Opal and Ruby went to the Curl Up & Dye Beauty Parlor to get all dolled up for the rodeo. Rhinestones and wranglers and ringlets abound. Opal was there to add curls to her straight blonde hair, so that she could look like Ruby, and Ruby was there to dye her curly red hair into blonde, so that she could look like Opal.
The girls were both sitting cross-legged in lime green chairs. They wore matching purple sequined tops and the fluorescent lights were flickering above them like the glowworms of summer that flicker in the grass. They spoke to each other through silver mirrored reflections with sideways mouths and loose tongues.
Opal said, “You ever think ‘bout what life would be like if Adam and Eve never did eat the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden?”
The salon smelled strong of bleach. Ruby had a glass heat-lamp on top of her head that looked like an alien brain-eating device and Opal’s head was pinned up like a poodle in curlers. The hairdresser set a timer and placed it on a counter between the girls.
Opal and Ruby, weren’t friends, they were twins- aged 16. Both of them were cowgirls all the way down to their vanilla hearts. They could rope ‘em, ride ‘em, and steer ‘em. They called themselves the Gemstone Sisters and everybody said they were the best trick riders that side of the Mississippi. People came from counties far and wide just to see them ride.
Before they entered an arena, the announcer would say, “If you like it wild, if you like it glamorous, then please welcome to the rodeo arena The Gemstone Sisters.” Then the audience would turn into a jungle of thunder.
The name of the twin’s horse was Pistol and together they would sit on him and run around the arena in a sparkling streak of acrobatics and horsemanship. They could ride sideways, upside down, standing without hands, stacked on top of each other, and through burning rings of fire. There is a dangerous elegance to trick riding and that’s what the girls both loved- the grit and the glitter, the mud and the make-up, the boots and the blood.
Ruby replied, “If Adam and Eve never did eat that apple, we’d all be naked in Paradise right now. Yep, we’d be naked and Alligator would be riding bulls in nothin’ but his birthday suit. Imagine that!”
Both of their eyes got as big as bullfrogs. Alligator was to bull riding what the girls were to trick riding. He was 18 with six feet of muscles, yellow hair, and blue eyes. Imagining Alligator naked on a bull got the twins stuck and glued to thoughts that stick with lust. The sisters turned into a carnival on the inside, they could almost feel Alligator mounting and riding them in a naked paradise.
Opal swiveled in her chair so fast, that it made her curlers bounce up and down. She looked straight at Ruby and said, “I didn’t know how to tell ya this sis, but Alligator invited me to be his date to the square dance tonight and afterwards I do plan on seeing him in his birthday suit.”
Ruby couldn’t even pretend to stuff her jealousy inside. Her face got red blotches all over it just like a tomato patch, and everything in her body soured, making her look like she’d been sucking on a lemon for far too long.
Ruby made a sharp inhale and said with steam, “I liked Alligator first! If you even think about going with him to that dance, I’ll tell him your big little secret. I’ll pull that secret up from the dirt along with the dead cats it’s buried next too. I’ll tell this whole salon that secret. I’ll tell the whole rodeo that secret. I’ll get a t-shirt with that secret printed on it next to an image of your face and give it to Alligator to wear while he rides.”
Opal started crying cicadas and she was overcome by that heaviness that only grows in the heartland. Opal said, “But Daddy said if you told anybody my secret then you would suffer the wounds of Christ and start bleeding out like one of them stigmata’s.”
Ruby yelled back, “Well just cause daddy said it, that don’t make it religion.” Ruby kept on going with words that cut deep, like the fangs of a snake, “Plus, I don’t care if I bleed like Christ, at least I can put a band aid over my wounds to cover them up, but you know once your secrets out, you won’t be able to hide from it, there’s not enough perfume in the world to cover up the stink of it.”
With each word Opal was more torn up. She looked at the green fireworks out the window, she looked at the park where the lavender grows in droves, she looked at the bubbles, at the kazoos, at the peaches and the balloons. Oh the lemon. Oh the lovesick.
Opal felt like she was an earthworm and Ruby was a bird with a sharp beak that was swallowing her to death. Opal was so hysterical that she could only hear single words and short phrases coming from Ruby’s mouth now. “Lot lizard,” “loaded pistol,” “reptile,” “blob,” “lone star,” “daydream,” “regret,” “backstabber.”
Ruby wouldn’t shut up, so while her head was jolting from side to side like a crazed chicken, and while the fire was flying out of her mean mouth, Opal snuck that timer off the counter between them and she cranked it to 30 minutes longer. Opal didn’t know exactly what would happen, but she knew that if she left her cakes in the oven passed their timer, then they got hard and weren’t fit for consumption. That’s what she wanted to happen to Ruby, to make her not fit for consumption, so that she could have Alligator all to herself.
Opal then stuck her fingers in her ears and started going, “La-La-La-La-La.” In between the La’s she could hear Ruby saying things like, “you tick,” “bad frequency,” “grasshopper humper,” “sun,” “mercy,” “upside-down,” “betrayal,” ‘immortal.” It went on like this for the next thirty minutes.
Ding. Ding. Ding. Ding. Ding. The timer went off. The hairdresser walked over, removed the heat lamp from Ruby’s head and started sliding off the foil. Whole chunks of Ruby’s hair came right off with it. When the foil was fully removed, Ruby looked as bald as a baby and she was so hardened she had no words, only shrieks.
Opal locked eyes through the mirror with Ruby and said, “Looks like God is givin’ you a little lesson on envy,” then laughed loud and long.
Next the hairdresser came to take out Opals’ curlers and as she did Opal’s hair fell off in all the places the curlers had touched, leaving Opal with hair as short as a little boy. Ruby looked at Opal in the mirror and said, “Looks like God is givin’ you a lesson too, sis.”