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The phone was ringing. I fumbled with my key in the hallway, before the locked door to my apartment.

"I’m coming, I’m coming, Please don’t hang up!"

I knew they couldn’t hear me, but if I could will, whoever was calling me to hold on, just a little longer… please… PLEASE! Finally!

"Hello! This is Mary Beth Wilkinson."

"Miss Wilkinson? Hello? Miss Wilkinson? Can you hear me?"

"Yes, Mary Beth Wilkinson speaking. Hello?"

"Yes, oh good. Yes, my name is Mrs. Lynnette Peerless. Someone has forwarded, and well, we received an unsolicited, audition CD from you, about a month or so ago. Are you still seeking a position as a vocalist? Soprano, isn’t it?"

OH MY GOD! YES! Please, let this be true!

"Why, yes I did send out some digital recordings, sample disks of my singing, some time ago and yes, I might be available. Can you tell me a bit about the position, please?"

"Well yes. Let’s see, well, I am on the board of the Golden Agers’ Benevolent Committee, here in the City. Perhaps you’ve heard of us? One of the things we do is to act as trustees and charitable sponsors for several worthwhile, statewide organizations. One of our groups, a chorus of ladies actually, has found themselves in an awkward position. It seems we’ve arranged a four-month tour schedule, over the entirety of this fast approaching summer and their lead soprano sadly has a conflict of commitments and simply cannot participate. We have all listened to your recording and wish to extend to you, this invitation to join the tour. The tour runs from May first, through the end of August. The salary is for twenty four thousand dollars, paid quarterly at the end of each month. Travel and overnight accommodations are paid by the organization, but meals and sundries are your responsibility. Oh, yes, traveling chorus staff provides wardrobe, make-up and hairdressing, that sort of thing. I think you’ll find it a fairly standard vocalist’s contract, although this is not a union engagement. Does this meet with your approval?"

OH MY GOD! This is fantastic! I’ve been working the strangest of all hours of the day and night as a waitress in a greasy diner for minimum wage and cheap, lousy tips and sinking ever deeper in debt, renting bits of odd studio time and recording my sample CD’s. I have a kitchen drawer filled with rejection replies, that represent a response from barely a quarter of all the calls and auditions I’ve attended… gave it my best and failed to score. Don’t misunderstand me, I’ve sung with bar bands and in a ton of amateur show productions, but if you don’t know the music business, let’s just say, it’s darn hard to earn a full time living at it. Twenty-four thousand in four months is good money to me. This sounds like absolute heaven, the answer to my all dreams and prayers, a paying, singing gig, for the entire summer, me… a paid professional vocalist in a touring company… with staff! Finally, a real job, and they’re calling me! Yes, Yes, YES! Where do I sign! When do I start?

……………………………………..

Needless to say, I conceal my desperation and giddiness and maintain my composure over the phone with Mrs. Peerless, ask most of the right questions, provide the right answers and three days later, find myself in a room with their contract and lawyer. Pen in hand, I am staring at the top paragraph of the contract.

"What exactly is the "Blessed Society of Elder Ladies’ Pentecostal Witness for Salvation Choir"? Is this the name of the singing group, I’m joining?"

"Yes, that is correct, Miss Wilkinson. Is there a problem?"

"Oh, No. I’m just a little surprised by the name… that’s all. "Pentecostal Witness"… what does that mean? I’m going to be singing with a choral group, right? I don’t have to do anything religious, on stage, right?" I wasn’t even about to raise a question about the "Elder Ladies" part, geez… I’m only twenty-six years old; maybe they just travel around and perform at old lady conventions. Dang, I really do need a job like this though, get some exposure and get my career off the ground; I just hope it’s not going to be too goofy!

"No, Miss Wilkinson, You are only signing on, as a member of the ladies’ choir."

"I see… and the tour is called "Voices of the Angels"?"

"That’s correct, Miss Wilkinson. The ladies’ choir opens the show with a one hour set and then you have a one-hour intermission, during which, the Right Reverend, Billy G. Galveston, presents his inspirational message. When he’s finished whipping up the crowd, the choir goes back on stage and joins him, for another hour set; that leads into a rousing finale and you are done… not counting encores. You’re a vocalist, a professional member of this team, you go out there and perform your program at a hundred and ten per-cent, every time. That’s it, straight and forward. Sign here, here and here and here."

So, I signed. He is right of course. It is a good job. I am now joining the ranks of paid professional performers. It doesn’t matter what the production is; I will perform to the best of my ability, drawing on my considerable talent and years of faithful practice, and give my audience a memorable and thrilling experience. It is high theatre. It is what professionals do. I will set my mind to this tour and stand out above all the rest. That is how new talent is discovered!

"Congratulations, Miss Wilkinson and welcome to the Golden Agers’ Benevolent Committee’s Family of Faith Based Productions. My secretary will give you a copy of our signed contract. I believe she also has some papers to give you with some simple instructions and hints to help you to adjust to your new life on the road, as well as our uniform code of conduct and the practice, travel and performance schedule. Thank you for coming in today, Miss Wilkinson, It has been a real pleasure to meet you. Good day, Miss Wilkinson."

I am giddy! I am high on good fortune. But, according to this schedule, I have missed this morning’s practice and I really have been hired at the last minute. It appears that the production is already in full rehearsal with just two more weeks of, no doubt, intense practice left before they must leave for the first performance. Well, I will show them that I’m a good study and up to the task! Tomorrow’s practice starts at nine-o-clock in the morning, in the Fellowship Hall of the Church of the Divine Pentecostal Rapture, over on Forty-eighth Street and I shall be there, waiting for them at eight.

……………………………………..

At eight-thirty, I found the doors already open and a nice gentleman directed me toward the Fellowship Hall. There were three women on the stage and I made my way down the center aisle to join them and introduce myself. They all appeared to be older women, much older than I am; actually. I wonder if the "Elder Ladies" part of their name, really does describe this choir’s age composition. Well, no matter… they called me, they hired me and they’re going to pay me a lot of money, obviously, it doesn’t matter if I’m an elderly lady, or not. I must admit though, it is a little disconcerting to approach this senior group. I want to appear confident and professional before them… yet… as I open my mouth to speak… my words are deferential and meek.

"Um… excuse me… Ma’am. Um… Hello… Ladies? Ah, Hello? My name is Mary Beth Wilkinson and ah… I’ve… ah…

"Wilkinson? Is that right? You’re the new soprano?"

"Um… Yes, I guess so… yes, Ma’am… that’s right, Mary Beth Wilkinson."

"Hmm… a little young, aren’t you? Have you ever been in a production like this before? Whe
re have you worked?"

"Um… Yes, well… sure… ah… well, not exactly. I did sing lead vocal with "Dark Phoenix" and "CRICHIC" and in some musicals. Last summer I acted some and sang in summer stock. Dolly, My Fair Lady, West Side Story, Fiddler on the Roof… all the classics."

"Hmm… what about Christian Music, Gospel… did you sing with The Church?"

"Oh, sure. I was a member of the choir at our church, back home… when I was growing up… Gosh, Yes! I just loved those old songs!"

"Hymns. The old Gospel Hymns. Do you know the old standards? We’re a Pentecostal group you know. We sing to Raise Praise to Our Lord."

"Oh, sure, I can sing all of those old songs, I mean hymns… and I’m a fast study, I’ll learn my parts, the words, everything… I can do this, you’ll see!"

"Young, though. Lynnette Peerless found you, huh? Well, The Lord won’t let us down and I guess Lynnette knows what she’s doing. Ok, then… well, that’s it. Do you want to warm up first? Run through some scales, for us?"

"Right now?"

"That’s why we’re here, Honey."

They are a tough group. But, I can understand their position. Here they are, poised to begin a four month singing tour with a brand new, untested member to their quartet, not even half their age. I suppose they have every right to feel uneasy. I did my warm ups as the director, a Mrs. Spencer, arrived and joined us. She quickly commanded our attention and we began with "Amazing Grace", with me just singing my part, solo, while they all listened. I ran through the entire piece and then Mrs. Spencer, lifted her arms and brought the three other ladies in. It was beautiful. They may all be old and a little cranky, but when their voices blended together with mine, in strong, sweet harmony… goose bumps rippled up and down my spine. It was beautiful. It was magic. I knew we clicked.

"Mrs. Spencer didn’t say anything, one way or another. She paused for half a minute, raised her arms once more and said… "Nearer My God To Thee". Following the downbeat, in perfect unison, my three compatriots erupted in song. I did not know the words. Mrs. Spencer took them through the entire piece, seemingly oblivious to the gaping hole, which was I, in the harmony. When they finished, we stood in silence. I am astoundingly embarrassed. Mrs. Spencer spoke first.

"Miss Wilkinson. I do not hear you. Do you not wish to participate in this production? You are a corner stone to an acappella quartet. Do you expect to pick and choose that, which is only agreeable to you? Would you agree that this displays a rather immature attitude on your part?"

"Ah… I’m so sorry… ah… I’m… I don’t know the words to that song."

"Hymn, Miss Wilkinson. This is a hymn. Well… I do believe the more mature response would be for you to learn your position. Miss Wilkinson, look to the ladies by your side. Do you abandon them? Do you lack the maturity to continue?

"Oh, No, no. Oh, please, I am so sorry, I can do this, really, I just need to learn the words."

"You will find sheet music in a folder, in my valise, Miss Wilkinson. Please be so kind as to retrieve it and take advice from it, as you may need it. I expect your full cooperation from this moment forward. Is that agreeable to you?"

I was so embarrassed. What a horrible turn. Into only our second selection and I’ve completely blown it and been bawled out, like a little child. To everyone’s relief, the rest of practice did go well enough. I was generally able to carry my harmony through every piece, but clearly I would not be able to perform on stage, behind a stand filled with annotated music sheets. By the end of the day, Melissa, Marlene and Beatrice, our bass… had warmed up considerably and seemed to accept me as a member of their team, though I felt more like their collective niece, then an equal. Though no one had suggested such formality and the three, were certainly on first name basis. I would only address them by their sir-names. Melissa is Mrs. Brume… Marlene is Mrs. Talbot… and Beatrice is Mrs. Longwood. I guess it’s that deferential, "maturity" thing.

I have spent every night after practice, at home, singing these hymns over and over, learning every word, perfecting every nuance. Our official, day practices have been going tremendously well and the ever stern, Mrs. Spencer has not found any cause to chastise or humiliate me before the others, beyond the normal goading, expected to bring out the best in all of us. My days, the nights, my life is filled with song. It is glorious. Is it possible that I was ever a waitress? That seems such an eternity ago. We worked hard together and the days flew by, in tighter and tighter harmony. It was near the end of Wednesday’s practice, when Mrs. Lynnette Peerless dropped by to observe the culmination of our union.

"Miss Wilkinson, May I please have a word?"

"Mrs. Peerless. Hi! I’ve been so meaning to thank you. This is turning out splendidly. Did you hear us?"

"Yes, Miss Wilkinson, you do sound wonderful together, it’s marvelous. Well, one thing, Miss Wilkinson, hasn’t anyone yet directed you to wardrobe and make-up? Well, there is ample time for a wardrobe fitting tomorrow, but… Dear… your appearance. Why, I’m surprised to see that nothing has been done."

"What do you mean? We’ve been practicing very hard. I will certainly fix myself up nicely enough for performance."

"No, that’s not what I mean, Miss Wilkinson. Look over at the ladies. They are your sisters in song now. What do you see?"

"Ah… Mrs. Brume, Mrs. Talbot, Mrs. Longwood and Mrs. Spencer. I’m… Ah… I’m not sure what you mean?"

"You do agree that they are for all intent and purpose, your sisters in this production, do you not?"

"Well… yeah, sure!"

"Do you look like a sister to them?"

"Ah… well, ah… not exactly, no I suppose not. But we’re not in wardrobe and… ah… well… they are all much older then me. My sisters? Well, maybe not. I guess… ah… maybe they look like… more like my Aunts… or maybe a Granny."

"Miss Wilkinson, I believe the opposite is true. I fear it is you that does not look like the sister. You are aware that we must provide a completely coordinated and focused presentation, or the success of our entire ministry is in jeopardy?

"Well… Sure!"

"Good. Then first thing tomorrow morning, I want you down at Ellen Birch’s Beauty Parlor for a full makeover. Here’s her card, tell her you’re with the "Voices of the Angels" tour and you need visual compatibly with the Elder Ladies’ Choir. Ellen will know what to do. When you’re done, please give me a call on my cell and I’ll have someone from wardrobe meet you here and get you squared away. Do you have any questions?"

"Uh… no. I, guess not."

……………………………………..

"Hi! Mary Wilkinson… right? I’m Ellen. Lynnette Peerless said you were coming. You’re with the Angels Tour, right? Geeze, Lynnette was right, you are a youngster. How old are you, Honey?"

"Um… twenty-six."

"My goodness, twenty-six, you are a young one, you don’t look a day over twenty-one! How did you ever get a job, singing with the Elder Ladies? You must be pretty darn good to replace Sylvia Anne Coleman… that’s for sure! Well, don’t you worry none, Hon… when we get done here… old Billy G. Galveston himself, won’t spot you for a youngster!"

"I
don’t think I understand?"

"First, why don’t you just hop into the chair, so we can get started. I’ll fill you in as we go… good, ok… comfy? Good. Put your head forward for a moment, so I can get this cape fastened. Good, here we go… Ok, now just lean back, and relax."

I snuggled down into her deep, lumpy and puffy, vinyl covered chair, lightly crossed my hands over my lap, under the heavy pink, plastic cape and closed my eyes. Water was running into the sink behind me and Ellen began to gently wash my hair.

"My… You have lovely hair. It’s like silk! Ok… Well… The big picture. What you have to understand, is that the Golden Agers’ Family is a major non-profit corporation. I don’t pretend to know how it works, but I know they have some kind of big tie in with the Church of the Divine Pentecostal Rapture and they sure do have a lot of money. The Elder Ladies’ Choir is a part of Billy Galveston’s Witness for Salvation Mission. I’m not too clear on how that all works either, but he runs his tour all over the country, making converts and taking in more money. The show you’re in; is orchestrated to that end. It starts out with your sweet old ladies, singing everyone’s favorite hymns and getting everyone, all soft and weepy, like it’s their own dear mothers up there on the stage, keeping them safe and warm. Then Billy comes out and struts and begs and shouts and prays and just whips everyone into a jumping, up and down frenzy, whereas you sweet ladies come back out and everybody is soon crying and dancing and down at the stage, giving themselves to the Lord. It’s a spectacle, it is absolutely spell binding, and I’ll tell you. You’ve never seen anything like it… and there you’ll be, right up front, singing and swaying under those bright klieg lights. I tell you, you play your cards right and you’ll be fixed for life."

"WOW!"

"Wow, ain’t the half of it, Honey. Good thing you’re a natural blonde. Now, you hold still again, I want to rinse this out."

"OH MY GOD! My HAIR! You’ve turned it WHITE! OH MY GOD… I look like an eighty-year old lady! OH MY GOD! It’s WHITE! What are you going to do? Put it into a bun, so I look like that granny on the old TV show, "Beverly Hillbillies"? OH MY GOD… WHITE! This is so WILD!"

"First off, Honey. You better stop with the "oh my Gods", all the time. The Pentecostal people aren’t going to take kindly to that. It’s sounds a little too blasphemous to them. Say something more like "Praise The Lord"!"

"Praise The Lord?"

"Yeah. They’ll love that. And secondly, your hair’s not white, it’s platinum and no, I’m not going to put it up into a bun or anything. It would still be too long and too much bother on the road. I’m going to shorten it and give you a simple, low maintenance cut."

"How short?"

"Real short. Just like the other ladies in your quartet."

"You mean, I have to look just like them? Like a real sixty or seventy-year old lady? But, why… I’m only twenty-six? Can’t you at least give me something, like in a cute pixie style, or something? I’ve had long hair forever! I like it. It looks nice. How about something like a pageboy, or a bob? I really could put it up for the shows. It wouldn’t be any bother at all!"

"Nope. It’s the show, Honey. You play your character for the show. You’re one of the Blessed Elder Ladies, or whatever they’re called. You’re expected to look like their matronly, angelic sister. Weren’t you ever in any shows?"

Sure, but I’d wear a wig or something, depending on who I was supposed to be."

"Well, you can’t wear a wig in this production. There’s too much money involved. People pack right down to the front at the end, sometimes, they’re even invited up on stage. Sometimes you’ll take part in pre-show PR… you have to look like the real deal, all of the time.

Ellen has been gently combing my hair, straight down, as she spoke to me. She has a soft touch and it has a calming effect. For the life of me, I can not visualize myself in short hair, even as I reflect upon my image, in the mirror. My hair is now center parted and fairly hugs my head. It bumps out over my ears a bit, but hides my neck and rests along my shoulders. I squint at my reflection, thinking… that may give me a preview. My now whitened, ok… platinum hair already is too much of a visual shock, for me to complete the mental picture. Objectively, I don’t really look any older under all this platinum hair. It’s really kind of a glamorous and exotic color and probably would have been totally kick ass, when I was singing with "CRICHIC". Of course, up until now, I’ve always been pretty much of a natural and "nothing artificial about me" free spirit, kind of girl. I don’t think I’ve ever had my hair short, unless my mother had it done, back before I can remember. I wonder if short hair will really make me look older. Now, Ellen combs forward, covering my face and eyes with my hair. I guess she’s getting it all straight and even, for the cut. Well… Melissa, Marlene and Beatrice, all have these really high and tight, curly dos. But, if Ellen cuts mine that short, cuts it right up my neck and everything, I still don’t see how that’ll make me look any older. Melissa, Marlene and Beatrice, really are older, at least in their fifties. I think short hair is just going to make me look younger, like a little schoolgirl. Yikes! Thoughts interrupted! A flash of light on steel catches my eye, as Ellen brings a massive shears to my forehead.

Skkkkkkrrrrriiiiinnnnnnnnccccccccchhhhhhhhhhh

I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. My hair is separated from my head at the center of my forehead. Eyes wide open, the mirror transfixes me and my face suddenly is clear of hair. I glance at the limp strands, pooled in my lap.

"OH MY GOD! PRAISE THE LORD!"

"Ha, ha… ha… that’s the spirit!"

Ellen quickly worked the shears around my head. From the corners of the horizontal cut across my forehead, she turns back and angles slightly down to a level with the tops of my ears. From that point, I cannot see her exact direction, but I sense the dual sensations of the sudden loss of weight and the clear presence of unimpeded air upon my neck. The appearance of my head, in the mirror is reminiscent of either a Franciscan Monk or a child’s bowl cut, caught up in a sudden rain shower. Take your pick, neither appears flattering.

Ellen is not finished though, and I’m surprised to even agree that she can not possibly leave me looking like this. I look positively, ridiculously, juvenile like this. With a different comb in one hand and a smaller scissors in the other, she begins to soften the blunt shape of the ends.

"I don’t know, Ellen. Maybe the white or platinum, whatever color, makes me look a little older… but bangs? With these little bangs, I think I look like some little girl, with a cutesy little muffin cut, all ready for her first day at school!"

"Trust me, Honey. We’re just getting started."

Ellen rolled a tray over into a position to the right and slightly behind me.

"What’s all that?"

"Perm rods."

"OH MY GOD!"

"PRAISE THE LORD!"

"No! I’m serious! Come on. What are you going to do to my hair? God! Not a perm!"

"Hush up, now. You’re a Blessed Elder Lady. Let’s look like one."

I never in my life have had a perm and never expected to. Yeah, sure old ladies and suburban mommies and maybe some other bingo women get perms… but… not me. Hell. DAMN! I’m going to look like Tinker Bell.

I shut my mouth. What else can I do? I signed on for this tour
. I need the money, I want to sing and I signed the contract. It won’t be so bad… right? It isn’t like I have to get breast implants, shove a feather up my ass and do high kicks in Vegas. Ellen is pretty quick. An entire row of little pink cylinders already recedes, side by side, over the top of my head, from my hairline to somewhere, back there, like some plastic Mohawk dorsal spine. By the time I stop fuming, she has a second row in place, running along side the center group. A third row, a fourth, a fifth and she is done. Whatever bit of hair, I may have left, is secured within these skinny little hot dogs.

"Ok, Hon, you’re all wrapped. That wasn’t so bad was it? Now I’ll put in the solution, then you can go sit under the dryer for a spell and before you know it, you’ll be done. When I get you combed out, you’ll love it. You’ll never want to fool around with long hair again. Guaranteed."

Her words are followed by a strange terry cloth collar, wrapped around my head, just below the perimeter of my plastic-coiled noggin. It is fastened at the center of my forehead and provides for a snug fit, intended to keep errant perm solution from oozing beyond the target area. I watch, with no small sense of dread, as Ellen applies a coating of the viscous chemical to each of my encapsulated hairs. The pervasive and alien odor is overwhelming. There seems to be a discernable, atmospheric weight to it, which clings in my nostrils and can be tasted on my tongue. Of course, Ellen is so skilled and proficient in this entire perming process that my head is completely doused, covered by a little netted cap, thick cotton pads taped over my ears and she is finished before I am even able to react to the previous stage.

"Here we are, Hon… off we go to the dryer. Come on, right over there, have a seat. I’ll set the timer and you just sit there for a while, until I come to get you. There are some magazines on the end table, to help you pass the time."

Ok… well, zippity, dippity do… here I am! Me… Mary Beth Wilkinson, former waitress and part time, summer stock diva, at the precipice of stardom. Yahoo! At this moment, it hits me. The past two weeks have been intense. Practice, practice, practice. I’ve studied the songs… excuse me… hymns… over and over… learned every single one… the quartet is really, really tight. We’ve become good friends, we’ve picked up on each other’s subtle gestures, timing and moves. Mrs. Spencer, definitely not a person given to false praise or compliment, has been smiling at us a lot lately. We’ve all been working so hard, that the fact that we will all board a bus tomorrow morning and I will head off, to my first live performance with the blessed ladies, had just not sunk in!

I think it’s the permanent. The rehearsals, the exercises and the drills were to be expected. I’ve been through that all before; in the summer stock. Sitting here, under the soft focus of Ellen’s massive dome dryer, is a forced time out for contemplation and reflection and seems to define a moment of metamorphosis. I had walked in here earlier, as the new girl, playing catch up and trying to fit in. Ellen Birch is a pretty savvy lady. She seems a veteran of the trenches and she’s given me a clearer description and understanding of my position in this massive organization, then Mrs. Peerless, Mrs. Spencer, Billy Galveston or anyone else, during the last two weeks. Ellen Birch knows what is expected of me, when I walk out this door, better then I do. When I walk out of here, and return to the Fellowship Hall, I will no longer be a pretender, but a full time member… "Soprano, Mary Beth Wilkinson, with The Blessed Society of Elder Ladies’ Pentecostal Witness for Salvation Choir"… OH… MY… PRAISE THE LORD… WOW!

Now, I am excited! I don’t know how much a geriatric do is going to make me look any older up close, but I’ll bet the four of us gals will look pretty sharp, putting our heads together in harmony, with our matching robes and everything, under the lights! This is going to be so neat! Mmmm… I’m all comfy and cozy under Ellen’s dome, but I can’t wait to get back in her chair and to see what I finally look like!

"You ok, over there?"

"Yeap! Great! How much longer?"

"Come on. Let’s do it."

I scurried back to her station and settled into the comfy, pink seat. The suspense is spellbinding and I’m holding my breath in anticipation, as Ellen carefully lifts the netting from my head. The cotton ear pads quickly follow and I am faced with the moment of truth.

Ellen unfurls the first strands of my hair from the first pink rod. When it is free of the roller’s embrace, my hair immediately snaps back against my head, mimicking nearly the same tight coil of the plastic tube. She unrolls them all, one at a time, placing the discarded rods into a tray. Peering intently at the mirror, I am utterly fascinated with how different I look. My head is wrapped in a cushion of tight, curls, not unlike the virgin wool of a lamb or maybe a French Poodle, or a little white Afro! Oh! It’s so… so cutesy! Like… like… yes! Like… Little Orphan Annie, in the stage production of "Annie". I never did play that part; they gave it to that snotty, younger girl. Well, this is pretty neat, amazing… I could just squeal!

"OH MY GOD! … Sorry… PRASIE THE LORD! Gosh, Ellen! This is so amazing! I really like it! Oooh! You know though, it still doesn’t make me look very old. I don’t know… now, I look like maybe I’m eight or ten, or like Orphan Annie! Are you sure this is going to work?"

"My goodness, Dearie! One minute you’re afraid you’re going to look like an old maid and now you think you look too young. Let me finish my job. I still have to trim it up and style it for you."

I can not suppress the gigantic smile, plastered across my face. I look like a little, beaming child, bouncing up and down in her chair, impatiently waiting for a fabulous birthday present. If I had freckles and two missing front teeth, the image would be complete. Ellen has a rat-tail comb in hand and is furiously picking and lifting and arranging my curls into a smoother overall shape. Above my temples, she carefully shapes some curls forward to frame my face. I seem to just be getting cuter and cuter. Maybe, I look a little older, now… might be up to thirteen… I love it. I love it! The hair on top of my head is getting higher. She is delicately fanning the upper curls into a more smooth and rounded surface.

KA-POP!

Ellen has cracked the switch on an electric clippers! What is this! I’m not literally bouncing in my seat, but my heart is pounding like a pile driver, in anticipation. What is she going to do? I hold my breath, daring not to move. I am so excited, I could pee myself.

Her comb, briefly touches the bottom nape of my neck and an involuntary shudder, absolutely wracks my entire body. I feel my eyes roll upward into my head, when the electric vibration of her clippers first graces the skin of my neck!

"OH MY GOD!"

"PRAISE THE LORD!"

"OH MY GOD! PRAISE THE LORD!"

"You really have to work on that."

"Yes, Yes, I know! OH GOD!" PRAISE THE LORD!"

It went on like that. Ellen brought the electric clipper to my neck… I don’t know… how many times. She’d start at the bottom, push and lift the machine, up and out… I was having an orgasm every time she touched me. It was an insane repetition… how can an electric clippers do this to me? I am panting like a damn bitch in heat.

"Easy now, Mary Beth. I don’t want to nick you."

Ellen gave me a moment to compose myself. God, I am so embarrassed! She left me to a few more deep breaths, before she spoke again.

"Mary Beth? Are we all right? I need to work around your ears now. I’d like you to try and si
t still. We’re nearly done."

"PRAISE THE LORD!"

"Yes… that’s better. Now calm yourself down."

I tried. I really did. I wasn’t shaking anymore, but I just know, as soon as she touches me with those clippers again… I’ll just loose it. One more… deep… cleansing… breath… then I look up at her and give her the nod to proceed. Ellen gently folds my ear out of the way and places the clippers to my head, just around my ear. OH MY GOD! Ugh! God! I can’t hold it! She is lightly circling my ear… oh… Oh… OH… She is being ever so… OH… careful… Ugh! It’s like a soft purring… no… UGH… it’s much louder, though… a relentless… vibrating… vibrating… UGH… OH… GOD! I can’t take it… I’m going to… AHHHH… OH… Cum.

"PRAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAIIIIIIIIIIIISETHELORDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDD!!!!!!!!!!"

"Alleluia!"

Damn! Ellen has to think I’m a freaking pervert! I can’t help it, though. I’ve never felt anything like this. She moves to the other side and encircles my other ear with the same precision on her part and the same irrational shudders and moans tear from me. She must think I’m positively lewd!

If it is possible to surrender to a greater pleasure, I do not know it. If God has any mercy, I pray to be left with some shred of dignity before her. In that very moment, eyes clenched with terrified pleas for forgiveness in my depraved weakness, Ellen brings a warm, soft lather to my nape. God clearly has a sense of humor. The rasp, of the cold steel blade… a straight razor drives me to an infernal, horrific climax and eternal damnation.

"PRAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAIIIIIIIIIIIISETHELORDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDD!!!!!!!!!!"

"Hold this over your eyes."

Ellen hands me something like a mask on a stick.

"Over your eyes. I want to add some hold to it, yet."

"I must have been lost in space. Apparently she’s finished. I have lost all track of her progress. Through half lidded eyes, like a lust crazed whore, I stare at myself anew. Somehow, throughout all of my wanton thrashing and shameless display of auto-eroticism… Ellen has continued to style my hair. Somehow, I feel like I’ve fallen far from the image of purity and innocence, expected of an Elder Lady. What I see before me is complete contradiction. Ellen has sculpted my hair into a kind of pontifical crown, perched high over my head like a celestial and silver bouquet. My hair is shorn so tight at the sides, that I am not sure, if I am seeing my skin show through it or not. My hair seems to blossom seamlessly from the smooth flesh, at the sides of my head, rising into a perfect oval above it. It is immaculate. The contradiction, of course is evidenced by my flushed cheeks, the beads of perspiration on my forehead, the dryness in my lips and the dilated, unblinking stare of my slut’s eyes. Humiliated, I bring the mask to my face to hide my shame.

There is salvation in hair spray. Ellen is quite thorough in the application. I am thankful for her silence and this small respite. An aromatic cloud, of rose and lavender settles about me. I am returned to a land of sugar and spice and everything nice. I am allowed this time to compose myself, confirm the purpose of my presence and act the proper young lady, when she shall see fit to pronounce me as completed.

"Mary Beth? Mary Beth? Hello?"

"Yes" Oh, Are you… am I finished?"

"Have a look."

Mesmerizing. Utterly… Divine. If the figure before me in the mirror, would not move to mimic my every gesture, I would not believe… it is so… I look so different. My hair absolutely glistens and sparkles under the salon lights.

"Ellen, I look so… so sophisticated and sweet and innocent. I don’t know what to say. It’s marvelous… it’s so wonderful… you are so talented! Praise the Lord!"

"Well, now, Mary Beth. You’re a beautiful girl. I didn’t do anything more then compliment your natural good looks. I think it’s very becoming to you, don’t you agree?"

"Oh yes, Ellen. I look so much more mature and dignified now. You’re truly amazing."

"OK, Mary Beth, enough of your praises. Thank you. Now, I think you need to get back to Fellowship Hall. When Lynnette Peerless called earlier and arranged your appointment, it seemed you were on a tight schedule. I believe you still need to be fitted with your performance clothing. I’ll call Lynnette and tell her, we’re all finished up here and she’ll probably have Fiona Mason, meet you at the Hall. Oh, one more thing. Take a couple of these sleep caps with you. When you’re ready to go to bed tonight, just wrap one around your head. They fasten with Velcro at the front, very easy to put on and take off, you’ll find it does the best job of holding your set, through the night. Some of the girls even wear them on the bus, in case they fall asleep. Oh and here’s a scarf, you should remember to always cover up when you’re going out. I probably have enough spray on you, to hold through a hurricane, but you can never be too careful. Fiona will travel on the road with you, she takes care of make-up and wardrobe, but she can help you with touch-ups, if something happens. Normally, I’ll take care of all you gals, when the tour schedule brings you back through the City, or they’ll fly me out to you, as needed. Usually, one way or the other, I’ll see to you, every two weeks. Now hurry along and Good Luck!"

……………………………………..

I walked the three blocks back to the Hall as quickly as I could. I would have liked to stop and spend more time admiring myself, each time I passed my reflection in shop windows, but I suppose I can do that, alone in my apartment tonight. I was back into the emotional whirlwind of the pending tour. At first, I was a bit self-conscious, leaving Ellens’ with the bright, floral scarf knotted tightly beneath my chin. It had seemed so unnecessary. My hair is very heavily lacquered and on the surface, as I had gingerly covered it, it felt as hard and unyielding as a medieval helmet. The scarf does serve to keep the tingle of cool air off my neck. This is a feeling I have very little prior experience with and I find myself constantly reaching back with my hand, just to feel my freshly depilated neck. It is addictive and thrilling. I had at first thought that wearing a scarf on the street, like this, would make me stand out as an oddity or define me as a nerd. The opposite is true; it reminds me of my place. It is like a scared shroud that gives me strength and pride. I long to show off my new and mature coiffure, but I know that will come soon enough. For now it is appropriate, only that I hold my head high and proclaim my penitence under this most demure of feminine coverings.

Fiona Mason is waiting for me, when I arrive. She is a short woman, maybe in her fifties… very energetic and patient.

"Hi! I’m Mary Beth Wilkinson."

"Well, Hi, to you too! I’m Fiona Mason. This won’t take long at all. Come on back into the dressing room and we’ll get you checked out. What are your sizes?"

I followed her. The dressing room is fairly spacious and well appointed, actually, better equipped then most of the dark changing areas, found in the summer stock venues. We stopped in front of some shelves containing a variety of clothing packaged in plastic bags.

"Here we go, why don’t you slip out of your jeans and try this on?"

"Ok. Is this the white robe with wings?"

"Huh?"

"Wings, angel wings. Ah… I don’t know, ah… just being funny… I guess. I dunno… this looks white. I just thought. Don’t we wear white robes with little wings and look like a bunch of little old lady angels up on stage?"

"No… ha, ha, ha, ha, ha… Where, in Hea
ven’s name did you get that idea? No… nothing like that. My… my… can you picture that? Angels with wings! You are a riot, Mary Beth!"

Sheepishly, I threw my jeans over the back of a chair and took the package from her. It was a skirt. A white pleated skirt. I hefted it up, pulled it over my head and let it settle down around my waist.

"Seems a little long?"

"No, that’s right, it’s supposed to come to just above mid calf. That looks about right on you. Fasten it up, how is it around your waist?"

The skirt has an elastic waist. I have no idea how she means for me to fasten it, nor why there would be much of an issue with fit. It feels ok, not tight… not too loose… it just seems long. It is made of a nylon. I guess it’s ok.

"It looks good on you. You’ll have to wear a slip under it. We provide that and all of your underwear. We carry enough wardrobes on tour for six changes, each person. You won’t need any of it, when you get on the bus tomorrow, just wear comfortable traveling clothes. You’ll be able to change and get fixed up before the first show."

"Underwear? We’re issued special underwear?"

"Yes, and don’t you worry, I have your measurements now, it will all fit. Reverend Galveston runs a tight show. We don’t leave anything to chance, if we can help it. Your Elder Ladies’ Choir is as coordinated as anyone can possibly make them. You will all, look the same, move the same and when you blend your voices all together… it will seem like those glorious hymns are all coming from one hallowed place. It is a sweetness to behold. Amen."

"Wow! Well there’s more right? We’re not out there in just our underwear and skirts?"

"You are a real gem, Mary Beth. No, of course not. You also have a blouse like this… here, look at this. And… here we go… this sweater."

Everything is white. I took the sweater out of its bag to try it on. It is long, down to below my crotch and buttons up the front to about the middle of my chest, where it splits into a "V" neck. It is sleeveless, more of a woven, sweater vest, really… almost a straight cut and unlikely to draw attention to anyone’s waist. The blouse, also white, is short sleeved, again cut in a very straight style, lacking even bust darts, severely austere with one noticeable exception. The plain button front closes to a Peter Pan collar at the neck. It looks exactly like a parochial school girl’s blouse. This is NOT, what I would even consider to be a particularly glamorous outfit… and that is a generous understatement.

"Wow! It’s… like… white!"

"Yes it is. Reverend Galveston has a very particular vision and he has carefully chosen everything to compliment and support his mission. Reverend Galveston has compiled years of study and research into perfecting the presentation and he wants everything to be exactly right. Close your eyes and picture it, if you will… the curtain is drawn and the stage is bathed in royal lavender and purple lights. The audience is silenced in hushed, reverent anticipation. The "Blessed Society of Elder Ladies’ Pentecostal Witness for Salvation Choir" appears… dressed identically in immaculate and brilliant white, as Four Sisters in Joyous Acappella Testimony and Witness to True Obedience, Under Our Lord! Your combined voices gently reach out to the people in harmony… softly at first… with the old hymns. The witness of your voices, steadily builds in tempo through your opening performance, to such ferocity and majesty that the audience can not resist, but rise up onto their feet and sway back and forth in a rapture, fully enveloped by the pure beauty of your voices.

"It sounds ethereal!"

"It is. There is a bright touch of color in the tie!"

"Tie?"

"Yes, here. Look… Isn’t it just darling? By the crossover design, it forms an inverted "V", beneath your collar. A subliminal arrow, that is calculated to direct attention to your faces. Your lips are painted in the same color, which further refines a focus unto your virginal mouth, from whence The Lord’s Glorious and Heavenly Testimony Emanates!"

I held it in my hands, a small plastic wrapped package, containing one, genuine, parochial school girl’s little cross-over, neck tie… adjustable, one size fits all, with a pearl snap closure in the center… in bright, cherry red.

"PRAISE THE LORD!"

"AMEN, Mary Beth, Amen!"


I awoke with a start. I have no idea how long we’d been on the bus.

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