A Girl Shaves Her Head by Ruth Joffre

One by one, the hairs grow back fuchsia and periwinkle, grow like thistle and sea urchins, surging back short as lichen and tall as sunflowers. Her scalp both garden and ocean, a raised bed and coral reef, each new hair poking her like the barb of a creature yet to be named. She allows it to go untamed, hair pouring from her head faster than she thought possible, an aquamarine ripple sweeping over her shoulder as she steps out on the diving board. Once, her head was smooth and sleek, like an otter, her whole body slippery as water, its muscle contracting around her when she plunged hands-first into the pool with only the slightest splash; now her hair refuses to be swirled neatly under a cap. It wants to hang loose, to swish and sway as she bounces on a diving board—once, twice. Most of all, it wants to make the prudish parents uncomfortable, flaunt its vermilion and teal, like a character from a video game adults make assumptions about without bothering to ask what playing it means to kids. For her it means autonomy. Means self-expression. Means: No matter what anybody says, I’m a person. Even if she becomes a mermaid. Even if her heels grow roots and she disappears in a forest. Her hair will keep growing and her neck will still hold all the medals she won in diving competitions: gold, silver, gold, gold, gold.

Ruth Joffre is the author of the story collection Night Beast. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Lightspeed, Nightmare, Pleiades, khōréō, The Florida Review Online, Wigleaf, Baffling Magazine, and the anthologies Best Microfiction 2021 & 2022, Unfettered Hexes: Queer Tales of Insatiable Darkness, and Evergreen: Grim Tales & Verses from the Gloomy Northwest.

a woman with long hair facing a tapestry
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