Braiding Mother's Hair

The duct tape cut easily from the box in Penelope's hands, and she quickly had the package opened with a tearing pop. Inside the simple cardboard box was hundreds of packing peanuts. Penny picked them up in fistfuls and pushed them to the side, some scattered and plummeted helplessly to the floor like men on a sea-voyage forced to abandon ship. The cat had no interest in the package, and instead was eying the little peanuts with intent. Perhaps they would move or twitch, and she would strike like the huntress that she was, boldly and full of grace.

Within the box however was where Penny had her gaze. There, uncovered, lay 3 items which brought up old and forgotten memories. There rest a Polaroid camera with a small crack on the lens and a familiar heart shaped sticker on the side, and a VHS tape that was labelled in clear neat writing 'Security footage' with the numbers 24, 09, 00, 23 and 22. For the moment, she hadn't a clue as to what the numbers signified, but she would surely ask her mother later.

Her curiosity at it's peak, Penny rummaged under the very last few pieces of packaging to find the final piece to this mysterious puzzle which she hadn't yet figured out. It was an old moleskin book, completely filled with words in a handwriting very unlike the one that wrote on the package or the front of the Security footage. The letters curved and looped so vividly that they seemed to break into the lines above and below, completely off course and off kilter.

Finding the words inside the book too closely packed and difficult to make out, she put the book down on the couch beside her, along with the Polaroid camera and the VHS tape. Her biggest concern was which one to investigate further first, and she sat on the couch looking at the presents for a good two or three minutes before the silence in the room was interrupted by her mother's call.

"Hey Sweetheart, would you mind coming up here?" She bellowed down to her daughter.

With a light sigh, and a look to the gifts that said 'I'll be back for you later', Penny called back up to her mother.

"Sure! Hold on a sec!"

Carefully stepping over the peanuts on the floor, so as not to disturb the mess she had made, Penny made her way from the couch. The stairs were carpeted, and Penny always liked the warm feeling they had when she placed her feet onto them, one after another. The rain seemed to grow even louder as Penny reached the second floor, raindrops thudding onto the roof repetitively.

"I'm in the bathroom." Geraldine said with a softer tone, hearing the soft thumps of her daughter's steps and knowing that it meant she was near. It was as though her daughter was a calming presence for her. Her tone would become smoother whenever Penny was near, her heartbeat would slow, and her world would seem complete. At least, that was what Penny had been told when her mother would tuck her in years ago.

The upstairs hallway had 3 doors. Her mother's room was the far right, Penny's own bedroom was opposite, and the bathroom door was on the wall between them. It was a straight line from the top of the stairs and Penny would have been able to see her mother as soon as she had reached the landing if the door hadn't been most of the way closed.

Penny pushed at the door slowly, so that her mother might move a bit if she was standing in front of the mirror. The bathroom was white-washed with a black and white tiled floor, patterned to look like a chessboard. The tub had rusted corners, and the toilet's seat was slightly crooked, but it was a well-loved space.

"Fantastic Penny, you're here now. Could you just help me do my braid? A plait's so difficult to reach, you know I'm not that great with my hands, help me out?" Geraldine asked the questions in a way that was similar to one who expected a yes already. It wasn't a question really, it was a pleasant form of a demand.

Penny didn't even hesitate. Her mother's hair was like chocolate, such a beautiful color. When the light caught it, it would have flecks of gold that seemed to glow. But the light wasn't really in the room that day, what with the weather as it was. Instead, the hair was darkened, the room usually bright and fresh looking in the sun looked instead a shade of blueish green, like the sea itself. Penny folded the sections of hair over one another, finding the act of braiding rhythmic and calming. It took her mind off of the contents of the box for a moment.

"So who was at the door? Was it a bible salesman or something? Or some kind of petition or what." Geraldine asked casually, treating her 12 year old daughter much the same way as she might treat someone her own age, in the early 30s, looking for gossip or what was on tv the night before.

Penny's expression dropped a bit at the mentioning of the delivery man.

"Oh, it was just a delivery that came in the mail... It was for us, but... Well, I kind of opened it already. I hope that's okay.." She said nervously, hoping that her mother wouldn't disapprove.

There was a strangely long silence from Geraldine for a minute or two. Penny simply continued to braid the hair until it was finished, tied it with a ribbon that was by the sink, and tilted her head to the side to admire the work. She was distracting herself really, waiting for her mother's response. When it didn't come, Penny felt she had to say something. The suspense on the reaction made her feel very uncomfortable.

"... Mom?"

Geraldine turned to her daughter and smiled broadly, "Yes dear, thank you so much for the plait, I really am happy with it! You tied the bow just right, but you always do." She beamed with her large teeth, eyes going into a squint as she did so. Penny knew that to mean that she was genuinely pleased with the work she had done, and couldn't help but smile lightly herself at the praise.

"No problem." She said, her voice breaking a bit as though laughter would follow. It didn't.

"Anyway dear, I got to go to work, the tables at the bar won't clean themselves." She laughed, and then strolled out of the bathroom and down the stairs. Penny followed her, nearly running to catch up as her mother was telling her about the dinner in the fridge and how she wasn't allowed to eat the custard in the pantry, that she was saving that for their neighbor's birthday coming up, that she was going to make something out of it.

"That's great- Mom? Where's the VHS player?"

Geraldine blinked for a moment, then shrugged, "I think I put it in my closet, but it could be in the garage..."

Penny's mother's phone rang loudly then, and she checked it with her eyebrows furrowed. "I have to run, love, but I'll see you in a few hours. Call me if you need me! Love you!"

She gave Penny a quick kiss on the forehead, and hopped into the Honda. Then she was gone.

The End

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