I can’t count the number of times this little short story, Hair for Charity, has been rejected by mean ole publishers. Believe me, it’s a lot. Like a whole lot.
…Well, OK. It’s four. Four times. I can count to four.
Since I’ve grown tired of the process of submitting, being rejected, weeping at the emptiness of my life and then beginning the whole thing over again, I’ve decided to just post the story here. Plus, I recently cut off my hair, so I thought the timing was right. I hope you enjoy it.
Hair for Charity
As soon as she felt the weight of her head lighten and heard the stylist, Lynn, perkily comment, “All done,” Charity realized the gravity of her mistake.
It was a strange sensation, to be suddenly relieved of five feet hair.
Charity knew when she sat down in salon chair, vinyl groaning in protest beneath her butt, that this was a defining moment in her life. Things would suddenly be different. But she hadn’t really understood its magnitude at all. Weight simultaneously lifted and fell on her.
She refused to open her eyes, despite the excited, unisonous pleas of both her mother and Lynn to “just look in the mirror.” Instead, Charity tried to adjust to the sudden release of the six pounds of hair that had been steadily pulling her head backwards for years. There was lightness to her head now, as if her hair had been ballast keeping it from floating away. Her chin struggled to touch her manubrium and she could feel the tips of her once flowing locks tickling the base of her earlobes. The sensation twisted her stomach.
“Oh, honey, you look gorgeous,” her mother said, rubbing her daughter’s shoulder with one hand. “Just open your eyes and see.”
Charity did, slowly, allowing the light and the mirror’s reflection to seep in until…there she was. Or, someone sort of like her. The girl Charity saw looked younger, like a child, with a short little golden mop of hair atop her head rather than long silk strands that floated down to her ankles. This girl lacked confidence and a sense of self. She was immature and weak.
Not me at all, Charity thought.
She heard her mother say, “This is a wonderful thing you’re doing.” Lynn — her tone chirpy and reverent — agreed.
“Charity, just look at all this hair you’re giving to those poor children. This will make five or six beautiful wigs for those kids. You’re a hero.”
Yesterday, Charity might have agreed, but now…
She swiveled in the salon chair to see. Still bound by rubber bands, Charity’s lost hair dangled limp and dead in the stylist’s hand, held up like snake beheaded with a garden hoe. It was still yellow and beautiful, but it looked purposeless, now. It was by far the saddest thing Charity had ever seen; she had to fight to keep from crying.
“I want it back,” she said, quietly though surely. Lynn frowned and leaned in closer as if she hadn’t heard properly.
“What’s that, now?”
“I want it back,” Charity said again, this time a little louder, more forceful. “I don’t care how. Glue it. Tie each strand back with little knots. I just want it back.”
She felt the weight of her mother’s hand on her shoulder.
“Charity…you can’t have it back. It’s been cut off. It’s going to be made into wigs for all those poor children with cancer. Just like you planned, remember? That’s why you grew it all these years. You remember, don’t you? Why you wanted to grow your hair out in the first place?”
Sure, she remembered — remembered seeing the commercial with all those bald and dying children, as pale as the hospital walls that surrounded them; remembered the four-year-old version of herself telling her mother, “I want to give those boys and girls my hair. They’re so sick;” remembered the little tingle she felt after that first year when her mother measured her hair with a ruler and said, “Good job, honey. Your hair’s grown six inches.”
But after so many years…well, things changed. People loved her long, golden hair. Everyone petted on it like it was some rare, gorgeous animal. They said things like, “Look at all that lovely hair,” and “I wish mine was so soft.” Boyfriends’ fingers twisted the strands while kissing her, and her best friend would carefully braid it when staying over. Memories were tangled in that hair, twisted among the strands. It was her diary.
Sure, everyone would think her kindness great, would commend her generosity. But it would all be said in faraway tones, their commendations preceded with “Oh, well,” and trailing away in wispy sighs that suggested Charity’s altruism was nice, but that hair sure had been lovely.
It was the most unsatisfying feeling she’d ever experienced. All this time — twelve years — she had been building toward a moment; letting her hair grow long and strong for the benefit of other people. But now that it was all over and done with, she felt nothing but loss. Suddenly, she didn’t want a bunch of sick, bedridden little children wearing her hair atop their flaky, bald heads like awkward hats, or running their bony fingers through the golden locks she had strived so long to grow. The thought nauseated her.
“I…I don’t think I can just…reattach it, Charity,” Lynn told her in between confused glances to her mother. Charity just shook her head.
“I don’t care,” she said. “I just want it back.”
Charity kept the rope of hair curled on her lap like a sleeping cat for the duration of the ride home, subtly stroking it while sniffling through her mom’s impassioned lecture about disappointment. Upon arriving home she rushed upstairs to her bedroom and placed the tail on her trophy shelf, snaking it around her recognitions from the local branch of Habitat for Humanity and her school’s Young Philanthropist Society.
There it sat, always drawing the attention of visitors, their faces awash with fascination or disgust when they examined it.
“I just couldn’t bear to part with it,” she’d tell them, feigning an innocent giggle while eyeing them defensively.
Of course, it wasn’t really the same. Although the rope of hair never lost its length or golden luster, the soft strands were different somehow. Unnatural. Dead. Like the mounted head of a trophy kill, Charity’s hair had become the corpse of something once beautiful, important to none but she who killed it.