Flip Through

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Vanity's proving ground

November 1991. The room's not that big, and the people crowding the rows of chairs make it smaller. My mother is in the front row, catty-corner to where I sit with my sister and grandmother. She is all in white, though I don't exactly understand why, and her bare feet are planted firm on the carpet, tan lines against deep blue. One of her friends sits behind her, weaving her dark hair into a plait. I watch the hands move in the Thoroughbred brown locks until she stands and walks toward the side door which will let her down into the water. Her feet pace broad and sturdy on the floor; her hair smacks her back, a fat intricate rope against the white gown. I touch my own hair, the same color, the same bright roan but thinner, and its wisps pulled into a bun, tucked in place with pastel bobby pins. I pull at it and watch my mother disappear behind the wooden door and then reappear, down in the font opposite the missionary who holds his hands out and recites words and dips her backward into the water, too cold for November, and she rises, white and wet and smooth, her brown braid and her smile gleaming up at me. When she returns to her seat later, dry-clothed again, she tosses the still-damp plait over her shoulder and smooths my errant wisps back into their pins.

June 2001. The clippers are cool running over my scalp. I stare into the mirror, at thirteen years' worth of hair now spattering the checkered tile floor. My face is alien, too thin and too open without a protective sheath of hair around the cheekbones, the chin, and my ears, oh, my ears--why had Mom never told me how big my ears are? The back of my neck is freezing, and abruptly I hate myself for doing this. The chop. How did I talk myself into doing this? A pixie, Mom calls it, so cute. I look like a boy. The hairdresser gives me my glasses and they wink as I put them back on, flashing taunts in the mirror. I watch the shape of my jaw, the obtrusive freckles, the way my eyebrows now take up half my face. I watch my mother's mouth make smiles and loving words, exchanging coos with the hairdresser. They tell me how good it looks. My sister says it's very European, a clear compliment. My aunts remark on how grown-up it appears. My stepfather wonders, when he comes into the kitchen that night, where his long-haired daughter went. I am too young yet to mind, I am now in love with the nakedness of the back of my neck, the long bare swath of throat, the dark strands close against my skull. I am too young yet to mind.

October 2006. We lay in the dark heat of each other's bodies, not illicit but innocent still. I feel bold and shivery at the same time, my belly warm and my feet cold. Your arm is fever around my shoulders, keeping me close against your side. I bask; I blaze. And there are your fingers, trickling chill over my hair, your hand brushing the cropped locks soft and slow. There's a purr rising in my chest, and I have to resist the urge to move under your fingers, to butt my head against your palm, cat-like. I luxuriate in the steady motion of your hand, gentle and even and continuous, your fingers drawing patterns on my skull, tenderly tugging strands, the occasional pleasant prick of flesh against flesh. Your palm cups my head; fingertips tickle behind my ear and trace the length of my neck. I drowse. I am safe, safe in the solid warmth of the barrel of your ribs and your smile quick like heat lightning and the eternal flow of your fingers in my hair.
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