s told to run and get some, then he’d have another ten minutes, half an hour, a little gap in time outside in the cold air, in the snow-scented night, where the glass bauble of the moon hanging on the dark blue sky trembles, like it could come toppling down at any moment and shatter into pieces. Then there’d be some respite.
Translated by: Owen Good