Flash fiction!

I have a lot of blog entries slowly making their way through my brain and out into the world, but they’re all currently half-done and in something of a bottleneck. So in the meantime, because I’d really like to keep this blog a little bit more active – here’s some flash fiction! I hope you enjoy it 🙂

This one’s from the “write a genre story in two sentences” meme that’s going around at the moment (seemingly inspired by this viral post). Clouds gave me “noir”.

Used to think I could tell how much trouble a dame would be by the length of her legs, the red in her skirt, and the steel in her eye: so when this sweet-eyed little thing comes rolling into my office, pale blue grandma-dress trailing from her wheelchair, I tell myself “this one’ll be easy”. Turns out, mermaids know better than anyone how to dash a man against the rocks.

And this is something from October – I spent September and October writing a piece of short fiction every day. Like everything I wrote for that particular project, it’s not been edited since. I have no idea if it will ever show up in a longer piece, but I like it as a stand-alone character study. I was reminded of it by the recent discussions I’ve been having on Twitter about hair!

Jessica has never cut her hair.

She tells people it’s because she’s proud of it – because she loves it how it is. That’s not quite a lie. It is beautiful hair – at its longest point it trails down almost to her thigh; it’s fine and golden, each strand infinitesimally thin and delicate, but together it’s so voluminous that she seems to have a sunlit cloud floating about her head. A crown of gold. She’s a natural blonde; her skin is fair too, and her eyes a light grey-green the colour of woodland creeks on cloudy days. There is nothing about her hair to dislike. Well, except the maintenance – having never been cut (only trimmed, and even that only under sufferance) then it’s so fine that it needs to be brushed and de-tangled with a gentle and patient hand. Washing it takes some time; conditioning longer; drying it (particularly when eschewing the flaming breath of hairdryers, not wanting one’s locks to sizzle into nothing) seems an eternity.

Still, Jessica is not telling the whole truth. Another part of the truth is this: she cannot imagine herself without it. She sometimes has nightmares about going bald. She has never been anything but this: an elven princess, a fairy, a Rapunzel-in-waiting. It has wrapped around her and become, somehow, a deeply important part of her identity. And with it so thin – so fine – she can’t see it looking good in any other style. Yes, it’s long and shining – but imagine it shorter! It’s not thick enough to look good in a bob, or a crop, or anything: all it has going for it is its length, she sometimes thinks. If she cuts it, it won’t be able to frame her face in straight shining panels – it will just lie flat and dead against her skull. If she tries to curl it, surely it’s too thin to do anything but frizz. This is the problem with hair that has almost never been cut: it never learns to grow thickly. It’s like an unpruned shrub that grows spidery across a garden, wispy and vaguely unnerving.

She sometimes sets plans to cut it. She will look through endless online image-search results and decide: a Peter Pan cut. A pixie cut. A strikingly asymmetrical line, short on one side and fanning out longer and longer on the other. Or something short at the back, falling at a sharp angle to where the hair at the front retains its current length – a style which cuts out half the existing hair but still leaves those waterfall panels of long hair and their precious sheen. More often, though, she will plan to dye it. She knows the names of all the shades she covets: Enchanted Forest. Electric Lizard. Poppy Red. Purple Velvet. She knows how much they’ll cost, how they interact with each other. She dreams up rainbow crowns for herself. She could be a punk girl with a bright pillarbox-red crop; or keep it long, get it put into proper ringlets, dye it dark purple and play with the Gothic Lolita look. Or green – green goes with everything, because it’s the colour of trees and leaves and grass, and you never hear anyone say that it doesn’t match the flowers. With green, she could look both natural and unnatural at the same time – it’s a heady, tempting thought. Or fuck it, she’ll just throw on the oranges and yellows and reds and pinks until she looks like a parakeet, like a Hawaiian shirt, like a gaudy cocktail umbrella. Because why not? She’s still a student – essays are graded anonymously and she’s fine living off her loan. She won’t need to impress any potential employers for at least another year. Surely, this time, the period between leaving school and the passive-aggressive fiefdom of her parental home, and having to embark into the long dull twilight of the soul where respectability and employability are powerful above all things… surely this time is the time to go wild, if she’s ever going to do it at all. Surely now is – hah – the time to let her hair down.

But she can never go through with it. There’s a level on which feels certain that even when she’s in her sixties and her blonde has turned to silver and grey, she still will keep her hair like this: impossibly long, and utterly unstyled. She sometimes excuses it by saying that it’s low-maintenance to keep going as she is: that getting a proper haircut and a dye-job is more effort than it’s worth. As if the long laborious brushing, washing, and conditioning of her fairytale locks isn’t effort. As if she doesn’t spend money on hair oil and hair clips and scrunchies to keep it looking as glossy and neat as she can. What it comes down to, at the end of the day, is this: she’s afraid to make a decision. As it stands, her hair could become almost any style overnight – she has a perfect stock of raw material, from which one could make a near-infinite number of styles, from the conservative to the outrageous. In one trip to a hairdresser, or one night in with some hot water and latex gloves, she could become anything: a 20s flapper, a wild child with feathered hair, a punk princess. Anything at all. But here’s the rub: only once. Blonde hair takes dye extremely well: it might never look the same again. And it could take years to grow it back to where it is now: and years after that for it to regain its original lightness and softness. She knows dye ruins your hair. She knows how slowly hair grows. She’s afraid that whatever happens, she’ll hate it: out of unfamiliarity rather than anything else. That the person she sees in the mirror will become, for the first time, unrecognisable.

Jessica feels her options narrowing down before her. She’s felt it keenly for far too long. First, picking her GCSEs; then her A-Levels; then her degree subject; and now her dissertation. She’s thinking of applying for a Masters. Everything is narrowing down, constricting: with every road she chooses, a thousand others become blocked. She remembers childhood, with its limitless potential: she remembers being the smartest kid in class, acing every subject. She remembers thinking: “I could be whatever I want. I could be a scientist. I could be a writer. I could be a musician. I could be a doctor.” She remembers being nothing but raw, malleable, perfect material: an intelligent child, with the plasticity of youth, before custom and habit began to etch their lines in her mind, her soul. She wants to cling to it, as she feels her life and career narrowing before her. Her hair, her beautiful unstyled hair, is the only piece of unending potentiality that she has left.

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