James looked at her, peering intently, as though sight failed him and the truth of it was more than he could accept. Finally he asked “What happened to your hair?” as if she’d left it behind at work or forgotten to put it on in the morning when she’d dressed. He’d asked, expecting a logical reason for its disappearance, expecting an estimated time of its return. He didn’t get mad until she’d twirled around asking “Don’t you like it? It will be so much easier to take care of. Feel it, it feels nice.” He grabbed her, digging his fingers into her shoulder, shouting, “What have you done to your HAIR?” The children cowered, deathly quiet with enormous eyes, the fairy dusting of freckles more noticeable on their noses where fear had drained the color from their faces. James brushed roughly past them as he limped out the door. He didn’t return until well past midnight.
He did not mention her haircut again. Cora was aware of the unspoken criticism emanating in waves from the core of his being. She supposed the reaction originated in the church teachings. She was not the first of the congregation to try something more practical with her hair. Admittedly, her hair was the shortest but she had not made the first cut. They rarely saw one another until the evenings when he came to empty the register. He left the house before she woke. He’d kept on with the hard seasonal work his family had always done. He hadn’t wanted to participate in the market’s daily activity. Oversight of the family finances was all he’d wanted.
She’d made half-hearted efforts to restore what they’d had before but his feelings were silently obvious. He began passing time with his worthless cousin, Douglas. Douglas liked to crow that he was named after General MacCarthur. It was true but MacCarthur wouldn’t have wasted his time spitting on Douglas. When Douglas was drafted for Vietnam, he pretended he was crazy and wet the bed every night he was in boot camp. The code on his discharge papers proved it. He was gutless. She’d never known James to drink; under Douglas’s opportunistic influence she believed he had taken it up. He’d become surreptitiously brutal, squeezing her hand until her eyes watered, violently jabbing at her clavicle as he emphasized her deficiencies in the darkness of their bedroom.