“Can you cut my hair?”
She looked up from her papers. “Oh,” she said, “that’s right. You were saying you wanted your...yes. Let me find my scissors.”
I dragged the big wood desk chair into the kitchen and sat myself down in it. I could touch my toes to the floor now. Just my very tiptoes, but still. Mama had been saying that I was growing a lot.
She fussed her way around in the bathroom for bit before she finally came out with her thinning scissors and the hairbrush.
“Will you cut it short, too?”
“Why do you want it short?” She sifted through the drawers for her other scissors. “You wouldn’t be able to braid it anymore, you know.”
“I don’t mind that,” I said shrugging. “Short is easy. Short is nice and plain.”
She nodded an O.K. “Whatever you want, little girl. But,” she said, brushing my hair away from my ears, “you know you’re everything but plain?”
I nodded. “Yes, Mama. You tell me.”
“I tell you what?” She sounded like she was smiling.
“Tell me I’m special,” I said.
“That’s right, little girl, exactly right.” She combed her fingers through my hair. Her nails brushed my scalp.
“Mama, you ever paint your nails?”
“Hm. Used to.”
She sighed and reached for the brush. “When I was a girl.”
“A little older than you, probably.”
“What color did you like the best?” I asked. She stroked the hairbrush through once, from the crown of my head, down. It was bad, my hair was so knotted. Another stroke made me scowl and yelp.
“Can I?” I asked, reaching out my hand.
“Why? Just let me.” Another long, rough stroke.
“Ouch,” I hissed. I reached out again. Mama sighed.
“Well, fine,” she said. I took the brush and began undoing some of the tangles, starting real gentle at the ends. You were supposed to always start at the ends and work your way up.
“And who taught you that?” Mama asked, her arms crossed.
“Grandma,” I said, and worked up a couple inches.
“Hm,” she said.
I felt through my hair and found a big angry knot, tight and woven right up against my scalp. I grunted and scrunched up my nose.
“That one ain’t going down without a fight,” I told Mama seriously. She laughed out loud.
“I can just cut it out,” she said chuckling, “don’t worry.”
“Thank you, ma’am.” I felt around my head tenderly for more tangles. “That’ll do, I think.” Mama chuckled and shook her head to herself. She grabbed the scissors.
“Sit still,” she said, and I did. She started snipping. She did the thinning first, like always. She sifted through the locks with her fingertips, and felt all along my head, and cut and combed. She found the knot quick.
“Hmm,” she said, “yep. That’s a mean one.”
She started out just clipping the strands around it, just loosening it up. Every move pulled and tugged on my head and the skin there was all hot and mad. I itched to rub and soothe it, but I stayed still as I could.
“That hurts?” Mama asked. I opened one eye, not having realized I’d shut them both so tight.
“A little,” I croaked.
Mama rubbed it lightly. “Almost done with it, don’t worry.”
She made a few last snips, quick and big. When I felt the knot finally let go of my head, I let out a big breath from my chest. It felt like after that test at the doctors, with the sleeve and the pump, when it’s real tight for a few seconds before it finally lets you relax.
“He was a meanie,” Mama said. She gave my shoulder a quick squeeze. “Almost done, girl.”
She grabbed the other scissors. My heart got real excited, beating
all buck-wild, when I thought about having short hair. I couldn’t think of why.
She started clipping the ends. She measured them up right next to each other, making sure the lines were even. I sat still as a bump on a log. It was all real careful.
I kept my head facing straight forward but let my eyes sink down to the floor. The shiny linoleum was furry and blonde. I smiled to myself.
“Alright,” Mama said with a drawl, “you should be good to go, girl.” She walked around to my front and squatted down so that our eyes were looking right at one another.
I reached up to feel. I stroked my fingertips over it, felt how light it was, how smooth from being brushed. I felt at the ends, now at the nape of my neck, and twirled them around my fingers. I brushed at my shoulders, and they were bare and free. Where’d the rest of it go? I thought with a joyed giggle.
Mama was grinning. “You like it?”
I nodded. “Yes, ma’am, lots.” The corners of her eyes crinkled in her smile and she put her hand over my cheek. My face was flushed and warm from smiling, and her hand was cool.
“You’re a beautiful girl, baby.” I smiled so wide that my teeth even showed. She smiled wide back. “You’re my beautiful girl.”
“Even with short hair?”
She turned her head sideways and wrinkled her eyebrows. “Of course, baby, of course.”
“O.K.,” I said. “Because Grandma likes girls with long hair.”
Mama’s smile flattened. She pursed her lips. “She told you that, huh?”
She sighed and looked at the floor that needed to be swept. “You know,” she said, still looking down, “despite what she might think, I really did listen to Grandma sometimes.”
“When you were little.”
She stood to grab the broom from behind the fridgerator. “Yes, when I was younger. And do you know what?”
“Listening to Grandma might have gotten me to a couple good places, but just a couple. It wasn’t often.”
She swept my old hair into a big, fluffy pile. She ended up sweeping the rest of the kitchen, too. She didn’t talk while she swept.
“What colors did you used to paint your nails?”
She stopped sweeping. She leaned the broom against the counter and came to crouch in front of me again. “Hm. Let’s see…”
She was just staring at me and just smiling, doing that funny thing that mamas do sometimes. She tucked a lock of hair behind my ear.
“I can’t remember what colors I used to paint my nails.”
I frowned. “Really?”
“Really.” She smiled. “It was a long time ago.”
I hm’ed like Mama. “Hm. But you ain’t that old, Mama.” She laughed.
“Thank you, baby,” she said. “But I might be getting there, ‘cause I really can’t remember.” She fussed with my hair a little bit, I think just feeling. I think she liked it almost as much as I did.
“If you were gonna get them done right now,” I asked, “what color then?” She grinned and started thinking.
The pad of her thumb rested right below my eye and her fingers cradled the back of my head. “I think I’d make ‘em gold,” she said. My eyes went wide.
“Yes,” she laughed, “gold, absolutely. A nice and shiny, glittery gold.” She ran her fingers through my hair in one smooth stroke. “Just like your hair.”
I smiled wide at her, and she did at me. “Gold, like Rapunzel.”
She nodded, beaming bright. “Yes.” She took my hand in hers and pressed a kiss to the back. “Your Royal Highness, the princess.” We giggled wildly.
I placed my hands on both sides of her face and kissed her on the tip of her nose. She giggled and kissed me too.
“Do you know what?”
“I don’t,” she said back.
I squeezed her face and gave her a peck on the cheek. “You’re a beautiful girl, Mama.” She smiled real wide. “You’re the most beautiful Mama in the whole world.”
She reached up to grasp my hands. “Thank you, little girl,” she said. She let out a breath through her nose. I think she was real happy then. “Thank you so, so much.”