Read an excerpt from Red Girl Rat Boy by Cynthia Flood.
In Marcia’s favourite book, Cinderella’s stepsisters had thin carroty hair. So did Hansel and Gretel’s mother, and the wicked fairy not invited to the christening, but Snow-White’s stepmother had rolling auburn curls that filled a page. They gleamed. Her image, doubled by the speaking mirror, made Marcia’s insides feel hollow. She looked at it so often that the book readily fell open just there. This pleased the aunt whose gift it was.
In a magazine of Mum’s, left open on the sofa, Marcia saw an ad for shampoo. Carefully, secretly, she cut out the sheet of rippling hair, mahogany-red. In her small bedroom she looked about. Where? Mum was always cleaning. Not the bookcase, though. The image slid into Chickadee, also from that aunt.
In time the back issues all thickened with highlights, streaks, conditioner. Always the magazines showed more blonds and brunettes, even more silvers, than redheads. Never enough.
At night, Marcia did not argue for a later bedtime. After kisses from Mum and the aunts, she used her flashlight to choose from the shelved treasures. Back under the quilt, she stroked the invisible hair, imagining colour, then slid the paper behind her bed. She remembered, every morning, to hide it again.
At school that September, for the first time the kids sat in rows.
In front of Marcia sat a new girl down whose back cascaded red-gold hair in a shining tumble drawn in by a scrunchy. Beyond reach. When the teacher moved the class into groups the ripples came nearer, but as the weeks went by the row suited Marcia best. For hours each day, the red hung right before her. Sometimes, a ribbon. Sometimes the hair swayed, once it got past a pair of frail barrettes at the temples.
Red girl’s face was putty with small pale eyes. Irrelevant. That hair enlivened Marcia’s fingers, the crevices where they met her palms, the palms themselves. Her inner wrists shivered at the nearness of the silky warmth. Mesmerizing, how the classroom’s fluorescent beam bent one way on a curl’s crest and another in its hollow, while a single hair, fallen, made a sleek red thread on a sleeve. Marcia’s glances punctuated silent reading and subtraction and graphs, yet her hands still ached.
One day the new boy behind Marcia — he’d transferred in after Thanksgiving — abruptly signalled flu season by throwing up.
The teacher led him away.
Copyright Cynthia Flood, 2013. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.