Our visits always ended with her standing abruptly.
"Harold will be coming home," she'd always say, "Sorry—you have to leave. I've got to be ready for him."
"Oh Gloria, not again," I griped.
"Well, it's different in your home," she said. "You have a normal husband." And then, "Oh my, what did I just say?”, and she clapped her hand guiltily over her mouth.
"Glo, you don't have to feel guilty for saying that."
"Oh dear," she said, her large brown eyes filling. "He's so good to me, and I actually said that."
"Said WHAT, Gloria?"
"Well, maybe it's not what I said but what I didn't say." She looked nervously around, "I mean suggesting that maybe my husband is---well, you know."
"What, Gloria? Your husband is what? Impotent? An alien? Weird? He wears women’s underwear? No. It must be that you mean he's a nutcase controlling chauvinist." I said. "Am I right or what?"
"Oh you," she said laughing, and she slapped my arm playfully. "But really, you gotta go now. See you later."
"Why do I have to go, Gloria? It's only 3 PM!"
"Oh, if he doesn't see me cooking, he gets all sulky," she said, holding the door open for me.
"Sulky?" I said incredulously. "Gloria. This is the twenty-first century. Real men don't sulk. And besides, all you have to do is put a couple of pots of water to boil on the stove and he'll think dinner's cooking. I thought every woman was born knowing that one."
"Oh you," she laughed, but looked nervous. I left.
Gloria was definitely no feminist, but she really was very sweet. Pretty, she had dark hair so long she could sit on it and have enough left over for a lap robe. She wore it in a long, thick braid wrapped around her head. Several times.
And oh, how she hated that hair. "It takes me half an hour to wash and all day to dry, and it catches on everything!"
"So cut it."
"Cut it off," I said.
"What??" she said again, her expression was as if I'd suggested she streak naked during High Mass.
"I couldn't do that," she whined.
"Why not? Short hair's been in for oh, 80 years or so, Glo. Flappers started it all."
"Harold calls it my crowning glory," she said, suddenly beginning to paint her living room ceiling. In the kitchen, several large baskets of fruits and vegetables awaited preparation for canning later that day.
Harold came home while I was there, and I couldn't resist the urge to not leave, so I didn't, and settled into an easy chair. Harold’s. Gloria immediately trotted off and came back with, oh I can't believe it, but it's true I swear, his slippers, robe and a chilled martini. He changed in the downstairs bathroom and handed her his business suit.
"I always press it the instant he gets home so it'll be all fresh for him when he needs it next," Gloria explained apologetically as she raced off, ala Edith Bunker.
"Right," I said. I continued to stay. Harold glared. I glared back. Oh, what an ass.
"While you're up there, dearie," he called to his wife, "would you mind pressing the blue? I’ll need it for tomorrow."
"Sure hon," she chirped back. I could smell the dinner cooking. Harold sank uneasily into another chair and opened the day’s newspaper.
"Hey Harold, while the little woman is steam-pressing your suits, let's set the table, OK? Maybe get dinner on?" I asked. He looked out from behind his paper and glowered.
"No thanks," he growled. "I'll wait for her."
“Who’s ‘her’?” I asked sweetly. “Oh right, you must mean Gloria.” Harold glared.
And suddenly, I can't think why, I clued into some strange triangular link between Gloria's hair, Harold's thing for vassalage and his wife’s wimpiness.
"Oh, you silly," she said to me the next day when I dragged her out of her home to do some fun things together, although I had a definite plan in mind.
"I told you I couldn't cut my hair. Harold loves it! He says it's my ..."
"Yeah, yeah, I know. Your crowning glory," I said, pulling her into the beauty salon I’d already scouted.
"Gloria," I said to her, "you HATE your hair. It's a terrible burden, and just one more thing for you to have to care for, and you only keep it for Harold. NO ONE wears their hair like that anymore. It's from the 1800s, and it’s unsanitary. It's also dangerous!"
She wept when it fell to the salon’s floor in a brown thwump. I gleefully drove her home. And stayed. Gloria looked absolutely beautiful.
Harold stopped in the doorway. He stared at his wife.
"Gloria. Where is your hair??" He was ashen.
"Gone," said she, standing there, kind of taller. And her voice was different, too. Deeper. Stronger. He marched past her, glared at me and went into the bathroom.
"Slippers? Robe please? Martini?" he called through the door.
"Get them yourself, Harold," she called back. "And from now on, you can drop your suits off at the dry cleaner’s on your way to work in the morning. And you can pick them up on your way home. And oh, and one other thing, tonight we're going out for dinner."
I grinned at Harold. What was happening here was sort of skewed Fable of Samson; shorn of her locks that day, Gloria had broken her shackles and had become powerfully strong.
Harold glared at me. I smiled sweetly back at him.