Things We've Found in Our Hair

fiction by Cathy Ulrich

Things We’ve Found in Our Hair

          Esther has a pit of snakes in her belly. Lets us put our hands on there, feel them writhe. We delight in the thrum of them, the way it feels like baby kicks.

          Esther always going round with older kids, Esther twining pinky finger through her hair, sitting in class with wet mouth slightly parted, lips pinking when she chews the bottom one. She’s in love with a high school boy who plays the guitar, sings sad songs about girls. None of the girls in the songs are Esther or any of the rest of us. The boy with the guitar is always gazing into the distance, like there’s something there he almost sees.

          He’s a genius, says Esther, but we know that’s just her love talking. The worst thing to love, we know, is a boy with a guitar. Worse than toad-kissed princes, smiling pert cheerleaders with perfect hair, bad boys with cigarettes in their mouths. We haven’t loved, not yet, but we pray when we do, it won’t be a boy with a guitar.

          We like it at Esther’s house the best. Sound of basement television playing, sound of basement parents settling into the couch. Nobody knows what the parents look like. Nobody thinks Esther even knows.

          The parents don’t know about the snakes or the boy with the guitar or the going round with older kids. Esther likes to keep her secrets.

          How’d you end up with snakes in you? we ask, but Esther only curl-lipped smiles.

          At Esther’s house, we are always brushing each other’s hair, braiding, untangling, smelling each other’s shampoo. We found a bee in Esther’s hair once, curled up and dead. Found pennies and shiny rocks and bubblegum and love notes tied up in buns, yellow thread dangling from ponytails.

          Esther spreads them out on her bedroom floor, reads our fortunes from them. We’ll get married, get tattooed, get our ears pierced. We don’t want to be plain girls. We want to have adventures, passionate loves. Esther mixes up the things from our hair, but the story is always the same.

          I’m sorry, she says, and we pluck more things from our hair: dandelion faces, moth wing, curl of cellophane.

          You’ll be a wife, says Esther, says the fortune things. You’ll be a wife, a wife, a wife.

          We are bored by our fortunes. We all listen for the hissing of snakes from within Esther.

          She says: Why did you all get so quiet, runs her knuckles over broken crayon from one of ours hair.

          Will the snakes come out of you? we ask.

          Maybe, says Esther, traces broken crayon over her belly, how taut her skin has become. She lets us each kiss beside her belly button, for luck. Her flesh is a rainbow of lip gloss.

          Does it hurt? we ask.

          It doesn’t, says Esther. It feels like magic.

          That’s what she said about kissing the boy with the guitar, about lying in the back seat of his car, and how he gazed off into the distance even then. The radio was playing sad songs about girls, and Esther said she cried a little bit, and the boy with the guitar wiped the tears away with his index finger, sucked them down, said she tasted like the ocean.

          Just like the ocean, he said.

          We hope he will sing a song about her, girl who tastes like the ocean. We hope for that at least, take turns brushing Esther’s soft-gold hair, pretend not to notice the spill of ocean from her eyes, the whisper of snakes from her belly.

          We pull wisp of spider web from her hair, sliver-thin grey leaf. Esther spills them on the floor with the other fortune things.

          Look, she says, and we all do.

Cathy Ulrich can't remember the strangest thing she has found in her hair -- a wasp, maybe? Her work has been published in various journals, including matchbook, Bending Genres and Cheap Pop.

Cathy Ulrich

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