This is a story about my hair, and how it once came to be a problem.
In the beginning, my hair was not a problem. I had plaits as a child. My mother plaited my hair every morning. I stood between her legs, leaning on her slightly, feeling the gentle tugging of her fingers. Every night, she undid the plaits and brushed my hair. She bought ribbons from the haberdashery that she tied over the elastic bands in pretty bows, and also slides with butterflies and flowers on them that kept the wayward wisps off my face. Between the plaiting in the morning and the unplaiting at night, I didn't have to think about my hair at all.
But one day - I would have been about nine or ten - my mother decided to have my plaits cut off. Perhaps she had grown impatient with the time it took to do my hair. Perhaps she thought I had got too old for plaits. Perhaps she just wanted something to be different, and on a whim fixed on my hair. I can't remember it being discussed.
She took me to a hairdresser in town. There was a considerable sense of occasion about it. I sat up high on the booster cushion so I could see in the mirror. The hairdresser didn't undo my plaits, she cut them off with a huge pair of shears, and then dangled them in front of my face. She and my mother were laughing, my mother rather nervously I think. The hairdresser clearly saw it as a cause for celebration. She must have trimmed what was left of my hair, tidied the ragged ends up somehow, but I don't remember this.
My mother might have said, 'I don't know what her Daddy's going to say!' Something, at any rate, prompted the hairdresser to launch suddenly into a scene which has remained with me vividly to this day. Holding a plait in each hand, she bent close to my face, and whispered, 'When your Daddy comes home, HIDE!' Then, her voice rising dramatically, she went on, 'Hide behind the door! And when he comes in, JUMP OUT, and wave your plaits at him, and say HERE'S SOME FISH FOR YOUR SUPPER!' And she shook the plaits madly at me, her eyes wide and her coarse face shining just like a fish wife's.
What a strange thing it seems now! Did my plaits remind her of a couple of slaughtered plaice, perhaps? Maybe she had a long ago memory of her own, of a father taken off guard at the sight of his newly shorn and suddenly-much-older-looking daughter.
On the bus going home, I clutched the plaits tightly, and told my mother that I was going to do exactly as the hairdresser had suggested. Playing tricks on my father was not normally part of my repertoire; indeed, practical jokes and nasty surprises of any kind were firmly discouraged in my family. But the hairdresser had seemed to carry an authority and wordliness that somehow convinced me that my father would find the joke hilarious, and not, therefore, mind about my hair being cut off. I entirely missed my mother's non-committal, muted response. Perhaps she too was half convinced that the hairdresser's bull-by-the-horns approach was the way to go. At any rate, she didn't tell me not to do it.
I see myself now, hiding behind the lounge door, holding my plaits, holding my breath, my heart thudding in the sudden realisation that what I am about to do is outlandishly out of character, and not funny at all, but it is too late, my father is coming through the door, and I leap out, wildly waving the amputated plaits and shouting bizarrely, 'Here's some fish for your supper!' (We didn't even have 'supper' in our house, it wasn't even a thing.)
I see my father flinching away. He is surprised, but he's not laughing. He takes one of the plaits from me, perhaps he doesn't quite understand what he is seeing. He looks at it strangely, then hands it back to me.
'What have you done?' he says, but already I am too ashamed to respond.
We sit at the table to eat. My father eats in silence, and he doesn't look at me. My mother attempts conversation, then she gives up and we all eat in silence.
So begins five years of conflict and misery over my hair. Not with my father, who passes no further comment on it, ever. But it's as if he started a war and then left the battlefield. For, from this time forward, the sight of my hair seems to set my mother's teeth on edge. She never does my hair again, it's now my responsibility, and my struggle every day becomes, how can I find a way to do it that will take away her frown of disapproval and annoyance? How can I make her like my hair again?