The Wig Store

Edith Katcher
BFA SC 2026

I sit behind the antique counter in the corner of the wig store, counting the pieces of fake hair from across the room. The variations of hairdos rest silently in the narrow store. Its windowless walls wear a dramatic red velvet texture. There are about 5 short black pixie cuts, about 11 long blonde wigs, a row for colorful hair. Each section for different textures, lengths, vibrancies, hues. $12, $13, $17. Their colors are especially bright today. I like the orange bob. $19. My eyes start to sting after looking at it for so long. The silence of the small room amplifies in my ears and I can taste the sour wig fibers from all the way over here. The thinly shaped store seems to get skinnier by the minute. It’s about that time of day when I start to dissociate a little bit. When the wooden clock strikes 5:00 PM the natural light starts to go away and I can no longer see clearly in this windowless store. I feel detached from my body as I put the orange bob over my dark brown hair. I like the itchiness of the monofilament crown. The reflection of the dim store seems to lengthen as I smile at myself in the small round mirror.

My attention suddenly shifts to the short old man who enters the wig store. I get excited; no one has walked in all day. I quickly put on the bright green apron with my misspelled name tag, Agitha. My back cracks as I straighten my posture, startling the old man. He looks familiar, like I’ve seen him hundreds of times. I can’t quite put my finger on it. He’s small, balding, hunched. I am looking for a thick black wig, preferably a bowl cut, the man mumbles. I forget how to compile words for a second, for I haven’t talked to anyone in a few days. Instead of responding, I get up off of the uncomfortably tall seat and fetch him a black bowl-cut wig from shelf #5. $14. The man has a judgmental aura so I quickly rest the wig on his head and return to my corner. I see him grin in the mirror and adjust the body of locks on top of his hairless scalp. I continue to adjust my orange wig so it can pass as my own. I wear a new wig every day, acting according to the hair’s characteristics. I feel more comfortable as an ever-changing entity. I embody silence today in my orange bob.

It is 8:07 PM, the time I usually stop working. I clean up the untouched store a tad bit and rearrange the wigs. I take the long red curls, $25, off of the mannequin, and replace it with the orange bob. I feel as naked as the mannequin now that the wig is no longer placed on my sweaty head. I go about my usual closing routine, sweeping floors, polishing cabinets, readjusting every little aspect of the store so everything is perfect and contained. The dramatically framed picture of my grandmother hangs slanted on the wall. I longingly look at the black-and-white photo—Grandma stands proudly next to my mother in front of a large neon sign—wig store, this way. A red arrow points at an awkward angle. Their similarly shaped angular faces stare back at me eerily.

Grandma had a deep love for wigs, you see. A few decades back, she owned a button factory. During her first year working there, she developed alopecia and quickly converted the factory into a wig store. She was very tall and lean. Her skin was soft and hairless. She was obsessed with the theater—its costumes and characters; the sets and audiences; an excuse to hide behind another personality. The wig store became her theater as she pranced around in her hand-knit costumes and wigs. She turned the basement into her studio where she accumulated human and animal hair. She would collect most of this hair from the backs of people’s sweaters or she would go to pet groomers and snatch some dog hair. She was always envious of my curly brown hair and would trim it daily for her collection. Grandma would spend every hour of every day weaving the hair together until they looked like beautiful, wearable shapes. The only time she would leave was to flaunt her new creations, though she was most confident in her dark brown wig that was made out of Gail, her pet horse.

Mother and I would be upstairs working at the counter to sell Grandma’s wigs. When the store wasn’t busy, which was usually the case, we would spend time playing hide and seek. I loved hiding in changing room #3. She would always take a long time to find me and when she did, she would be wearing a different wig. I would break out in hysterics on most occasions. Our days were fairly predictable up until the day I hid in Grandma’s studio instead of in the third dressing room. The day I felt a hairball in my throat. The day I lost my personality. The day Mother left us. The way Grandma didn’t do anything about it. The way I didn’t understand. The way I started wearing wigs. The way I stayed silent. The way Grandma died.

I realize that I have been blankly staring at the photo for a few minutes. I have a bad taste in my mouth now so I quickly adjust the slanted frame and resume my unnecessary tasks. Once I am too exhausted to see straight, I step into the second dressing room at the back of the store and remove the floorboards. I walk down the spiral staircase and into Grandma’s old studio. I flop onto my polka dot-covered bed that rests in the corner of the dim room. I have slept in this bed alone every night since Grandma died. We used to sleep in it together. I lay there and stare at the peeling ceiling. I have the urge to peel my dry skin. I turn my head to look at Grandma’s old knitting station. There are about 6 wigs lined up on the opposite wall—her prized possessions. I feel a bit sick to my stomach for some reason, like I’m choking on a hairball.

The next morning, I am awakened by a knocking sound coming from upstairs. I look at the metal clock hazily and realize I overslept. I was supposed to open the store an hour ago. I suddenly notice an odd weight on my head. I peel off a blonde wig. $24. I don’t remember putting that on, I don’t remember what I did last night. Blonde hair was Mother’s favorite. The knocking gets louder. I jolt up and quickly throw on one of Grandma’s extravagant silver dresses alongside her long brown horse wig. My reflection on the staircase door looks like Grandma. My heart skips a beat before I weakly climb the steps and shuffle to the front door. I flip the closed sign to open and unlock the door.

An older woman stands outside the store. She has a thick black bowl cut and wears a red dress that seems a tad short for her age. Her face is coated with makeup, though her wrinkles are still very apparent. Hello, dear, you look dazzling today. She says this in a raspy voice as she steps past me into the store. I watch the woman shimmy into the colorful hair section. Can I help you with anything ma’am? I ask as Grandma’s wig seems to embody confidence today. The woman doesn’t respond but instead looks back at me wearing a cheeky smile. I feel a tad uncomfortable so I hide behind my horse hair and frolic to the counter to set up for the repetitive day ahead. I crave the predictable rhythm of my days, for it is all I have left of my family.

The wooden clock ticks and ticks and ticks. It’s been quite a while and the woman in the thick black bob is still lingering. It seems as if she’s tried on every wig in the store by now. I’ve counted every piece of sequin on my dress, every floorboard, every crack in the ceiling by now. Are you sure you don’t need help finding anything specific, ma’am? I stand up and walk toward her. The artificial light seems to sink into her caked skin as I move closer.

I’m just looking for a fun present to give to my son, it’s his birthday next week, she says with her back towards me. Her thick black bob is now cocked off to the side in a sort of disturbing manner. There is a blonde strand peeking out from underneath. I realize that my horse wig is doing the same thing. Which wig do you prefer? she asks. I hesitantly point at the mannequin who is wearing the orange bob. She walks over to the plastic body and gently stares at it for a minute or so. I stare at the woman for the same amount of time. I start to feel the hairball in my throat again.

Both Mother and Grandma would stare at everything for a long time. They would devour every single aspect of our world with their senses. I felt very seen as a child because of this. Every single movement of mine was watched and observed. They would understand the way I felt depending on my reaction to the wigs they would dress me in. I began to crave this attention as a child. I suddenly start to crave Mother’s intense laugh, her sweet smell, her gentle demeanor, her intense eyes. I crave to be squeezed by her manly hands.

The woman in the thick black bowl cut is standing at the counter holding the orange bob. I walk over and ring her up. There’s a part of me that doesn’t want to sell this wig so I package it up very slowly. I stroke the wig with my skinny fingers. I even smell it discreetly before handing it to the woman. Our hands touch briefly. My small pointer finger gets lost underneath her large thumb. The scent of her intensely sweet perfume is familiar. She quickly smiles and then leaves. I mourn her company. I envy her slightly. She gets to leave the store with a wig. She gets to live her life outside of the wig. She gets to explore her own desires, just like Mother did the day she left me.

It is 8:07 PM, the time I usually stop working. I clean up the untouched store a tad bit and rearrange the wigs. I go about my usual closing routine, sweeping floors, polishing cabinets, readjusting every little aspect of the store so everything is perfect and contained. I stare at myself in the mirror of changing room #3 after scrubbing its mirrors. My eye bags look as if they are dragging on the floor. I notice a small rip in the sequined dress. My striped underwear peeks through. I comb Grandma’s horsehair with my fingers and smile at myself softly.

Edith Katcher loves writing fiction.