Broken Skin, CyclesMature

"Mom!" Andrea's daughter, Hailey said. "Mom! Listen! I'm trying to tell you something!" She sat zoned out at the kitchen counter clipping coupons. "Forget it!" Hailey began to walk upstairs.

Andrea's brain turned back on. "No, Honey, what is it?" she asked, concerned. She wished she could just go to sleep.

Hailey shifted. She took a deep breath. She shifted again. She opened her mouth and closed it again. Finally, "Mom, I'm gay."

The two of them filled the room. Everything was silent. Everything hinged on Andrea's response.

Her face softened. "Don't worry. It's just a phase. Everyone goes through it at your age."

"But Mom! It's not a phase!" she screamed. "It's who I am! I've always known I was different! And now I know how!"

Andrea sighed the way she had so many times before in her years raising Hailey. 'No, Baby, dogs bark and cats meow,' 'No, hon, that's not what you use that for,' 'No, Pumpkin, that's how you do it.' "Lots of girls I knew in college said were lesbians. And guess what– they're all married with kids."

"Mom!" Hailey shouted, "You don't understand!" She took off up the stairs to her room.

Andrea put her head down on her hands and began to doze.

*****

Hailey sat in her room, feeling alone. Next to her on her pink comforter were a pair of scissors. At first, she lifted them to her wrist. She wasn't sure how to do it, but she timidly placed the open scissor blade on her flesh. She pressed down, but feeling the sharp pain, dropped them. "Sh*t!" she muttered.

She grabbed a box of tissues and began dabbing them on the spot where the scissors had cut. It wasn't large or deep, but it appeared so by the red spot on the thin white paper.

After a minute or two of dabbing, the minor cut began to dry. Looking in the mirror, and the pair of scissors behind her, she had a new idea.

She began to cut her long blonde hair using a comb as leverage the way she had seen the stylist do at the salon. Within minutes, a pie long blonde locks had gathered about her feet, and half her hair was gone.

She hesitated, and felt the side of her hair which was now in a short, messy pixie. It was prickly but soft like a boy's. She felt the other side, the soft, shiny hair her mother had brushed for her every morning until she turned twelve. She restarted, chopping even more ferociously.

The lavender carpet was covered in honey blonde hair. Hailey didn't notice. She sat feeling her newly bear head. Her hair was about two inches long, with at least twenty laying on top her feet.

She smiled at her reflection, greeting her. She wiped the pink lipgloss from her mouth, and smiled wider. "Nice to meet you," she said to herself. She took of her frilly blue top and pulled on a white tee shirt. Spinning, then, realizing that this didn't match her new look, moving into a wide-set stance in front of the mirror, she admired a girl she had never met before.

She crawled out her first floor window, into her suburban neighborhood, and took off running.

***

It was 5pm, and Andrea woke from her nap. She thought she had heard something, but, looking around, assumed she had imagined it. Looking down at her watch, she jumped up: time to prepare dinner. She pulled herself out of the wooden colonial chair, leveraging herself against the granite countertop. She wound around the kitchen in circles like a kite, gathering pasta, cheese, butter, pots, dishes, spices, and breadcrumbs for the top.

On autopilot, she placed a pot of water on the stove and began striking the cheese against the grater. She did this for five minutes, but awoken by a sharp pain. She dropped the grater, and looked down at the skin on the side of her thumb. "Sh*t!" she said, scrambling for a box of tissues.

***

Hailey crossed the city limits. She was in downtown Richmond. The brick buildings that surrounded her were covered in graffiti. She tried to read some of the colorful, stylized tags, but she couldn't decipher the handwriting.

She walked down an alley. A kid stared out an upstairs window at her. She saw a black teenage boy smoking a cigarett on the stoop. He looked at her differently than she remembered men doing before.

His expression was of confusion, rather than what she had previously experienced in the mall, at school, and walking down the street of her own neighborhood: lust. Instead, the man stared at her, trying to judge her, but without an instant answer, "pretty-white-rich-girl." He eyed her strangely.

Hailey had felt like she was in danger of rape once before. She had been in the mall with her friends at age 11, when, a strange man struck up a conversation with the girls. He was mostly bald, thin, and wore aviator frame bifocals. The group sprinted away when he tried to bring them with him. Hailey had pulled out her rhinestone covered cell phone and called her mom, once they felt they had reached a safe distance. Her Mom had rushed to the mall to pick the girls up. When Andrea saw little Hailey, she ran up to her and grabbed onto her, stroking her hair. "Oh, sweetie!" she had said. "Oh, sweetie!"

"Yo dyke!" the boy said to her, waving his cigarett around. "You listening?"

She walked faster.

"Girl, don't you walk away from me! Just answer a question for me okay?"

She slowed down, afraid he would chase after her. "What is it?" she asked.

"Why you up and decide to be a lesbo? Are we men not good enough for you?"

She began walking again.

"You see," he continued, "what I think, is that you girls just haven't met a man who can do it right yet." Laughing, he called out to her, pushing himself up from the stoop, "Guess what! You found him!" He walked after her, limping. She sprinted around the corner and back towards the bridge.

***

Thumb cocooned in a Cars bandage, Andrea pulled open the oven check on the macaroni and cheese bake. It was almost done. She dropped a steam-in-bag broccoli in the microwave, set it for five minutes, and lowered her head down again.

***

Hailey paused at the entrance to her gated neighborhood. The brick sign at the entrance, "Deer Run" repulsed her. She stood on the shoulder of the road, cars whizzing by her. She spun around and began to cross the street, just as a car whizzed by inches away, horn blaring. She hung her newly bare head and slunk back home.

***

Once again, Andrea was woken by a noise. The microwave was dark, and a burning smell was coming from the oven. There was more to worry about than the origin of the sound.

It was 6:15, ten minutes after she had intended to wake up. She leapt out of her chair and flung open the oven, pulling out a slightly blackened casserole. "Goddamnit!" Her mind flew to her kids, 'Jason will never eat this.' She took a knife and scraped the dark bread crumbs into the trashcan. She opened the fridge, grabbed slices of provolone cheese, and, skillfully removing the wax-paper backings, flung them onto the mac and cheese. She dropped the whole dish into the microwave, smashing the brocoli.

***
Back in her room, Hailey once again stared at her new hair. She now looked at it with disgust. On her floor lay a blue hat with argyle and earflaps. She pulled back on her white shirt, and dropped the hat on over that. Her hair was completely hidden.

She heard her mom calling out to the family. "Dad's home Jason! Hailey! Dinner time! Let's eat!

With a deep breath, she stepped forwards. She stepped again. And again. And again. She made her way like this down the beige carpeted stairs into the kitchen.

"What's with the hat?" Brian asked lovingly, giving his daughter a hug. He gave the white pom pom on top a tug, and it flew off. His hands stopped moving on her back, and Andrea stopped cooing at Jason. The quiet hum of the refrigerator running seemed loud in comparison.

Andrea began. "What the f*ck did you do to your hair?" she asked, in a low, forceful whisper. She walked towards Hailey and ran her hand through the spikes on her head. "Why did you do this? How could you do this?" She mused angrily. "How could you do this to me?"

Hailey turned around in forced calm and walked back to her room, her hat still in Brian's hand.

"What the f*ck did you do to your hair?" Jason repeated giggling, banging his sippy cup against his high-chair.

***

Andrea jumped into gear. "Jason!" she called across the room. "Don't say that! That's a naughty word!"

He giggled. "But Mommy, you said it!"

She sighed and cut a slice of casserole for Brian. "Here you go, Dear." She mashed up another slice and placed it in a plastic bowl for jason.

She sat down at her seat at the table, plate resting upon stacks of coupons from the drug store.

"Well, let's eat," she said to Brian, nodding over at Jason who was stuffing his face with cheesy pasta.

They chewed in silence, only three of the four seats full.

***

Hailey sat in her room, again, notebook in hand, and began to write.

"Beware of splinters, they said,
For closet doors are made of wood.
Mine is made of lead.
While I may have broken it,
So it did to my head,
For now that I have spoken it,
The word is alive, not dead."

***

Ben watched Hailey, scribbling mawkish teenage poetry in her diary. His first impulse was to laugh, then, to cry. This was all too familiar. He saw as she broke her pencil from pressing down too hard, tore out a page, crumpled it into a ball, and began the poem again. He watched her smooth the next page, repeat the process, begin again, until finally, a poem sat alone on the big empty desk in front of her. Finally finished, she closed the book. Ben sighed. If only she knew.

The End

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