The Love Whisperer
by Raymond Luczak
People say that I’m a love whisperer. I don’t see myself quite that way at all. I’m a beautician with her own salon on Suffolk Street right across from where Hulstrom’s News Stand used to be.
If you’re a man, you’ve probably never cared. I’m a slightly overweight middle-aged woman who hasn’t gotten around to wearing mom jeans and loose-fitting tops. I’m the proverbial woman on the street whose name you’d never know even if we’ve acknowledged each other with a nod for years.
But if you’re a woman needing a little help with your relationship, well—you come right to me and get a nice haircut.
When I was a little girl, downtown Ironwood was jumping alive, especially on Fridays. You couldn’t find a parking space on Aurora Street. Now we’re lucky to see more than three cars parked there.
Each block used to be jammed with stores. JCPenney is now a gym. Montgomery Ward is a small shoe store. There are several pawnshops now. Here and there is a vacant lot, a missing tooth in the smile of business boosterism. These gaps have been left alone long enough to bring back the rustle of saplings digging deeper to take root.
My favorite department store, S&L, is now a corner park with a pair of benches. The overwhelming green of shrub and sapling is like a moss snaking up on the tree of my memories.
Even the Diamond Shop has become a maroon-flavored coffeehouse that tries to be trendy, but it isn’t Starbucks. The shadows inside can’t evict my recollections of Rocky Russo, hunched over my watch under a lamp, as he fixed it.
Each building still standing has a story. People come and go, but its bricks have collected dreams of break-even wealth like flies caught in the cobweb of time. My salon is in the oldest building downtown, but no one seems to care about this fact.
At one time, when the mines were in full swing, thirty thousand people lived here in Ironwood.
The last mine closed in 1967. All the pits had gone dry. People began leaving.
Sometimes I still see them walking around town as if they’ve never left. There’s a lot of good-ol’-days residue in this town. It’s in the oxygen we breathe.
Some people left behind have taken to drink.
Some go reluctantly on welfare and grumble at their lot in life.
Some volunteer at the Ironwood Area Historical Society at the depot where they brush the dust off the displays of the town’s glory days. When we fought in both World Wars, Ironwood was so damn proud of its iron ore.
Others carry on and do what they can do. They meet every morning for coffee at Mickey D’s and socialize in funeral homes until their kids return to clear out their houses for sale so they can afford to move their parents into a local nursing home.
Ironwood, Michigan has five thousand people now.
Twenty years ago I made a foolish mistake.
I slept with Jim, hoping that he’d impregnate me. That he was divorced with four kids didn’t matter to me. He was the handsomest man I’d ever seen. I didn’t want a husband again, but I wanted a child. We had met at the Midway Bar, and every Saturday night we’d get tipsy and laugh at the worst jokes we could ever think of.
I never went home with him, though. I was content with being tipsy, but he wasn’t. He always had to get roaring drunk.
But that one night—well, I had needs that couldn’t be met in any other way. I think I was a little in love with him. You could say that my ex-husband pretty much killed my notion of an all-encompassing love.
A few months later I began having fevers and night sweats. Even though I hadn’t missed a period, I wondered whether I was finally pregnant.
Dr. Faulkner assured me that according to my test results, I wasn’t. I had it, the thing that was blasting all over on the news. I’d seen pictures of thin men curling up with their fingers at the camera. I never could tell if they were ready to fight or die.
But me? I couldn’t believe it. I wasn’t in the habit of sleeping around!
I wanted to yell at the world: why me, why me, why me? I’d just started up my salon.
I had to educate myself about my new disease. Protease inhibitors had just come on the market. I was lucky.
I tried to tell Jim, but he was too much of a drunk to care. I stopped going to the Midway.
He died not long after in a car accident off the highway. I don’t think he’d ever understood.
When I cut and trim my client’s hair, I can often sense whether her man hasn’t appreciated her lately, so I probe carefully with questions.
I listen. That’s what I’m really good at.
Then I whisper in her ear: act as if you’re no longer married. You don’t have to serve your man 24/7.
You see, the problem is that most men soon take their women for granted.
I should know. I lived with such a jerk. He was so full of himself that he couldn’t believe that anyone would dare walk out on him. I sure kicked his ego in the butt.
For the first time in my life I started believing I wasn’t a failure. My business is proof enough.
Some angry husbands have stormed into my salon and called me a few choice names.
Don’t blame me, I always say. If you’d just paid attention and treated her right, she wouldn’t have asked for help. So you better listen to her.
They leave in such a huff that I almost laugh.
I hate going to the pharmacy off Lake Street where I pick up my refills. Any pharmacist would know what I’ve got just from looking at my prescription. No one in town knows.
There’s a brown-haired young man whose eyes are always in a slight grip of fear when he sees me while on duty.
I get so pissed because he should know better. Hadn’t he studied illness in college?
Each time I see him, I want to whisper over the counter into his ear: don’t you give me that look because, hey, one day you could get it too.
Then I remember why he’s so afraid.
After twenty years it’s still jarring to overhear conversations where folks throw around words like “clean” and “disease-free” as if they know what they’re talking about. I leave educational pamphlets by my salon’s front door. It’s not ideal, but it’s better than nothing. Ignorance and fear are too easily contagious in small towns like mine.
You see, I just don’t cut hair. When I listen to my clients, I don’t judge. Whatever I whisper, I always fight for love. Always.
Raymond Luczak is the author and editor of nineteen books. His latest title, The Kinda Fella I Am: Stories, comes out in November 2017. He lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and online at raymondluczak.com.