A full two weeks have passed since we successfully defended our boys against their first full frontal attack from an army of head lice but it seems that while we were patting ourselves on the back at our strategic washing of pillowcases and beanies and our careful selection of non-toxic, organic, low irritant lice shampoo (with a slice of lemon) the head lice had simply packed up house and moved on over to Reservoir Mum’s mane of deliciously dark hair.
After I’ve done another thorough search and declared the boys, once and for all, nit free Reservoir Mum scratches her head from a distance and says, ‘I’m pretty sure they’ve got me.’
‘Makes sense. They couldn’t go here,’ I say pointing to my bald head, ‘and going from the boys to you is like moving from a three bedroom commission home in Reservoir to a Mansion in Toorak.’
‘Little bastards,’ she says, scratching again, ‘I feel so dirty.’
‘I think we need to use the old fashioned head-lice shampoo – the toxic stuff our parents used – to really wipe them out…’
‘Look, I know bugs and stuff, alright? All we did with that ‘natural’ stuff was stink the kids head up and encourage the lice to move house. We need to kill them where they sleep…’
A familiar but terrifying stillness settles just behind the lens of Reservoir Mum’s corneas and it becomes clear to me that I will need to draw on all my charm to handle this situation correctly.
After telling the boys to go outside and placing Tyson in front of the Plasma with a Little Einstein DVD I return to Reservoir Mum and take a deep centering breath that allows me to access to the part of my mind that holds the basic template of communication – passed down the male side of my family for generations – for soothing women. ‘Sweetheart, your head is so hairy. It’s like nit-heaven up there,’ I say, sconning her cranium with my middle knuckle several times before cupping her face with both hands. ‘We need to get chemicals to burn the fuckers right off your skull.’
‘We’re not using chemicals… and if you ever give me a sconnie again I’ll punch you in the balls.’
‘Well, we don’t want that….’ I say, as I retreat a few feet backwards and angle my groin ninety degrees in response to a movement she makes that I realize only a moment later was completely arbitrary and without intent, ‘…then let’s shave our heads together. Yeah. The nits will be exposed to the elements… they’ll starve to death. Why do you think I’m nit free? We’ll shave the boys too… and the dogs… pluck the fricken chickens if you want. It’ll be a real family thing, like that time we all got gastro… ‘
Although I’m not certain, I detect a hint of repulsion in Reservoir Mum’s expression as she looks at the vacant land above my eyebrows and considers the question. ‘It’s winter,’ she shudders, ‘The boys will freeze…’
‘Beanies,’ I say.
‘…and I can’t be bald. I’d look disgusting.’
‘Silly,’ I say, with a pitying shake of the head, ‘You’ll look sexy-sad like Sinead O’Connor singing Nothing Compares To You, or Demi Moore as GI Jane, or Britney Spears when she went mental that time and lost her kids…’
‘Okay, you can shut up now,’ she says, brushing me aside and walking to the bathroom. ‘I’m going to wash my hair .’
‘Aww, come on…’ I yell after her, my dream of a bald family flailing before me. ‘You’re being all itchy and irrational. Bald is beautiful! You can be Dr Evil and I’ll be your Mr Bigglesworth!’
Within minutes the stink of lice shampoo/pesticide is all around and the house threatens to suck in on itself like as if it had just sucked a lemon and, strangely, even though I want my wife to be nit-free and happy I am kinda pumped that my baldness has finally paid for itself and even as I am acknowledging this it dawns on me that my sparkling dome is incredibly efficient – it doesn’t need hair cuts or combing or styling, doesn’t harbor any creepy nasties and allows me heaps of thinking time on account of the fact that people are less likely to talk to me.
As the shower starts running I take another deep breath, access the template – feeling almost overwhelmed by a deep connection with my grandfather, make my way into the bathroom and perch on the edge of the bath as Reservoir Mum starts the long journey through her hair with a tiny-toothed nit-comb. I imagine the lice Mums and Dads being torn from their babies and thrown down a giant waterfall before screaming to their deaths through a series of dark tunnels.
‘You know,’ I say, raising my eyebrows, ‘We’re finally alone… would you like me to join you? I stroke a pretty good comb…’
‘Stop,’ she says, as Tyson crawls into the bathroom with a big smile and Archie and Lewis slam the sliding door to the living room and come screaming inside.
‘Dad,’ Lewis screams, holding out his hand. ‘We found a big moth.’
‘You did too.’
‘What’s that smell,’ Archie asks.
‘Your Mums getting bugs out of her hair with that special shampoo.’
‘What sort of bugs?’
‘Like that moth,’ I say. ‘Only much much smaller.’
‘Do I still have bugs in my hair?’
‘No, mate,’ I say. ‘You’re cured.’
Archie looks thoroughly disappointed almost hurt. ‘But I want bugs in my hair…’
‘I know,’ I say, squeezing his shoulder before turning to Reservoir Mum as she exits the shower and wraps her hair in a towel. ‘I know.’
‘That should do it,’ she says.
‘It’s the media’s fault you know. Not only do they make women think that thin is in, and men think that masculinity means big shoulders and a full set of abs, but they also make people think that a full head of hair is the only beautiful and that’s just really sad.’
Reservoir Mum shrugs. ‘Don’t be a hypocrite. You’re out in the gym all the time. You’ve got abs and big shoulders.’
‘I guess I’m trapped like everyone else,’ I say, flexing at the bathroom mirror and angling for the most impressive reflection. ‘Still, they can always be bigger.’
Suddenly, as I notice Archie peering into Lewis’s hair I am horrified to feel a deep itching on my scalp. ‘What are you doing, Archie?’ I ask, scratching like a demon.
‘I’m just looking for eggs,’ he says, and as I detect even more itchiness and scratch more ferociously I can’t help but realize that the heads of my entire family are below mine.’
‘It’s entirely possible,’ I say, ‘that I am like the lice POD and even though they couldn’t flourish on my skull, they still may be able to grow their babies there until they’re strong enough to fly, or drop, to more fertile heads.
Reservoir Mum turns and looks directly into my eyes. ‘There’s nothing there. I checked.’
‘But if we all shave our heads, the lice will have nowhere to turn. They’ll perish.’
‘They’re perishing as we speak. We’re not shaving our heads.’
After Reservoir Mum and the boys exit the bathroom I open the cabinet door and finger the edges of a set of clippers. I mentally shave my family one by one. If this organic shampoo simply encourages the lice to once again move house to a different family member my dream of a bald family may still be realized…