She remembers when she was little, perched on a stool outdoors, her mother winding cotton strips through her hair – a transistor, Kenneth McKellar singing “Danny Boy”.
She’d asked her mother, “What does ‘soft you tread above me’ mean?” The mother explained that after her death, she’d hear her daughter come visit her grave.
Her mother said, “What’s wrong?”
“I don’t want you to die.”
The mother tapped a comb on her daughter’s head, “Silly,” but she said it kindly as she spiralled hair around a clean rag.
In the specialist’s room – “Five percent I’m wrong and you’ll live to one-hundred…ninety-five percent I’m right and it’s pancreatic cancer, so we need to think how to manage that.”
In her mother’s kitchen she splits a pill in half. Tiny beads cascade over a fluff of chocolate mousse wedged amongst peach slivers. Her mother no longer capable of swallowing pills whole. She carries the tray to her, adopts a hideously cheery voice, “Sorry, Mary-Jane, but it’s your favourite pudding again.”
A couple of nibbles are negotiated, the rest she toys with. Baby pearls swirled, smothered, submerged.
Her mother drops the teaspoon, “Growing old is a bugger.”
The daughter nods, but in truth laments a sprinkle of seeds failing to be digested. Already she’s devising strategies for a second attempt; puny punches to push back that day when her mother hears a soft tread above her.
by Lucy-Jane Walsh
First publish in Flash Frontier
Her hair is as thick and coiled as copper wire, tough as steel, the colour of rust. Each morning she warms her rollers, stands to face the mirror, stares at the stranger in the glass.
It took a thousand years to make, the pigment, the ore – small beads extracted from her ancestors, blended together piece by piece. She lifts a roller to her scalp, pulls her hair with an angry tug. Stream rises from the roller, twirls above her head.
You must bring it to the boil, let the air react with the impurities, escape as fumes. Once heated it can be squeezed between two plates, flattened into rods. She moves with practiced ease, feels the heat flow through her locks, electron to electron like the current in a circuit. The hair glows hot beneath the rollers, slowly cools into malleable strips. She molds them into a ball, stiff and solid around her head, puts on her pearls and blue blazer.
She stands in front of the mirror, pats her hair. She can see it if she squints her eyes, a solid figure, hard as a bronze statue – the iron lady.
Learning to Unlearn
by Jenna Heller
First published in PopshotApril 2017
You must forget about the horizon
that the world is round
that the earth circles the sun
that a thing cannot be in two places
at the very same time
You must turn your bedroom into a fort
see a spaceship in an empty egg carton
dream up games that only you understand
draw scratchy comics and never apologize
for the quality of your drawings
You must find ‘what is’ inside the ‘what isn’t’
go north when everyone else turns south
span the distance between dreams and reality
map out uncharted routes and pathways
discover hazy new frontiers
You must believe in illusion
travel through the looking glass
explore beyond the wardrobe door
trust in platform 9¾
test the wrinkle and forget time itself