Lovely (1995)

This story first appeared in the March/April 1995 issue of Dig Magazine

As a child, she’d tried pinning them back. She wrapped transparent tape in a band around her head before she went to sleep, hoping it would somehow cause them to grow towards her head, instead of in the direction they apparently wanted to grow: straight out.

In high school, she developed hairdos that attempted to cover them up. But her hair—a problem in and of itself, in her mind—was singularly straight, unwilling to hold a curl or fluff up helpfully. The tips always poked through.

By college, none of the reactions were conscious. She always wore her hair down to her shoulders, and when she smiled, she looked down. When she laughed, she’d tilt her head, one ear towards her body, and run one hand through the hair on the other side of her head.

Always, her plans were foiled when she ran. She ran track in high school, and a semester in college, and she liked to run every day, or every other day. The hair was too long, had to be pulled back. In the winter, she’d wear a headband, but in warm weather...well, it was hopeless.

It happened like this: she was jogging down the greenway, approaching a little jam of rollerblade betties and an older couple with a beagle. She didn’t notice the guy on the bike, behind her. These days, when they play the scene over in their heads, frame by frame, they still can’t tell how it started. It ended up face down on the pavement, scraped and bruised and cursing. The rollerblade betties shot right on by, didn’t stop. The older couple cooed and fussed until it was apparent there weren’t going to be any lawsuits.

His place was nearby: a studio loft in a converted warehouse, without air-conditioning. They sat on the floor in front of an open window—the loft was all windows, really, lacking proper curtains—in the achingly gorgeous orange glow of a June sunset. The air had ripened, Disneyesque, with the scent of the blooming ornamental fruit trees along the street outside.

Between opening band aid wrappers, they talked, a little:

He was an industrial designer, just out of college last year, working at a design firm that specialized in household goods. He had designed a voice-activated coffeepot called Omar. When you said to it, “Omar, make coffee,” it would. It ground up beans that it kept in a little refrigerated airtight bin, boiled water from a little reservoir, and made a nearly flawless cup of coffee. Omar whirred and hissed in the kitchen while they flushed the gravel out of their scrapes.

She was a graduate student in French literature, and worked at a Norwest Bank in Loans. She was a fan of French-American literature: Canadian, Caribbean, Creole. She hoped to translate this forgotten chapter of American literature into English, to popularize it. Her grandmother was a militant Québecois.

When they talk about that night these days, he talks about her elbow. She still has a scar there, a discolored patch of skin that refuses to tan, and when he talks about it, he runs his fingertips along the pale skin there. Her elbow was particularly bad: tiny pieces of glass were embedded under the skin. He scraped at it with a little cotton, ran hydrogen peroxide through the broken skin. She winced and blew on it, to bring down the stinging.

But what she remembers most fondly is the little cut they tended to immediately afterwards, on her right cheekbone behind her eye. He tucked a stray hair behind her ear, then he dabbed the cut with hydrogen peroxide. Tears welled in her eyes, reflexively, and he blew on the cut, still touching her ear. She closed her eyes and sighed. She felt that somehow, in that moment, she had floated out of the sides of her own head. He said, in an offhand way, “what a lovely ear,” and she wanted to cry. After the sunset, they drank coffee and watched TV.