Josephine March Sighs With You
BY ERIN ENTRADA KELLY
Here are things you have to think about when your hair is fifteen-feet long: Shampoo, knots, extra weight, nesting bugs, and explanations.
‘Why don’t you cut your hair?’ asks Boyfriend of Four Years Ago. He admits that men like long hair, but insists that yours is too long. When you ask how long is too long, he says he doesn’t know—but your hair is most definitely too long. ‘It’s unnatural,’ he says, scrunching his nose. You hate how he scrunches his nose at you. It makes you want to take his nose between your knuckles and twist it off his face. ‘It’s like having the weight of a child on your head.’
‘Children weigh more than my hair.’
You shrug. You twirl one of your favorite locks around your index finger. I will never cut you, you tell it. You don’t even cut the split ends. You stopped doing that years ago. The hair is part of you—that’s what people don’t understand. They never understand anything.
‘Depends on the baby.’
‘It might as well be a kid. You carry it around all the time and swaddle it up like Jesus.’
He doesn’t know that you don’t just swaddle and carry it; you also talk to it. You tell your hair all your secrets. It’s an extension of you. Literally and figuratively. Just like a child.
‘Maybe I’ll name it,’ you say. You smile to show you’re only kidding, but you’re not kidding. Far from it. Your mind is like the departure board at Penn Station: It flickers through names like a shutter. What will you name it? This is what you wonder as your boyfriend blinks at you. He’s judging you. Hating your hair. Hating how it gets it the way when you have sex. Hating how it takes you an extra twenty minutes to get ready because you have to tend to it. His mind is a shutter, too. He’s deciding to leave you, but you don’t care. Let him leave you. You will stay with baby.
A mother never leaves her child.
Your hair has a mind of its own. It’s unruly sometimes. Straight-edge here, twist there, it doesn’t always follow convention. You stroke it when you read, so it loves literature. Like any good baby, it longs to be coddled. Your hair doesn’t always do what you want it to do. It’s opinionated and tactless. But it’s beautiful, too. You wonder what a good name would be for such a child. You think about the stories you read together. You run through the shutter, waiting for something to stick. Waiting for your hair to tell you. And it does.
Your baby will be called Josephine March.
Josephine March never stops growing. Josephine March will grow until she reaches the end, which will be never. Josephine March is your separate, shared entity. In the four years since Boyfriend left you, Josephine March has pushed ever onward. Josephine March now weighs twenty pounds when wet. It takes five bottles of shampoo a week to clean Josephine March. Your neck aches all day. It’s a piercing pain that shoots up the back of your head and sometimes into your shoulders. It takes a lot to carry Josephine March, but that’s what mothering is. Sacrifice.
The doctor says, ‘You need to cut your hair or you could develop a serious problem. You already have a pinched nerve.’ He indicates the glowing X-ray on the computer screen. You don’t like to look at your insides. Your bones look like bones. It doesn’t look like anything’s pinching to you.
You sigh. Josephine March sighs with you.
It’s hard to find a job when you have fifteen feet of hair. They don’t want to talk about your administrative skills. They want to talk about your hair.
‘How long have you been growing it?’ the interviewer asks. Her hair is blunt. So is she. ‘It’s crazy long.’
‘Twenty years,’ you reply. You stroke Josephine’s belly.
You decide to forget an office job. You think: fast-food, maybe. But Josephine won’t fit in a hair net. Josephine won’t like the grease from the fryer.
You wonder what will happen to Josephine when you die. You wonder if you could write a will that insists that Josephine be given a separate burial. Do people do that? Yes. People do everything.
‘Is that your hair?’ a little girl asks. You’re sitting on a shaded bench near the playground. You were out for a walk, but it’s hot and the heat makes you and Josephine tremendously uncomfortable. You needed a rest. Now a little girl is pointing at Josephine. The little girl’s hair is in a ponytail. You would never be able to get Josephine into a ponytail.
‘Yes,’ you say.
‘It’s long.’ She shoves a finger in her mouth. Her fingertip is red, like it’s been dipped in red Kool-Aid. Maybe it has.
The shrieks and sounds of the playground flutter in the background.
‘Yes,’ you agree.
‘Will you ever cut it?’
‘I don’t want to.’
A woman hurries over. She’s smiling, but it’s not a real smile. It’s a smile between strangers. She has her arms out to the little girl. She rests her hands on the girl’s shoulders. She tries not to look at Josephine. She tells the little girl to hurry back to the playground and stop bothering the nice lady. The girl’s name is Annie.
Annie races back to the jungle gym. The mother turns to you. ‘I’m sorry,’ she says. ‘Sometimes she has a mind of her own.’
You gaze down at Josephine.
You say, ‘I understand.’
Erin Entrada Kelly's short fiction has appeared in several places, including Keyhole, Monkeybicycle and Johnny America. Her debut novel will be released by HarperCollins in 2015. She was recently nominated for a Pushcart Prize and currently works as an editor in suburban Philadelphia. Visit her at www.erinentradakelly.com.