“A New Mohawk”

Chavisa Woods

May 11, 2017 
The following is from Chavisa Woods’ collection of stories,Things to Do When You’re Goth in the Country. These stories present a brilliantly surreal & sardonic landscape and language, and offer a periscope into the heart of the rural poor. Chavisa Woods is the author of Things to Do When You’re Goth in the Country (forthcoming May 16th), The Albino Album and Love Does Not Make Me Gentle or Kind. Woods was the recipient of the 2014 Cobalt Prize for fiction.

Most of the Mohawks in America are unincorporated territories, areas that lie outside of any municipality or township. I didn’t even know these places still existed. Apparently, unincorporated territories are either so small, destitute, or isolated that no city, town, or respectably incorporated area has found reason to claim them; neither have the people who live in these unincorporated territories seen fit to claim themselves. There’s Lake Mohawk New Jersey, Mohawk Indiana, Mohawk Oregon, and Mohawk Tennessee. (These are all described as unincorporated areas.) I still can’t figure quite why these places would all be named Mohawk, but maybe it has something to do with a Mohawk being an inherently in–between space. This last year, I’ve been trying to find out as much as possible about Mohawks. I looked up a lot of information. The term “Mohawk,” of course, comes from a Native American tribe. The Mohawk Indians originally lived in what is now New York State. The indigenous word for their tribe meant “people of flint.” “Mohawk” meanteater of flesh.” And they only wore their hair in what we now refer to as “the Mohawk” when they were preparing to go to war.

There are all kinds of Mohawk haircuts today that have nothing to do with unincorporated territories or war. You’ve got the bi–hawks, tri–hawks, cross–hawks, curly–hawks, faux–hawks, no–hawks, shark–fins, and my favorite, the psychobilly Mohawk, which is really just a spiky quiff, a lock of hair running down the center of the head and combed to one side. Quiff also means promiscuous woman, and I liked the idea of wearing that on my head all the time.

Maybe it was that kind of thinking that started this mess. I never did get a quiff. I don’t have any of those others I named either. I’m the only person with this particular type of Mohawk I’ve ever met or heard of, and if more people had the kind of hair I have, I promise you, the world would be a very different place.

It was almost a year ago today. I had a huge crush on this girl, Kimberly. I’d been trailing her for a couple of weeks since we made out at this anti–Valentine’s Day party. But she’s a kind of wholesome do–gooding sort and was making me work for my dinner, so instead of ever inviting me out alone, she invited me to group events. On Sunday morning we cooked breakfast with Food Not Bombs and served homeless people in the park. On Friday I rode in a Critical Mass with her. It was nice going out with her those two weeks and seeing lots of people. I’d been spending too much time at my retail jobs, or alone sketching and submitting portfolios to galleries, most of which were turning me down. But to be honest, I was kinda just chasing her tail and getting nothing but community activities in return.

The third time we went out, she invited me to a political rally. She said we could go to a rock show after, so I thought, why not? I’d done my share of rallying. I cared about things. And this rally came with the added plus of a pretty girl.

The rally was about Palestine and Israel. It was back when Israel was going hog wild and just bombing the fuck out of Palestine, in retaliation for rockets being launched into Israel. I’d seen it all over the news for two days, and yeah, it was awful what was happening. But there are awful things happening everywhere all the time. Just not usually here.

So, I met Kim at the rally in Union Square. We stayed for two hours. It was nothing out of the ordinary. People were really upset and solemn and sincere. Then there were a few fiery speeches, as well as a small group of Zionists pinned in holding counter–protest signs across the street. A band played, and Kim held my hand and skipped around in a circle. One of her sandals came off and she scratched her foot, so we went to sit in the grass. I bought us two soy dogs. We ate them. Hers had relish and mustard, mine had ketchup. I’m recalling all of these banal details, because it seems so outlandish to me now just how ordinary everything was then. Nothing remotely strange happened. I keep playing that whole day and night over in my mind, trying to remember some sign of something, anything exceptional. But there was really nothing. It was an uneventful political rally that I went to because I had a crush on the girl who invited me and nothing exciting happened.

After finding a Band–Aid for Kim’s foot and sitting around a little while, we went and got two cups of coffee, then headed over to this place called Arlene’s Grocery for the concert. Kim did a lot of dancing. I mostly sat on the couch drinking and listening, thinking how much I missed CBGB. But then I thought maybe it wasn’t CBGB I missed, but being twenty and feeling like I was really doing something drinking with a fake ID and being able to drink as much as possible without really feeling it, and most importantly, everything, absolutely everything being new and exciting.

It just doesn’t feel the same listening to live rock when you’re going to be thirty in a year, and your second drink is already making you more tired than drunk and you can’t help but worry you’re going to feel a little sick and depressed the next day. My mind started wandering to sort of existential crisis thoughts, like the fact that I’d been trying to convince art galleries that my charcoal comic strip sketches were gallery–worthy since I moved to the city, and I wasn’t getting much further with that than I was nine years ago, and I can’t blame it all on being a boi instead of a boy, and wondering if I even still really liked live rock; wondering if I even still liked anything really, ’cause the things that used to seem so exciting now seemed so commonplace. Was it actually those things I liked, or was it just the newness?

(I don’t worry about that kind of stuff anymore.)

Kim came and interrupted my quarter–life drunk–think. She handed me a beer and smiled, then sat down next to me, her leg crossed in my direction, touching my knee. I remember this very clearly. She took a sip of her beer, tousled my hair and giggled. “You’ve got such a thick head of hair, Sheldon. It’s really . . .” She paused long like she was wondering whether to say it. She’s a few years younger than me and seemed to be getting pleasantly drunk. “Sexy,” she said, and smiled, leaning in.

I gave her a sort of signature nod I have, and tried my best to look as sexy as she said I was through my increasingly tired version of buzzed. “Yeah,” I said. “You know what I’m gonna do tomorrow? I think I’m gonna do a Mohawk again.”

“No way! That could be really good.” She started twisting my hair around one of her fingers. I don’t think it really was at the time, but I remember it now as a mystical few moments when she kept touching my hair and talking about it, smiling too big and leaning in, giggling over nothing. The light was dim and the place smelled sweaty. The music was loud. Mediocre and insanely attractive people were dancing and beginning to make out around us. “What kind of Mohawk exactly are you going to do?” She took my brown hair in her fingers like a comb and held it up in the center, then tilted her head, trying to picture it.

“I was thinking about doing a quiff.”

“A quaff?”

“No. Quiff. With an i.


“Yeah.” I described a quiff to her and then told her that quiff also means promiscuous woman, and I said that I like having promiscuous women on my head. She blushed and went, “Mmmmmmm.” Then she crawled on top of me, straddling my lap, and we made out till the band stopped playing.

We walked together to the subway. I asked her to come home with me. I really thought she would, but she said it was already two o’clock and she had things to do the next day, “Sorry.” She kissed me on the cheek and went to her side of the subway. That moment really sucked. So I waited thirty minutes for the train, alone, feeling not drunk enough and too tired, frustrated and lonely, my hands shoved in my pockets, watching some junkie not fall repeatedly until the F train came. I got into my apartment and just crashed on top of the covers, in my clothes.

I usually would have slept until at least noon. But I woke up really early, like at eight o’clock. I couldn’t figure out was wrong for a second, then I realized my head was itching like crazy. I sat up in bed and started manically scratching it, but that only seemed to make it worse. As I was scratching it, I was shocked to feel tons of little things moving around on my head. Bedbugs! I immediately thought. Huge ones. I stood up and pulled back the covers. They were all clean. No sign of the red plague. But god, that itching was awful. I ran to the bathroom and looked in the mirror.

I think it was Dr. Phil who said there are only about five principal events in every person’s life after which they will never be the same; five events that change you forever. Like, you become a markedly different person after these things happen, and there’s no going back to who you were before. I only have two, and I doubt I’ll ever have any more. The first one was when I was twenty–four and I decided to do the tea and the top surgery (get my tits hacked off) and become a real boi. My second “principal event” occurred when I looked in the mirror that morning.

For a while I just stared at it. Then I started feeling around very gently patting at it with my hands, mumbling to myself, my mouth opening and closing slowly like a dying fish. I watched very closely, mesmerized by what I was seeing: the soldiers standing guard at the checkpoint, the line of cars and people at the base near my neck and the empty deserted area near the front, where, on one side, every few minutes, I thought I could make out some people shifting in the nearby bushes. I fingered the wall that ran like a Mohawk down the center of my head. It was solid, hard stone and did not give under the weight of my touching. Suddenly, I felt something singe my fingertip. I pulled my hand away and jumped back to the tiny sound of three little bombs exploding quickly. I put my hands in the air and pressed my back against the wall. I could make out the microscopic sound of screaming. Something fell from my head to the floor. I got down on my knees and pressed my cheek to the tile to get a good look. It was a little bigger than an ant. Well, I shouldn’t say it. He was a little bigger than an ant, a miniature man wriggling on the floor, blood gurgling out of his mouth in bubbles. By the count of five, he was dead.

I jumped out of the bathroom, grabbed my keys off the table, and bolted down the stairs and onto the sidewalk, faster than I’d ever run. I didn’t even think to try to get on the subway or grab a bus or even a cab. My body just started going and didn’t seem to want to stop till I got where I needed to be. It only took me twenty minutes to get to my doctor’s office. I’d never wanted to see a doctor so badly in my life. It seems silly to me now, that being my first inclination. But in those twenty minutes, I just kept telling myself that all I needed was a doctor.

I slammed open the glass doors and slid along the tile floor, my sneakers squeaking as I landed at the counter, panting beside the line of people waiting to fill out their forms. The man at the front desk started. “Excuse me! Can I help you?” His face went sprintingly from annoyed, to startled, to curious, to horrified as he looked me over.

“I need to do an emergency walk–in! Okay?”

He began breathing through his mouth and nodding unconsciously, the way people do when they are mesmerized by something inexplicable. The people in the line next to me were staring too. A couple of them had stepped away from me. “Uh–huh, sure. Have you . . .” his eyes scanned my head, “been here before?”

“Yeah. Yes,” I hollered, leaning over the counter and pointing at his computer. “My doctor’s name is Murphy. Is she in today?”

He looked from me to his computer to me again, his eyes wide. “I think so.” He typed something on the screen. “Your name?”

“Sheldon. Sheldon Peters.”

“Okay, your preferred pronoun?”


“Ummm, Mr. Peters, is it?”

“Yes!” I shouted.

“What seems to be . . .” he paused again, just staring at me. I looked around quickly. One of the women in the line had backed all the way up to the door and was holding it open, watching me warily. “I’m sorry.” He blinked and tried to smile. “What seems to be the nature of your emergency?”

“I . . . I . . .” I coughed and leaned over toward him. I pointed at my head, and I meant to whisper it, but instead I screamed, “I’ve got the Gaza Strip on my head!”


From Things to do When You’re Goth in the Country. Used with permission of Seven Stories Press. Copyright © 2017 by Chavisa Woods.

More Story
Dear Rick Moody, Life Coach: Is Melancholy a Suburban Condition? Dear Rick Moody, Life Coach, What do normal people do when they feel down and blue? By normal people I mean people who haven't...

Become a Lit Hub Supporting Member: Because Books Matter

For the past decade, Literary Hub has brought you the best of the book world for free—no paywall. But our future relies on you. In return for a donation, you’ll get an ad-free reading experience, exclusive editors’ picks, book giveaways, and our coveted Joan Didion Lit Hub tote bag. Most importantly, you’ll keep independent book coverage alive and thriving on the internet.