I knew I was in love the day I lost my head. It took me completely by surprise, both the head-ejection and the question that came before. I'd only known him for two weeks so when he asked me to move in with him it would be completely in keeping with my usual responsible character to laugh it off as a bad joke. Instead, on this particular day, my mind tumbling like a dinghy on the high seas, I opened my mouth and vomited the word 'okay'. Immediately, POP, WHOOSH, my head left my neck and shot 6feet into the air, coming down to land in a thorny shrub. It left my dress quite blood-soaked, and my body disorientated. I didn't know if I was coming or going for a moment. However, my love retrieved my head, a little bruised and scratched but otherwise in fine fettle. He gave it a slow, sensuous kiss on my responsive mouth and then placed it carefully back upon my neck.
At which point I immediately retracted my leisurely consent with a shake of my wobbling head. It was a ridiculous notion, I told him, as I felt my head slot comfortably back into place. He sulked. He complained. But I knew I'd done the right thing in order to retain my sanity. We couldn't live together yet. We didn't know each other. We hadn't had time to experience and then put-up-with each other's weird little nuances, the things that tortured us, the neurotics and fireworks. So I knew I'd made the right decision in the end and over the days and weeks that followed, the steadfast hold of my head on its column was confirmation of a right decision.
But his love began to waver. He grew physically distant and emotionally recalcitrant, as though he really couldn't cope with a little rejection. And soon, as though in response, I began to feel a loosening around my neck. If the car in which I was a passenger turned the corner a little too fast, or if my bump 'n' grind became a little too bumpy, my head would threaten to topple. I needed a permanent solution, before I lost my head again and did something silly to remind him he did indeed love me terribly.
I decided to go to the 'Heads Will Roll' barber-sturgeon on Cutting Street.
His place of office was hard to miss. The slowly-turning barber's pole beside the door and the window display of perfectly polished surgical instruments confirmed his medical/aesthetic creativity and I was in no doubt he'd be able to help me.
He barely glanced at my precariously-balanced head before grunting, "You need stitches. Why didn't you come to me immediately? Ridiculous. Sit down please." He motioned to one of the barber chairs. Beside me a young man was being de-loused.
"I didn't realise it was that serious," I said, honestly. There was also the fear, of course. Not of surgery but of this particular sturgeon. He was rude, foreboding and smelly. He treated his nurses with contempt and, I'd heard, wouldn't hesitate to draw blood when working over the five o'clock shadow of an enemy with his cut-throat razor.
There was also, of course, Aunt Mabel, who lost her mind in 1973. Back then, medicine was not as advanced as it is today and it left her holier than Emmental. The trepanabotomy technique had its flaws. After much skull-duggery and whole-body scans it turned out her mind had completely relocated to her womb, which explained the beginnings of her prolapse. That pink flesh showing itself was the result of extra pressure inflicted by her heavy mind. There always had been a lot on it - affirmations, contradictions, salutations. Its decision to rove was quite inevitable really, a complete hysterectomy the only possible solution and now, carrying around a hole in her belly as well as a hole in her head Aunt Mabel was really nothing more than an empty snail shell, her sticky innards scooped out and discarded.
"It's starting to rot," said the barber-sturgeon, as his nurses helped him on with his gown and stretched it around his humungous body. It stuck, in patches, to his wet skin.
"Headaches, you say?" he asked as he tapped my head on one side and then the other to assess the speed and angle of my head's wobbling trajectory.
"I'm not surprised. Sit forward please." As I did so I got another whiff of that awful gone-off fish-smell.
An angel fish wearing a yellow surgical mask that flattered the yellow of her beautiful tail tied up my hair, while another fixed a brace to my head to keep it firmly in position. A local anaesthetic was given while the sturgeon threaded a needle with fishing wire. I held my breath as he began to sew and watched in the mirror, trying to alleviate my anxiety by creating familiar images in the mess of his blood-stained gown. I was looking for animals, flowers, shoes. Instead all I could see were agonized screams and instruments of torture.
But when it was done it was done, and I was happy with the results. It was a neat job. The criss-cross pattern was attractive, despite my reddened neck beginning to swell, and I was pleased with the effect.
"Now," said the big fish, "how about a trim while you're here?"
I ended up with a complete new head of hair - coloured, cut and curled - to mark the occasion of my new level-headedness, and left the barber's with all my anxieties gone. I felt good.
So when my boyfriend came round that evening to tell me we were through, I didn't take it too badly. Though I could feel my stitches straining, my head desperately trying to detach itself, I didn't lose my cool. I took his following compliment with grace and then asked him to leave, before sitting down to watch a crappy romcom called 'Pretty Woman Ever After' with a box of tissues and a bottle of wine.
I learned to love being single. I no longer cried in front of the TV. Instead I got myself a social life. I loaned it from the library and it came with a CD of soothing music and affirmations of self-love. I began to immerse myself in ever-growing circles of friends, or acquaintances at least. I went to parties, slept with strangers in public places, wore outrageous clothes and shaved my head. Things were going swimmingly.
Until I saw him hand-in-hand with another woman. A tall, striking, blonde woman (though upon closer inspection she did have bad skin). They were standing outside a shop-window, looking at the display, then each other, then each other's reflection. Then they kissed, smiled. They oozed smug and I oozed anger. I strode over there, stood behind them, between them, so they could see my reflection and I could register the look on his face. Which, I should say, was everything I could wish for. The shock and sudden dawning of recognition, and then the slow slump, like the life had been squeezed out of him. He turned around, his face all wrapped up in a fake smile. "Hey," he said. "How've you been?" and before I could open my mouth to retort, my head blasted off my neck with such force, my body was thrown backwards and my poor shaved head was lost in the ether.
When I woke up I was blind. I was lying on something hard; I was cold; I could hear whispers and groans and footsteps approaching.
"You're awake. Oh good. Just in time to try out your new head for size."
I was pulled to my feet by cold hands, and I shuddered as a lump of something hard and unfamiliar was placed onto my neck, and then turned and screwed and tightened until it could tighten no more. I was pushed in front of a mirror.
I had lost weight. I was bones and skin and hairy legs poked out beneath a knee-length white nightgown.
"Oh, don't worry about the way you look. You've been in an insulin-induced coma for three months," the nurse said cheerfully. "You're bound to have lost some meat. But what do you think of your head? It's not brilliant but it's only a temporary solution. When the doctor decides you can go home, we'll get you a brand new shiny fully functioning realistic female head, size small. In the meantime, you can see, and hear and speak. But your head won't move so you'll have to shift your whole body rather than turn your head to the side. You'll get used to it dear."
My 'head' was a football, wrapped in brown paper. The features were drawn on in black marker - wide open eyes, exaggerated eyelashes, a small nose and a smile, exposing slightly crooked teeth. The hair was a few strands of yellow wool stuck to the 'scalp'.
It was hideous. I backed up, sat down back on the bed. Then curled myself into a ball and tried to cry but couldn't.