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Strands

Emily Xiao, Honorable Mention, Fiction

I’m trying to look at my reflection in the mirror but all I can focus on is the minty specks of dried spit and toothpaste on the glass. I reach out to scratch them with my thumbnail, and the wet cotton of my t-shirt slips and slides across my skin in its unforgiving way. Shivering in the sultry moisture of the bathroom air, I realize that my dripping hair has soaked the back of my shirt clean through.

I pull at a strand of my hair and measure it against the edge of my shoulder. It’s only been a couple of months since last time. Droplets of water trickle from the strand down my forearm and into my sleeve. I twist the strand tightly around my finger, knowing it’ll leave a mark, and tug it down my forehead and along the profile of my nose. In the mirror, my round face is divided into asymmetrical halves.

The silver blades of the scissors catch the light of the bulbs above the mirror and I clasp them in my hand and watch the glint dance off the corners of the bathroom. I open and close them, feeling the trancelike rhythm of friction and metal. They feel nice, like the hand of an old friend. At my feet, little puddles of water have collected on the tiles.

I put the scissors down, lick my finger and scrawl reasons into the fogged-up mirror why I shouldn’t go through with it. Because I always regret it. Because I woke up this morning and wanted to do it and now I can’t stop thinking about it and maybe that’s a bad sign. Because I have to leave for school in ten minutes. Because my mother will hide her disappointment and go, “Did you clean up all the hair?” and my sister will go, “Not again,” and my friends will go, “Of course.” Because I’ll just shrug.

There’s this ache in the tips of my fingers and I stare at the scissors. I wonder why I’m too careless and too cautious at all the wrong times. There’s this ache in the tips of my fingers, and it becomes a twitch, and then it’s like something’s pulling at them and so I ball them up into a fist.

The air in here is so muggy, and the icy caress of the water drops should be refreshing. But they crawl down my neck and shirt, stumble along the tuneless xylophone of my spine, tickle down the back of my legs. And there are the harsh white lights, and my toes numb against the cold bathroom tiles, my skin pulsing and stinging, and those scissors splayed open on the countertop, the metal a hundred thousand times brighter than the dull rust covering the faucet.

I grab a fistful of hair and walk my fingers from the ends to a few inches up. With my other hand I open the scissors and nestle the hair along the edge of the blade. I pull it taut. When I close my fingers in the handles, bring the kissing blades back together, I can hear the snip, I can feel the hair letting go, plummeting in waves to the floor. And that section of my head feels lighter and the ringing in my ears dulls a bit, and so I do it again. There’s some guilt, but it’s nothing like the collective weight of all the tufts of black hair lying now at my feet, liberated. I don’t know why I do it. It’s so easy.

I unroll some toilet paper and wipe up the mess of wet hair from the floor, burying it under tissue in the trashcan. Back in the mirror, I see that I’ve cut my hair too short and it’s all crooked now. I think to myself, whatever, and I pull what’s left of it as hard as I can into a bun, my skin tight across the bones of my face.

I brush my teeth, stabbing the insides of my cheeks with the plastic end of the toothbrush, and then swirl a cup of water around in my mouth and furiously spit it all out into the sink. With one last look, I notice the fresh spit and toothpaste I’ve splashed back onto the mirror.

A student-run national literary magazine for high school writers and editors