You always hated that story.
You still remember the book in your mother’s hands, the golden font peeking from between her fingers. She kept trying to show you the pictures, but your scowling face stopped her trying very hard.
You didn’t want to see that long silky braid pour down from the turret.
You sat behind Faye Littlemore in French class and never learned to pronounce ‘Je voudrais une pomme’ properly because all you could think about was sliding one of her fat little plaits between the blades of your scissors and hearing the metal groan.
You thought about it every day. You knew even then that you’d never make it to France.
When you were fifteen, you dyed your hair blue. There were black stockings rent with ladders down your young thighs, and the Sex Pistols t-shirt you stretched with your fists so it wouldn’t cling to your breasts.
No-one kept your gaze long.
They never noticed your fingers creeping up your neck, snaking into the locks and winding them around shaking fingers. One pull, two, no-one’s looking; do it. Now. And when your scalp released a strand, your eyelids fluttered closed for that one sweet second you never wanted to end. You learned to disguise the delicious shudder that crept down your curled spine as you rolled your treasure into a spiky ball, and slid it into a deep pocket with its army of fellow soldiers.
You learned to wear headbands and scarves. You could never get away with a hat. You cut your hair yourself; no-one else was allowed near. You owned bone brushes that hurt your tender scalp, but you deserved it.
In your twenties, you downed absinthe shots with your friends and when they stumbled into a wig shop, you pretended you needed a cigarette and lingered on the doorstep with the filter gripped in a clenched fist. You watched them through the window as the drag queen pulled down Liza lushness and Dolly curls. Your friends fell into each other with laughter so loud you told yourself that was the reason you were wincing.
But you knew that when you’d plucked yourself bare one day, your own tired eyes would look back at you from a gilded mirror under someone else’s fringe.
You read that knots in hair are tied by elves, and when unwoven, bring all manner of black magic to the bearer. You wonder who has climbed into your hair and tied it full of spells, and try to remember how Rapunzel ended. You vaguely remember a prince, but all you truly recall is a patch of thorns that took someone’s eye out. You know the Brothers Grim filled their forests with shadows.
Once, you lay next to a lover and let yourself fall asleep first. You slept with your back to him and dreamed of your teeth tearing into the flesh of a rabbit, its blood coursing down your chest and all over the white sheets. You woke to find your lover, still asleep, with one of his hands placed gently in the space between your shoulder blades, and the other tangled lovingly in your hair. At breakfast the next morning you couldn’t look him in the eye.
You stood in front of a painting of Medusa at the national gallery, and watched her serpents writhe towards the frame. She was proud, fierce, with dark eyes and a straight spine.
You, however, are not.
Each time your hands stray into your hair, each time a trembling nails slides along a fiery shaft to pluck it out, you hear her snakes hissing their wisdom up to you. You pause, and sometimes, you put your hands back by your side.
But sometimes, you don’t.
You imagine what your hair could look like if you stopped wrenching it out by the root. You see it grow and grow, rushing in a sea of curls until it spills down your back and spreads behind you like the train of a glorious gown. You imagine braiding it into a coil so thick you need both hands to stretch around it.
When you close your eyes, you see yourself throwing it over the balcony of your turret, and leaning forward. If you keep completely silent, if you keep completely still, you can just hear it thump against the ground, where no thorns ever grow.
Rijn Collins is a Melbourne writer whose work has appeared in numerous anthologies and online journals such as Metazen, Jersey Devil Press, Necessary Fiction, Lowestoft Chronicle and Defenestration. Her work has also been performed at the Melbourne Emerging Writers’ Festival and adapted for performance on radio by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. She writes with bare feet, and black coffee.