Daddy cut Annie’s hair. He said no one had the time or the money to go to the beauty parlor like Mommy had promised. So while Mommy was at her after-work meeting, he put a bowl on top of Annie’s head and snipped around its edge.
Annie watched the hair fall and silently said goodbye to it. The hair was five years old, just like she was, but now it was going to die. Annie imagined the hairs crying as they huddled on the kitchen floor, but she did not cry. Her throat hurt and her eyes burned, but she blinked and swallowed and would not cry. She was a big girl.
Daddy took the bowl off her head and began to cut some more. Annie flinched and sank in her seat, and an extra-big clump of hair fell.
“Now look what you made me do,” Daddy said. “Sit up. Don’t move.”
As she sat up, Annie kicked at a pile of hair near her feet. The hair screamed and begged for mercy. She told it to shut up or the broom was going to get it. After that the hair was quiet.
When Daddy had finished and brushed her off, Annie ran to the bathroom and locked the door. Jumping up on the counter, she stared at her face in the mirror. Some hairs on the back of her head stood straight up, and her ears stuck out funny.
“Ugly, ugly girl,” she said to her reflection. “I hate you.”
Then she heard Mommy coming through the back door into the kitchen, and Annie crept down the hall and hid.
“What happened here?” Mommy said.
“Annie just got her first haircut,” Daddy said.
“You didn’t!” Mommy said, and there was silence; she was mad. “We agreed I would take her to Eva’s this weekend.”
“As long as I’m out of work, nobody in this family is going to spend money on stupid shit like that.”
“We could have waited,” Mommy said.
“Waited for what? For her to turn into a slut?”
“She wants to paint her fingernails. She begs for high-heeled shoes. She wiggles her hips. And I’ve seen how she acts around little boys.”
“Dan, she’s a little girl. They all —”
“Don’t give me that crap. She’s better off being a tomboy.”
There was another silence — Mommy was giving up. Then Daddy came out of the kitchen. He passed Annie in the hall but didn’t see her.
Mommy was kneeling by the garbage bag, pulling out Annie’s hair. Mommy winced when she looked up at Annie, then tried to smile.
“Hi, honey, you look . . . great.”
Annie stared at the hair in Mommy’s hand. Some of the hairs had begun to cry again and some were saying bad words.
Mommy said, “We’re going to tie a pretty pink ribbon around this hair and save it.”
“Will it die?”
“No, baby, it won’t ever die.”
Annie was relieved. The hairs stopped crying, though some kept on saying dirty words. Quiet, Annie said silently and raised her finger to her lips, but the hairs wouldn’t stop.
“Mommy, how come Daddy doesn’t like me?”
“Daddy loves you. He’s just doing what he thinks is best for you, that’s all.”
“He says bad words to me.”
“He’s unhappy right now, baby.”
“Do I make him sad?”
“No, of course not.”
Annie swallowed hard. “Mommy,” she said, “what’s a slut?”
Daddy’s footsteps came up behind her. Annie moved closer to Mommy.
“Isn’t it past someone’s bedtime?” Daddy said.
Annie went straight to bed without a fuss and fell asleep fast. When she woke up it was dark and hands were touching her. She didn’t open her eyes until she felt something wet and hard on her face. Then she opened her eyes, but this time it was OK: the ugly girl was with Daddy, and Annie was floating up near the ceiling looking down.
“This is your fault,” Annie heard Daddy say to the ugly girl. “I tried to change you — but you’re still a slut.” And Daddy sobbed.
The ugly girl said, “Daddy, I’ll be good.”
It scared Annie to hear her daddy cry and the ugly girl talk, so, moving like a cloud, she slipped through the door and went to Mommy’s room. The hair was on Mommy’s bureau, braided and tied with a pink ribbon on both ends. The hair was happy to see her.
“We can choke him,” the hair said. “We can stuff his mouth and nose so he can’t breathe. We can whip him until he bleeds.”
“No!” Annie backed away.
“We can hang him. We can blind him. We can push him down the stairs.”
“We can trip him. We can go straight through his ears and take out his brains.”
“But he’s my daddy,” Annie whined. She backed away from the bureau.
“We can tell Mommy.”
Annie jumped. “Daddy said never tell Mommy.” She shook her head and wrapped her arms around the bedpost.
“We can. We will. We can wake her up right now. We will tell Mommy.”
“No!” Annie screamed and kept on screaming. She sat up in bed. Mommy was bending over her. Daddy was standing in a corner. His face looked scared. Mommy’s face looked angry. Annie began to cry.
Later, tucked into Mommy’s big bed, Annie heard angry voices far away. The room was dark except for the light that seeped in through the crack under the door. She rubbed her wet face on the pillowcase and yawned shakily.
Annie remembered that it was Daddy who had cut her hair, but all the other scary pictures in her head were slowly being scribbled over with a fat crayon the color of night. Taking one long, trembling breath, Annie fell asleep.