By Maria Pinto
The very long hair was the only thing she allowed herself from the time before. It is not right to say that he allowed it, because she was what people labeled “free,” and so he couldn’t disallow it; it is correct to say that he kept his attentions trained upon other parts of her body that were unsubtle, parts that were more important to him and far less important to her, so that his focus never fell upon its magnificent length. It is true to say he never saw it. When he got close to it, she distracted him with a sudden jerk or amorous whimper. It is not known what he would do if he discovered the hair.
She had never seen the hair in a mirror. It sprang proud just outside the mirror’s reach. She sang to the hair. She sang beautiful songs that she made up on the spot. On the other side of the bathroom door he felt that she must be a very happy spirit indeed, singing every chance she got. And she was, immersed in the hair’s care. She oiled it at night and groomed it in the morning. It shone with health and glinted with the light of the loved. Before he took her out to catch a show or eat in public, she curled the hair around her finger and gave it a little spritz of Extra Strong Hold, and it curled just exactly like a dream. The hair was always presentable.
“You have such nice skin,’ they would say and she knew that “They are talking about the hair, which they cannot see.”
“I admire your bone structure,” they fell over themselves to say and she knew that “They are as enamored with that hair as I am, though it is not visible to them.” The hair kept all the other things about her running, strengthening her from its shadows. It was strong but defenseless. It could be mowed down, shaven, cut, plucked. The shadows were where it had to stay, she’d decided long ago. He must not see it. They must not see it. We must not see it. Milktooth
I found my baby book while I was rooting through your old room, looking for things to throw away. Stapled to one of the pages was an envelope containing what remained of my first tooth–a tiny jagged rectangle surrounded by pearl dust. Somehow it seemed more of an indication of your failing body than mine.
You have kept every single piece of jewelry you ever bought, every piece of jewelry, now broken, that you were ever given. The rings that stamped your fingers green are here, a lifetime of plastic bracelets given to you by nieces and grandchildren in a lifetime of Christmases and birthdays. Your ears were never pierced and now the clip-on earrings glint up at me from a million boxes, many having lost their twins, amidst snakelike bunches of necklaces.
Beneath a pile of toys, your only daughter found the breast pump that helped you feed us when we were infants. One of my first memories is of an argument you had with your sister, defending your decision not to nurse, because after all, did you look like some farmyard heifer?
The volume of creams and lotions stashed in the bathroom cabinets is a testament to your helplessness in the face of an Avon lady’s pitch. Yet your skin was always wrinkled, dry. I remember pressing my clammy hand into the crepe paper dryness of your own on the Sunday morning walk to church and marveling at our different textures.
I just read the suggestive poem you wrote about vacationing with Dad before I was born. The act loosened whatever blockage had been preventing me from mourning the loss of your mind and I cried. The poem is done in an epic style and hints at the vastness of your love for the English language, of your life before kids. I remember now the feeling I had when I was very young of looking at the black and white wedding photo that stood on our mantle. In it, your frame and dad’s frame were thinned down and de-aged, and I remember the feeling of déjà-vu, like I had been there in that photo at that wedding too. Is this the sensation you get now when you look at the strangers who populate your family albums?
I know you’re in there by the brief flash in your eyes every now and again, that spark of wit from some still-protected depth beneath the layers of plaque. I know you’re still there inside your “otherwise health” (the doctors keep sighing for our benefit), from the way your gait will be sure for a moment and you’ll start walking fast instead of toddling, as if you’re trying to outrun the otherwise healthy body that keeps you here. As if you could outpace the pain in the faces of the grown children whose names hang heavy just below the reach of your tongue, as if your legs could take you anywhere other than as far as the nurse will let you venture along the grounds of your new home.
Maria Pinto’s work has appeared in ‘Broad! (a gentleperson’s magazine)’, ‘The Drunken Boat’, ‘Spirited Magazine’, and ‘Riot of Perfume’. She received a BA in Creative Writing from Brandeis University and was the 2009 Ivan Gold Fellow at the Writer’s Room of Boston. Her debut novel is currently under construction.