- March 28th, 2014
I don't get the big deal about long hair.
I mean, it's nice, but I have been swimming in the ocean on 27 days in a row, starting on report card day and going up to today, and last night I got sick of my hair looking like coconut husks and wool rovings held together by Elmer's glue, so I chopped it all off with my mom's special scissors over the bathroom sink, and then mom yelled at me for leaving hair in the drain.
And this morning, Mrs. MacPherson looks like she would like to yell at me, too, but she can't 'cause I'm not her kid.
"Short hair is not becoming to a princess, Lizzy," she says, pointing to the black-and-white photo of me in this week's Weekly Log, where I float among the dozen other girls in tiaras and sashes. We all have hair streaming over our shoulders
Mrs. MacPherson runs the annual Gathering Week princess pageant. She has long hair. It rises high and stiff from her forehead and scraggles in a bleached blonde mass down her wide back. She frowns at me now as I riffle a hand through my cropped locks. They're so smooth and light.
"Are you taking this pageant seriously?" snaps Mrs. MacPherson.
"Yes, ma'am," I say, eyeing my reflection in a commemorative tray on the mantelpiece. I like the way my hair stands up now that it's so short. I look like Sonic the Hedgehog, a little bit.
The only reason I am in this pageant is because Ashleigh and Kelsey Dawn, my two best friends, begged me to come in it so we could all ride together on the hood of Ashleigh's older brother Rory's '79 Camaro in the Gathering Week parade. Except then Ashleigh got mad at me because she said I was being flirty with Darren Nickerson, who has the longest, darkest, thickest eyelashes of any boy at our school. Just because I was his lab partner in Biology last year. So now they're not talking to me, and I am definitely off the Camaro, and I don't even want to do this stupid pageant, except mom says I have to because she asked her boss to sponsor me, so now I am stuck being the Stone's Pharmacy Pageant Princess, which means I have to help out by running the fish pond at the Fire Fighter's Fun Day. It's just my bad luck that I have to pick up the prizes from Mrs. MacPherson.
I grab the box of prizes and slam out through the screen door. Late July heat shimmers up from the pavement and I can feel sweat rolling down the small of my back as I haul ass down to the fire hall. Ashleigh and Kelsey Dawn are already there, manning the straw draw. Kelsey Dawn whispers something when I come in and Ashleigh laughs loudly. Maybe they aren't my best friends anymore.
The afternoon passes in a blur of attaching plastic toys to strings so the little kids can pull them over the barrier. They exclaim in delight over popguns and bubble wands. I wish I could be so easily pleased.
At home, I wolf down my mac and cheese, stopping only to ask the question that's burning into my soul.
"Mom," I say, all fake casual, "Did you find anybody today?" I cross my fingers on both hands under the table, in hope.
"Sorry, honey," she says.
"Mooo-om!" I yell. "I have to have a classic car! I can't just walk in the parade!"
"Why not?" she says. "Princess power! You were the one who begged to be in this pageant, Lizzy. I thought it was a wasteful relic of 1950s misogony, but you insisted."
"Fine," I say, snatching up my raffia beach bag as I flounce out of the trailer. I run almost all the way down to the beach, stopping only for a stitch in my side. I change into my suit in the outdoor changing stalls and run right into the calm sea. The Atlantic is not warm, exactly, but it's warm enough that I don't gasp like I did at the beginning of July. As soon as the clear brown water is waist deep, I duck-dive under. My hair no longer floats like an anenome or drips down into my eyes when I surface. I love swimming in the evening light but eventually my hands start to get pruney and I have to come out.
I don't want to go home. Instead I stalk down the beach in the opposite direction from the way I would have gone last summer. Ashleigh and Kelsey Dawn will be down at the volleyball net, hoping for Darren Nickerson to pass by.
Instead I head down the long part of the beach, with the red cliffs bulging overhead. This side of the beach is sparsely populated. It's lonely. I blink. Stupid salt stinging in my eyes.
Some stupid kid has built and abandoned a sandcastle, precise bucketfuls of sand forming eroded towers topped by sticks and shells. I kick at one and it slides satisfyingly down. I jump on the castle, kicking it, pulverizing it, destroying it. My breath comes out in unsteady sobs and I have no curtain of hair to hide behind.
"Hey, are you okay?" asks a voice.
If my life were a fairy tale or even a teen novel with "snogging" in the title, the person asking would be velvet-eyed Darren Nickerson. But it isn't. It's Ashleigh's older brother Rory, who is practically actually a grown up at 19. He has a beard and buys his own beer and spends most of his time tinkering with the Camaro which I am not riding on in the parade tomorrow.
"Ashleigh said I can't go on the Camaro," I burst out before I can stop myself.
"Does she?" he says, blinking. "How come, Lizzy -Lizzy, right? I thought you two were thick as thieves."
I shrug, but then somehow as we walk back up the beach I end up telling him the whole embarrassing story, about how I let Darren Nickerson copy my biology homework all year, and how Ashleigh got mad and called me a two-faced queef and how I called her a pin-headed smunt and then we stopped talking to each other.
"Hmmm," says Rory, with a crease forming between his eyes. "I'll fix it. The car thing. Don't worry."
"You will?" I say, gaping.
"Gee, thanks!" And I race off to get home before dark. The Camaro hums out of the parking lot and passes me in a red flash.
The next morning is a jumble of getting into the green dress I wore to junior prom, the white gloves, sash and tiara that every princess will be wearing. My short dark hair looks super cute under the silver tiara and I'm not surrounded by a cloud of hairspray like everyone.
Around 11 mom drops me off in the Co-op parking lot, where the parade will start. Princesses are crowding into the shade beside fire trucks as balloon-festooned flatbeds manouvre into position. Every so often a classic car pulls up and a girl in a gown rushes over to chat to the driver. I look around anxiously.
When Rory pulls up in the Camaro, Ashleigh and Kelsey Dawn are in the seats. I feel sick. He's probably forgotten. But he flashes me a thumbs-up sign. Ashleigh gets out of the car and slams the door. Rory pulls away, leaving her in a cloud of dust.
I crane my neck. All the other princesses are gone. The cop car that's leading the parade starts up its siren and inches out onto Main Street. Traffic is about to shut down for the duration.
One last car pulls into the parking lot. Or, not just a car, no: a work of art, a thing of beauty. A post-war Rolls Royce in muted green and silver. The driver jumps out, He's an older man who's still kind of hot, with grey hair at his temples.
"Lizzy?" he calls. "Ashleigh? Rory asked me to take the two of you in the parade."
I glare at Ashleigh but there is no way I am not riding on this car. It even matches my outfit. I scramble up on one side of the hood, while Ashleigh does the same on the other side. Neither of us says a word. The car rumbles into place near the end of the parade.
I sit with my back very straight and wave to all the little kids as we roll along. I wish I had candy to throw to them. The dads whistle at the Rolls. I can see Mrs. MacPherson in front of the Post Office, beaming fit to burst. I look over at Ashleigh, wondering whether to try to make her laugh with a comment about that, but her whole face is white. She's gripping the car with both hands.
"Hey, are you okay?" I say.
"Too high up," mutters Ashleigh, and then I remember the time she panicked at the top of the big slide on the playground. I had to talk her down. The hood of the Rolls is a lot higher than the hood of the Camaro.
"Look at Mrs. MacPherson over there, " I say, "She's styled her hair with wallpaper paste again, it seems... Oh, there's the Mayor, he's as dressed up as an undertaker.."
I kep up a soft running commentary through the whole snail-paced journey to the arena, at the other end of the parade route. Ashleigh snorts a few times, and then laughs outright.
The Rolls jolts to a stop. I stop, too.
"Liz," says Ashleigh, "I'm sorry about calling you a... you know."
"Me, too," I say. "I'm sorry. Besides, I don't even like that person anymore."
"He has weird long fingers," Ashleigh agrees. "Ben Dwyer is much cuter. He asked me to play volleyball with him on Monday..."
We thank our driver and hoist up our skirts and sweep off to look for Kelsey Dawn. It's all settled. Darren Nickerson can't come between us. Besides, I think I might have a crush on an older guy. Beards are kind of cute.