By Kathryn V. Jacopi
My younger half-sister Amanda opens the door and stares at me like a seagull in a parking lot. My hair used to be dirty blonde and long. The trip to the salon was my thirteenth birthday gift from Ma. She called it a rite of passage as the hairdresser foiled each section. I can’t wait to show Celeste, my nonbinary friend.
“Dad’s not going to like it,” Amanda says.
“It’s my hair.” I shoulder past her and run upstairs to the room we share when I stay with Dad.
My cut is A-line with butter highlights, and I’m unsure of its sassiness. I take a selfie and text Celeste the photo.
But my stomach arches like stray cats fighting because Dad likes long hair for girls. I think about pulling back the short locks. Maybe he won’t notice what I’ve done.
You’re beautiful, Celeste texts back—they send a kissy face.
“You look like you’re in high school,” Amanda says. She steps into our bedroom. “I wish I could do that.”
“You’re nine.” I slide my phone into my back pocket.
Dad’s car pulls into the driveway, and Amanda peeks behind the curtain. Her mom yells for help with the groceries. We drag our feet down the stairs.
“Celeste’s mom called about a movie,” Patty says and crosses her arms. “She’ll be here in half an hour.”
I don’t remember which movie. Don’t care. A bunch of us are going. We’ll sit in the back, laugh, and share sodas. Some of us will hold hands. Some of us will sneak cigarettes in the parking lot. We’ll wait for our rides home and take pictures. The ones with Celeste will be my favorites.
Dad stands next to the opened hatchback and hands Amanda a canvas bag.
“Taylor dyed her hair,” she says.
“Highlights,” I say. My hair is stiff with gel. “A birthday gift.” I take a bag and Dad slams the hatchback.
Amanda and I place the bags on the kitchen table. Patty puts groceries in the fridge. I’m eager to go upstairs, but Dad blocks the doorway.
“You see what my ex-wife did?” he says.
“That bitch.” Patty shuts the door.
“Taylor’s only thirteen!” He grabs my wrist, and I gasp, and he drags a chair next to the sink. Dad forces me to sit. My stomach cramps, and I freeze. Patty smirks. Dad goes into his bedroom next to the kitchen.
Amanda lurks in the doorway leading into the living room. Dad comes back with an electric razor and plugs it in next to the coffee pot. Tears sting my eyes.
“Your mom had no right.”
I bolt. Dad grabs my waist and throws me back onto the seat. I wail. Patty sits on my lap and holds me down. Amanda hugs my legs to the chair and shrieks.
The razor buzzes. Dad stands behind Patty and pushes it through my hair and down to the nape of my neck. Strands fall at my feet. He makes a second pass, a third pass, a fourth. I sob and lose count. The razor goes silent. My scalp itches and I whimper.
Patty stands and brushes the hair off her chest. Dad tells me to clean up before Celeste’s mom gets here.
“I’m not going!”
“Yes, you are.” He cracks open a beer.
Amanda hands me the broom and runs out of the kitchen. I sweep the hair into a pile. Snot and tears warm my face. Patty kneels with the dustpan. She presses her lips together.
“Taylor needs to go home,” she says.
I’m dizzy, but I stop crying and wipe my face. I don’t want to go home. Not like this. The haircut and highlights were Ma’s idea. I’d felt a little stomach sick about it, but she said I was overthinking.
Patty takes the broom. She sweeps the pile into the dustpan and dumps the dirt into the garbage under the sink. “Call Taylor’s mom,” she says to Dad. “Explain what happened. And why.”
Dad puts his arm around her and points his beer at me. “This is your mother’s fault. Go text your friend and say you can’t make it.”
I sit on the bottom stair and text Celeste to meet me at the gas station down the street. They text back a thumbs up. My hands shake. I don’t know what home is, but I will when I’m old. For now, I pretend to have long hair and my own bed in Celeste’s room, and tomorrow morning will mean waffles and Vermont tree-tapped syrup and not some person with a donated backpack. I listen for Dad but hear the TV. The doorknob is cold. I step outside into the twilight. A humid breeze flows through my buzzed hair like warm milk. I breathe in. The door latches to the house with a soft kiss.
Absolutely incredible piece. The imagery created is amazing and makes you feel the tension and anxiousness of the situation throughout your whole body. Very talented author.
Thank you, kind stranger.
You drew me in with an innocuous situation, then startled me when it quickly became chilling (I didn’t think he’d go through with it).
“I don’t know what home is, but I will when I’m old.” She’s not just consoling herself, but us, the reader. Thank you for giving us hope. The last paragraph is beautiful. I wanted to keep reading. Well done!
Thank you, Nancy. I really appreciate your kind words. And thank you so much for recognizing hope in my story.
Wonderful piece of writing. I could hardly breathe when the tension rose.
Thank you, Sabina, for reading and commenting. Your reaction is one of many I’m hoping for from readers.
Beautifully done! I was so afraid for her. Your little hints make a trail of hope. The “soft kiss” at the end is a great touch.
Thank you, Deborah 😁 I am very happy with my last line. Thank you so much for noticing.
My heart went out to this young teenage girl. I felt every moment of her humiliation.
Sue, thank you. It means a lot to me that you experienced Taylor’s story with her.
Thank you, Jody. 😊
Amazing, Katy, as always! So sad that this is real for a lot of kids.
Thank you, Shannon 😘
Perfect tension buildup. Hopeful for the narrator – she’s strong enough to leave even after her Dad’s cruelty.
Thank you, Lois. I really appreciate your comment. Taylor is strong and abused.