Fiction, Vol. 1.3, Dec. 2007
Jude was cutting Apple’s hair. Apple sat with her knees held protectively to her chest, and Jude kneeled behind her, back rigid with purpose. Blonde curls lay around them like broken slinkies.
With her right hand, Jude grabbed a fistful of hair and pulled it straight and, with her left, pressed the blue plastic scissors with the little metal blades against Apple’s head and sawed back and forth, back and forth. After Jude cut a spot, she went over it again, fingers pinching, sawing and slipping; pinching, sawing and slipping. Sometimes, she’d go over it a third time. With each handful, Apple’s head was pulled out of alignment, the crown dipping to the side. Apple tried to let the pressure off by tipping her head even more, but Jude kept pulling until the cut was complete. Once the hairs were severed though, Jude gently supported Apple’s head and nudged it back to center.
“Ouchie!” Apple said. “Jude, hurts.”
“There’s still hair, Apple,” Jude said.
“But Momma say not to.”
If Momma saw they’d get in trouble. “I’m gonna spank you both to make sure I got the right one,” Momma said sometimes, even if it was just Jude’s or just Apple’s fault.
“Momma did not,” Jude said, “and Momma cuts hair all the time.”
Jude was right. Momma hadn’t said not to, not really. Momma told them not to play with scissors. But these weren’t the big sharp shiny scissors, and they weren’t playing — they were working, just like Momma. Momma cut hair. People gave her money to cut hair. It was work.
Apple’s face tipped up to the ceiling as Jude pulled a hank from the top of her head. “Now hold still,” Jude said in a big soft voice, just like Momma said when she cut their hair.
Apple sucked in her breath with a big soft whoosh. Jude pulled the scissors back —the metal of the blade had turned red. Apple put her hand to top of her head and then in front of her face and there was a splotch like oozy finger-paint on her palm.
Apple was bleeding and that was bad. Her face puckered. “Oooowwie-ie-ie!” Apple choked, starting low and getting louder. “Mmmmmmm-ummh-aahh!”
“NO! Apple, no,” Jude said. “Momma’ll hear. Ssshhh.” She dropped the scissors and patted the top of Apple’s head, getting blood on her fingers.
Apple cried harder.
“Ssshhhhh, shhhhhh,” Jude said and wrapped her arms around Apple’s shoulders and pulled her back against her chest. “It’s not bad. I’ll get a band-aid to put on it — how’ll that be?”
Momma loomed in the doorway. Momma was big and round, but she looked even bigger now.
“Judas priest, Jude!” Momma said.
She came over and scooped Apple up and took her to the bathroom. Apple let out a wail and then buried her face in Momma’s soft chest. Momma pushed the faded plastic gardenias and the puffy knitted doll out of the way and propped Apple on the counter. She ran water in the basin. She wet a washcloth and pressed it against the top of Apple’s head. After a minute, Jude came to the bathroom too and leaned her shoulder against the door frame, her body twisted sideways and her arm still outside the room.
“Judy Ann George, what were you thinking?” Momma said, not looking at Jude.
“You make people pretty and I was making Apple pretty, like you do,” Jude said. She walked over and put her hand on the counter and looked up at Momma. “Isn’t she pretty, Momma?”
“What am I going to do with this?” Momma said. “All those beautiful curls.” She dabbed the washcloth on Apple’s head and then tossed it on the counter. Keeping one hand on Apple, she opened the press-board cupboard and pulled out the hydrogen peroxide.
Apple saw the brown bottle and started to wail again. “No, Momma, noooooo!”
“I’m sorry, baby, but we got to do this.” Momma laid Apple back on the counter with her head hanging over the sink, supporting Apple’s neck with her left hand, and opened the bottle with her teeth. She carefully tipped the clear liquid onto Apple’s scalp. Apple felt the sting and yelped. Momma dabbed Apple’s scalp with a dry tissue and then picked Apple up and sat on the toilet. She held Apple in her lap, a tissue pressed against Apple’s head. She rocked back and forth and said, “Shhhhhhh, shhhhh.”
Jude stood at the counter, waiting. Momma would punish them, and it didn’t do any good to run to your room and hide under the bed with your broken Barbies. It wasn’t fair, though, because she and Apple were only doing what Momma did all the time. Apple had held really still, just like she was supposed to, and Jude’d done as good a job as she could. She’d cut carefully and been thorough, going back to get even the short pieces.
After Apple stopped crying, Momma stood with Apple in her arms and said, “You’re a bad girl, Jude. You should’ve known better.” Momma reached down with her free hand and took Jude’s shoulder and pushed Jude ahead out the bathroom door. Fingers digging in, Momma steered her through the house to the hair shop at the back. Momma let go of Jude’s shoulder to twist the door knob and pull open the door. She pushed Jude through and pulled the door shut behind them with a soft thud. She grasped Jude’s shoulder again and steered her across the room, turned her around, and nudged her back into one of the hard wooden kid chairs that urged you to sit up straight. “Now you stay there,” she said.
The room held pools of smells —the pungent insistence of perm chemicals, the soft caress of women’s perfume, and underneath the excoriation of Pine-sol.
Momma put Apple down in the shiny chair that made you happy and pretty, where you could sit and spin around in circles, where you were the center of attention while Momma talked to you and other women smiled at you. “We’re just going to trim it up a bit,” Momma said to Apple, her voice sing-song. “Snip, snip.”
With economy of motion, Momma flipped a hairdresser’s gown over Apple. It swung and splayed wide like a matador cape and then softly, slowly settled and took the shape of Apple’s body and the chair underneath her. Apple looked like she was borne aloft by a silver pillar. Momma snugged the gown around Apple’s neck and fastened the velcro. Apple tried to turn and look at herself in the mirror, but Momma kept her turned away toward Jude. Apple sniffed a bit and gave Jude a wide-eyed stare.
The hair was gone from one side of Apple’s head, but it was still long and fluffed out on most of the top and on the other side. Eyes focused on Apple, Momma tipped her own head one way and another, brow wrinkled, as she considered the geometry of beauty. Then she took a comb and scissors and carefully, gently, trimmed Apple’s hair. She left it longer on the top so the curls fluffed out like a halo and made one side match the other. When she was done, Apple looked older, her chin sharper and her eyes bigger.
“Don’t you look pretty?” Momma said and swung Apple around with a flourish so Apple could see herself in the mirror. “Now we won’t have to deal with those rats’ nests in the morning, will we?”
Apple gazed at herself in the mirror and then shook her head. The little girl in the mirror wasn’t her. Apple had long blonde curls and was pretty — everybody said so. This girl didn’t have hardly any hair at all. She was ugly. No, that wasn’t her. Apple was pretty.
Momma removed the gown, cupping the shreds of hair in its folds and laying it in a heap against the wall. She picked Apple up and put her on the blue plush carpet scrap near the play corner. “You just play with your Barbies until I deal with Jude,” Momma said.
That wasn’t right. Apple wasn’t getting into trouble at all. Momma was acting like Jude was the only one in trouble. Apple had been going to cut Jude’s hair after she cut Apple’s, and it had been Apple’s idea. “Jude? Just a trim, like Momma,” Apple had said.
“Come here,” Momma said. Jude got up from the chair and slowly walked over to her. Momma grasped her under the armpits and lifted her up into the silver chair. The chair squeaked a little as Jude settled into it. “This is to teach you a lesson,” Momma said. “You’re older, and you have to be better than Apple.”
Momma took the big round buzzer thing that sounded like a bloated late-summer fly. She only used it on men, but now she plugged it in. She faced Jude toward the mirror so Jude could see, and then she took a comb and pushed it into Jude’s hair and lifted. She turned the buzzer thing on and sawed underneath the comb.
In the mirror, Jude watched her brown curls one after another glance off her shoulders and disappear from sight. At first, her face seemed small under her brown mass of hair, but slowly it emerged until it was pale and crisp like a full moon. Her eyes were smudge craters, and her ears grew bigger and bigger and stuck out more and more.
By the time Momma was done, Jude didn’t recognize herself. What she saw in the mirror was this horrible thing with caved-in eyes and flopping ears and a white skull cap. It was hideous; she was hideous.
“It’s your prom,” Jude said, sitting in the spare hairdresser’s chair and swinging her legs back and forth. “I’m just here to keep you company.”
Jude, thin and wiry, wore utilitarian close-fitting cotton in muted shades of tan that covered her whole body from her neck to her wrists and ankles. Her length of brown hair, the curl long gone, hung down her back like a horse’s tail. When they sat side by side, Jude looked younger than Apple because Apple’s body bulged and curved like ripe fruit. Apple’s hair was long too, but she had cultivated its curls, and they tumbled from her head with carefully groomed spontaneity.
“So?” Apple said. “Why can’t you get your hair done too? Just this once. Even if you don’t get curls, maybe just a trim and a blow dry? You look like cardboard tastes.”
Jude glanced at herself in the mirror. “Yeah?” Jude’s face was blank. No reaction.
What did this mean? Usually Jude would slash back at Apple with her words. Had Apple gone too far? “What I mean is—”
“I know what you meant,” Jude said and turned away from the mirror and stared out of the window.
Apple tried to think of something to say to make it all right.
Sandra the hairdresser returned from the back. Her hair was streaked with three colors —white-blonde, orange-auburn, and red-brown — and it was clipped here and there but shot out around the clips.
“Too bad your mother doesn’t still do hair,” Sandra said. “I used to go to her to get mine done. She was the greatest. When I couldn’t decide between one thing or another, she’d say, ‘Now, Sandra, you just go with your heart, but you’ve got to pick just one.’” Sandra nodded and then shook her head. “Now I have to go over to Petty’s” — her voice lowered — “and she’s not nearly as good.”
Sandra put a couple of bottles on the counter. “Now let’s see about this up-do,” she said.
The ritual began. Like a blessing, Sandra enveloped Apple in a hairdresser’s gown, carefully wrapping a strip of sponge around the neckline. She helped Apple lay back and submit her neck to the curve of the hairdresser’s sink. “A little farther back,” Sandra said and adjusted Apple’s chair to a better position. Apple closed her eyes and her body relaxed into the enfolding synthetics.
Sandra pulled a nozzle from its holder next to the wall, the hose making a zzzzzz sound as it slithered from its keeper. Water sprayed as she squeezed the nozzle and tested the temperature against her wrist. She wet Apple’s hair from root to tip, warm pressure sending a shiver down Apple’s spine. Then Sandra selected a tall white bottle from the crowded counter and poured a dollop of amber shampoo into her palm. It smelled of some sweet flower, honeysuckle maybe. She lathered, her fingertips tracing firm circles on Apple’s skull like incantations. Methodically, she rinsed away the white foam, first from the hairline on the forehead, over the top and to the ends, down along the sides, and then underneath, lifting and spraying, the water going shush-shush-shush and the hair flopping against the ceramic. Sandra washed away all traces of dust, skin flakes, body oil, till the hair squeaked as she rubbed it.
Again, she selected a bottle from the crowded counter and poured thick white conditioner into her palm. She massaged it into the hair follicles, this time backwards — starting at the ends and working her way up to the scalp. Again she rinsed, going over each section three or four times.
Sandra supported Apple’s elbow and helped her to rise. She released her to walk back to the hairdresser’s chair. Apple put her foot on the metal footrest and climbed in and settled. Sandra selected a third bottle from this crowded counter. The bottle blew a raspberry, then another, as Sandra squeezed creamy leave-in conditioner into her palm. She rubbed her hands together, coating her palms, and massaged it through the ends of Apple’s hair. Then she combed it out, the comb’s metal tines going tick-tick-tick with each gentle flick of Sandra’s wrist.
Another bottle selected, mousse this time, mounded into Sandra’s palm with a k-k-k-k-k-k-k sound and rubbed through to coat each strand. Sandra wiped her hands on a white cloth and then retrieved a large black plastic hairdryer from its wire holster. Elbows lifted, she pressed a diffuser attachment onto its barrel, pointed it at Apple’s temples, and then flicked the trigger. Hot air discharged from the barrel with a subdued hum like a Gregorian chant. Sandra finger-combed the curls as she flicked the dryer back and forth, back and forth. When it was dry, Apple’s hair lay in twisted coils.
Sandra slid the hairdryer back into its holster and selected the big-barrel curling iron next to it. She turned it on to let it warm and then, piece by piece, she sectioned Apple’s hair and curled it. With each section came a faint sizzle and the acrid smell of burning keratin. What was writhing wiggle became demur spirals. Finally, Sandra pinned everything in a mass like extravagant fourth-of-July fireworks. Another final bottle, hairspray this time, meticulously misted over everything like a final wave of the incense. A deep breath — the ritual was over.
Apple said, “Remember fourth grade pictures? My fourth grade?” She tilted her head down and smiled as she looked at Jude sideways out of the corner of her eye. Then she said to Sandra. “We were in love with Cher then, and Mom put us in those crazy ringlets. We looked like those old pictures of French women, you know?” She glanced back at Jude.
Jude was sitting in the other chair, her legs crossed and her foot swaying back and forth, back and forth. She nodded her head.
“Then we got to school and went into the bathroom and wet down our hair. God! We looked like wet sheep, you remember?” Apple laughed. “We tried and tried to pull it straight. I think we pulled half our hair out.”
Jude nodded and said, “Then it rained that afternoon and we told Mom that’s why our curls were out.”
They said in unison: “Then she got the pictures,” reciting the mantra they said every time they told this story. They laughed, Apple loudly and Jude just a little.
“What in heaven’s name were you THINK-ING?” Jude said in a high squeaky voice, the last syllables a roller coaster bump. “My girls, looking like something the cat drug in.” Her voice, still high, ended in little staccato punches.
Apple’s laugh wavered and then stopped. “Snip, snip,” she said. She and Jude didn’t look at each other. They both knew what this meant. It meant, we’re in this together, no matter what. It meant, the world may cut them but they were there for each other.
“Well, what do you think?” Sandra said, removing the hairdresser’s gown with a flourish and handing Apple a hand mirror and then twirling her chair around so she could see the back.
“Oh, I love it!” Apple said. “It’ll be so pretty with my dress. You should see it, Sandra. It’s ivory satin and low-cut in the front, like to here.” Apple pointed midway between her breasts. “I’ve got lace gloves and those old-fashioned spike-heeled boots, all ivory, of course.”
“She looks like the cover of a romance novel,” Jude said.
Apple turned and looked straight at Jude. “Why don’t you go to the prom too? You could go stag, still. Toby could meet me there.” She nodded her head two quick beats and held out her hand, flat, palm up, reaching for Jude.
“And ruin Mom’s weepy pictures and him picking you up like Prince Charming? I don’t think so.”
“Oh, come on, Jude. Just go.” A strain crept into Apple’s voice. “Mom’d be so happy.”
Jude avoided Apple’s look and said to Sandra. “Toby’ll be so distracted he’ll have to go out back and jerk off.” She said this quietly.
Apple, about to say something, shut her mouth, and turned back to the mirror. Her face pulled inward, her jaw slacked.
“Soooo,” Sandra said, “would you like me to—”
“Do me,” Jude said loudly.
“What?” Sandra said.
“My hair. Do my hair.”
Apple looked over at Jude. Jude nodded slightly, her eyes wide.
“Do my hair, something really girly,” Jude said.
Apple snorted. “A perm?”
Jude just raised her eyebrows.
“Curls, though, right?” Apple said.
Apple turned to Sandra. “Give her big loose curls like brown caramel that swish all around her. Lots of volume.” She leaned forward. “You’ll be so pretty, Jude.”
“Sure,” Jude said.
Apple and Jude switched chairs. The ritual began again. Washing, rinsing, massaging, the tick-tick-tick of the comb filling the room.
“Hey, Apple?” Jude said.
“Mmmm-hmmm?” Apple said, shaking her head back and forth and looking at her curls in the mirror.
“I’m graduating early and joining the Army. Basic starts next month.”
“JOO-OO-OOD!” Apple’s head shot forward on her neck. Her voice, squeezed out and thrust from her, ricocheted between notes.
“Jude.” Apple’s voice was almost an echo. She leaned sideways from her chair and held out her hand. Jude reached back, but the distance was too great. They sat stretched toward each other, fingertips not quite touching.
“Mom’ll wonder why you’re not staying with her,” Apple said as she slid the smaller of Jude’s green duffel bags off the shiny slope of the baggage claim. She struggled to lift and balance the duffel’s awkward weight. The padded strap cut deeply into the soft mounded flesh of Apple’s shoulder.
Around them, the river of people swirled and eddied, the sweep of the terminal tunneling in here, caverning out there. Hundreds of feet lapped against the pink, white, and gray granite floor tiles, broad grooves wearing imperceptibly deeper.
“The Army’s my mother now,” Jude said with a wide smile. “They told me so.” Jude swung the larger duffel as if it had no weight, hooked it over her shoulder, and then picked up the two other bags. Jude and Apple were swept into the flow of people and toward the terminal exit.
They didn’t look like sisters any more. Jude’s hair was cut neatly like a man’s and her fit body, curved now with muscle and purpose, exuded vitality. Apple’s pale hair fizzled limply from her scalp and her soft flesh hung loosely on her frame, like she’d let it go a bit and hadn’t had the energy to gather it back up.
“How long you visiting?” Apple asked.
“I thought I’d stay a couple of weeks, but you can kick me out early if you get tired of me,” Jude said, her smile warm and confidential. “After that, a couple of buddies from Ramstein invited me to hang with them on their sailboat off San Diego.”
“No, no,” Apple said. “Of course you’re welcome.”
Jude stopped, forcing Apple to stop and turn.
“What I mean is,” Apple said, “it’s not a good time for Toby. He’s … Well, we’re …”
“He’s decided to get a sex change? He’s joining the Zapatistas?” Each syllable was exaggerated.
Apple blushed. “Jude, you never liked him, why can’t you—”
“That’s not true. I liked him fine before, when he was just a high school loser and not treating you like shit.”
Apple looked like she wanted to say something, but didn’t. She started walking.
“Besides, Dapple, we have a mission,” Jude said, with exaggerated seriousness. Jude caught up with Apple and bumped her with her hip, but Apple kept walking. Jude bumped her again, a little harder this time, making Apple stagger as the duffel swung wide. Apple stopped and adjusted it, rolling her eyes and then deliberately turning her face to Jude.
“What,” Apple said.
“A highly dangerous mission into unfamiliar hostile terrain.”
They started walking again.
“WHAT,” Apple said, a small smile on her lips.
“Change your hair, change your life,” Jude said as they reached the car.
They stopped on the way home at a Wendy’s. Jude had a Big Bacon Classic, biggie-sized, with French fries, a Coke, and a chocolate Frosty. She took big bites and chewed vigorously, her jaw muscles bulging. Apple had just a vanilla Frosty. She took small spoonfuls and let them lay in her mouth as if she wasn’t quite sure whether she wanted to swallow.
Between bites, Jude did most of the talking. She told Apple how Germans are crazy about techno dance music and how after working fourteen hours she and another gal would dress Goth and go dancing all night long. “You’d be so tired the next day but you wouldn’t feel it. You’d be jazzed from the music and the motion. Sometimes you didn’t even need coffee,” Jude said.
Apple’s husband Toby wasn’t home when they got in, and he wasn’t there the next morning either as they drank their coffee. Jude didn’t ask, and Apple didn’t mention it.
“Zero hour,” Jude said. “Ready for the sortie?”
She and Apple drove to the pharmacy and bought a bottle of Sun-in and a jar of Shocking Blue semi-permanent hair dye.
“Semi-permanent, that’s me,” Jude said. “Look, no moss.” She turned one way and then another, showing Apple her back.
Jude tried to get Apple to buy some hair dye too — Hot Hot Pink, she suggested — but Apple wouldn’t. “It’s beyond help,” she said.
They drove home and set up in the kitchen. Shampoos and conditioners, combs and brushes, washrags and towels all carefully, methodically arranged on the counter. It looked like a jagged city skyline. Jude, towel over her shoulders, hung her head forward over the sink while Apple adjusted the spray nozzle, tested the water temperature in the other sink, and then wet Jude’s head. Jude sat down and held a washcloth to her face as Apple drenched her head in lemony Sun-in. Apple blew her hair dry and then drenched it again, repeating until Jude’s hair was the color of straw. Then Jude held the washcloth to her face again as Apple shampooed her hair, massaging the shampoo into a white cloud, and rinsed. Finally, Apple rubbed petroleum jelly around the edges of Jude’s scalp and carefully painted Jude’s hair blue. The odor of ammonia scraped the insides of their sinuses.
Apple held up a blue finger. “Whoops,” she said, laughing, “you’ve rubbed off on me.”
Just then the door banged as Toby came in. Toby was a large man with a belly that he thrust out in front of himself like a weapon. Apple glanced at Jude and then at Toby. He stood in the doorway for minute.
He looked at Jude. Jude looked back without blinking. Finally, Toby said, “You look like shit.”
“Now, Toby,” Apple said, “why don’t you go take a shower. I’ll get started on supper—”
“You are shit,” Jude cut in.
Red boiled up from Toby’s neck through his cheeks and into his forehead. He stood his ground and then opened his arms and dropped his jacket, boots, and hard hat on the floor where he stood. The hard hat made a Whop! sound as it hit the floor and then spun out of control and came to rest against the cupboards.
Apple scrambled up from her seat and gathered up the hard hat and the boots and the jacket and squeezed past Toby into the hall to put them away.
Toby hesitated and then walked over to the table and sat down. Then he smiled.
Apple came back into the room. She stopped next to Toby and said, “Tell you what, Toby; I’ll make that fish you like.” She turned to Jude. “You like fish, don’t you?” As she said this, she edged closer to Jude.
“Whatever you make’ll be great, I’m sure,” Jude said, focusing on Apple and excluding Toby.
Toby said loudly, “I was just telling a guy at work what a great gal I have.”
Apple wrinkled her brow. She took a step toward him.
“What a good cook she is,” he continued. “How she takes care of me so well.”
Apple’s face relaxed and her eyes widened and she leaned forward onto her toes, soaking in his words.
“She figures out what I want before I even have to ask, don’t you, babe?”
Apple nodded and smiled. “Fish, right?” she said.
“She wants the same things I want, even, because she loves me so much. And she doesn’t want the things I don’t want,” he said and smiled, his lips parting to reveal his teeth. “What do you want right now, Apple?”
“Fish?” Apple said.
He shook his head and then looked pointedly at Jude.
Apple took a step backwards.
“Tell your sister you don’t want her here,” Toby said.
“Snip, snip,” Jude said quietly.
“I said, tell your sister you don’t want her here.” His voice was like a fist.
There was silence in the room.
“But I do,” Apple said, almost inaudibly.
Red boiled back into Toby’s face. He stood and pushed the table back into Jude, shoving her and her chair against the stove with metallic rattling Bang! He stood for a minute and stared at her, his jaw working. Then, without looking at Apple, he retreated back out the door.
Apple waited for Jude’s plane when Jude came home from Iraq.
Something was wrong. A month ago, Jude had sent an enthusiastic email about how great her unit was and how she felt like they were really making a difference. Then, last week, a short email: “Discharged. I don’t know what can I stay with you for a while? j”
Apple almost missed Jude when she came up the escalators from the concourse in a group of people. There were a lot of uniforms in the crowd, and Apple was looking for Jude striding purposefully forward, eyes scanning.
Instead, between two people came what looked like a marionette in sand fatigues. Fascinated, Apple focused on that person. Head down, the person shambled slowly forward, one leg and then the other, listing a little to the left. The person wasn’t carrying anything, no backpack or shoulder bag, and a camouflage billed cap hid the face. From under the hat, the person’s hair, a nondescript brown, grew shaggy over the ears. He or she drifted to a halt, but the hands continued to move and pluck on the pants legs. Then the person looked up. Even at this distance, Apple could see each contour of cheekbone, jaw, and eye ridge. The veins on the forehead stood in stark relief against the pale skin.
It was Jude. Apple stood, shocked into stillness. Jude looked like she was about to fall over, so Apple pushed into a run and dodged through the crowd.
“Jude!” Apple yelled.
Jude saw Apple, and her lips pulled back into a smile, but when Apple swept up to her and threw her arms around her, Jude turned sideways and protected herself with her arms as if she might break into a million pieces. Awkwardly, Apple pulled her arms back.
“Your hair,” Jude said.
Since she and Toby had divorced, Apple had lost weight and let her hair grow. She didn’t perm it any more, so it rippled sleek and golden over her shoulders.
“I know,” Apple said. “I’m on the straight and narrow. No more destructive relationships.”
“You look beautiful,” Jude said simply.
“You look…” Apple hesitated. “Are you ok?”
Jude didn’t say anything.
“Let’s get your bags and get you home,” Apple said.
“No bags,” Jude said. “Nothing.”
When they stepped through the sliding glass doors to leave the terminal into the echoing underground garage, Jude glanced around, stopped, and then sidled over to the cinderblock wall. She put her palm against its rough gray surface. Apple walked over to her and reached for her arm. Jude shook her off. After a minute, Jude took a deep breath, pushed away from the wall, put her head down, and started walking quickly across the open parking lot. Jude couldn’t have known where Apple was parked, but she was walking fast now, just going. Apple had to trot to catch up with her and lead her to the car. Jude breathed heavily after they got in the car.
Apple offered to stop to eat on the way home, but Jude shook her head. After they got home, Jude asked to take a hot bath and then she soaked for hours. Apple finally went in to check on her. Jude had just got out of the bath.
Apple stood transfixed. Jude’s skin stretched gaunt against the jut of each knee joint and hipbone and rib. She had almost no musculature, and her body bowed like an old lady’s. Apple’s eyes traced up to the breasts that hung flaccid like two-week-old party balloons. Then, starting at the neck and extending across the collarbone and to the tip of the shoulder was a thin puckered line like a red lightning bolt.
Jude looked up but did not try to hide her body. Instead, she let her arms drop to her sides and stood with her head bowed and her eyes focused in the middle distance.
“Jude. Oh, Jude,” Apple said. “What happened?”
Jude shook her head.
“What can I…” Apple leaned forward onto her toes, but she kept her hands clasped in front of her abdomen.
Jude took a deep breath.
Apple waited and then waited some more.
Jude shook her head.
“The latrine,” Jude whispered, finally.
“I was on the way to the latrine,” Jude said, stronger, her voice cracking. “Dark. They jumped me and pulled me into the shower.” Jude stopped to breathe, puff, puff, puff. “Held the, the door closed and one, one after another…” The fingertips of her left hand sought the scar above her breast but then stopped and hovered, twitching. Then Jude focused on Apple like she was really trying to make her understand: “I fought. I tried.”
“Who? Who did this, Jude?” Apple reached out a hand but let it float between them.
Jude moved her head one way and another, remembering. Then she said, incredulously, “The men. My unit.”
Still naked, Jude turned and looked at herself in the mirror. An animal sound escaped her throat, and she exploded into awkward motion. She grabbed a perfume bottle off the counter and smashed it through the image in the mirror. Glass crashed down around them. Apple was afraid it would cut Jude’s feet, but Jude didn’t stop. She started pulling open drawers and throwing contents onto the floor, thump, bang, bing.
“What?!” Apple said. “What?”
Then Jude froze and then slowly turned and held out a shiny pair of scissors, the blades sharp and gleaming in the light. She stood looking at Apple.
“What?” Apple said quietly.
Jude didn’t say anything. She just stood with eyes dark holes over the crags of her cheekbones.
“You want me to cut your hair?”
Slowly, almost imperceptibly, Jude nodded.
“Jude,” Apple said, shaking her head.
Jude nodded again, stronger this time. Then she sat on the stool facing the wall, wrapped a towel around her shoulders, and closed her eyes.
Shuffling carefully around the glass, Apple retrieved a comb from the floor and positioned herself behind Jude. She started to trim. She tried to remember how it looked before, timidly sculpting a little here, a little there.
After a few minutes, Jude put her hand to her head and patted her hair. Then she shook her head violently. Her hand sliced the air, once, twice.
“But,” Apple said.
Jude made a low guttural sound, like the scrape of a knife sharpener.
Apple held her breath and then pushed the comb deep into Jude’s hair. “Snip, snip,” she said and cut deeply, the hair falling around them like tears.