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Michelle Reale


Her mother bit the cigarette in her teeth like Roosevelt. She coated a thick lank of her daughter's hair with setting lotion. The women leaned their ham-thick arms on the kitchen table, squinting through the smoke of their own cigarettes. They teased the quiet girl calling her a turkey being trussed for a feast.

“Hair like her father,” the girl's mother laughed, though proud of her daughter's mane. She shook her hands out, which had gone numb from the effort of straightening the extra long strands. She pinched the cigarette out of her mouth with sticky fingers and took a drag long enough to last a while. “Goddamn, get that hair cut!” one of the women croaked and they all laughed. “Get one of those asymmetrical cuts.” This was suggested by the most fashionable of the group. “Nah, it would only curl up,” another advised her own hair gray at the roots, but blue black everywhere else.

The girl sat fumbling with the rusted bobby pins in her sweating hands. Her royal blue prom dress hung in a miasma of cigarette smoke and humidity in the doorway of the kitchen. She thought of the flowers she was hoping her boyfriend would bring her. She wanted a wrist corsage with ribbons to match. She didn't want to worry about flowers being crushed against her chest when he held her close, like she hoped he would. She asked him to order a royal blue vest so that they would match. Her mother's friends laughed at this, sputtering smoke while they guffawed. “Can you imagine your Frank wearing something to match?” They goaded her mother, who rolled her eyes and laughed at the very thought of it.

“Ever been kissed?” One asked her, in a faux prim voice. She blushed pink down her neck and across her thin chest, the bones a fragile scaffold for everything she held inside. Her mother pulled her hair tight, wrapping it into a conical configuration. “We used to call it a Gibson Girl”. The women nodded, tired with their own talk. Their cigarettes smoked themselves in the ashtrays while they stared hard at the girl who they thought lacked everything that a boy would find desirable.

Her mother leaned against the kitchen sink, lit a fresh cigarette and admired the job she'd done. Her daughter held the mirror and turned this way then that, gently touching the hair tower on her head. She stood as though the weight of it might crush her, her shoulders hunched. The women watched as her mother held the dress that she stepped into. When the rest of the details were added, the girl perched on the edge of the sofa, waiting to be picked up. The women didn't bother to hang around. They yelled “good luck” and “have fun”. She's got a lot to learn, one said with anger in her voice. “She does, doesn't she,” responded another, but no one was listening anymore. They were already out the door. The oldest in the group gave a sad, backward glance at the fragile girl behind her, waiting, knowing only too well, what waited for her.

Michelle Reale is an academic librarian on faculty at a university in the suburbs of Philadelphia. Her fiction has been published in Verbsap, elimae, Word Riot, Eyeshot, Pank, Rumble, Danse Macabre, and others.

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