“Mom, why don’t I have a dad?”
There it was, the one question many single parents dreaded hearing. For Yaela, this came at the worse time possible. Fortunately, she caught herself before the knife could amputate her fingertip.
A red deeper than the brilliant mane trailing down her back dripped from her finger. She tucked it between her teeth, pointing the handle of her blade down at the small girl beside her.
Merrill was only six years old at the time, sharp as a tack and stubborn like her father. “Mom?” Well?
“Well…” How does one answer that? Delicately? Yaela bit down on her finger. “He didn’t like my hair, so he had to go,” was always her default answer. Most just laughed it off; she liked it that way. The truth was harder to admit when both parties were equally at fault.
A high-pitched whine sounded near her feet. The child was slumped over on the floor, hanging onto Yaela’s leg like a weight. “Well?”
“Why does it even matter,” she snapped. The sudden bite caused the child to recoil, alarm and confusion stamped on her face. Shit. She’d never raised her voice at the girl until now, rarely yelled in general unless backed into a corner. “Oh, sweetie…” Merill was on the verge of tears, but Yaela’s fingers tasted of red pepper.
She set the knife aside and crouched down to eye level and placed a hand on hair as fine as hers. “He cut my hair.”
The head poked up, teary eyes wide with astonishment. “But you love your hair!” Almost as much as she loved herself, yes. “All of it?”
“All of it.” She was grinning, in spite of the anger simmering far below. “I can’t forgive someone who does that without my permission.” Her lips set in a firm line, less of a smile now and more akin to a scowl. “Cut” was putting it mildly, and clean shaven a lie. Shame and pride were at odds with each other, one refusing to allow the other to easily remedy the situation.
In a world overflowing with magic, Yaela refused to enchant her hair, disregarding rumors that suggested otherwise. She’d come into this world a flaming redhead, and carefully maintained her hair throughout the years, fussing with it for hours on end. It was her pride and joy, her best feature. So when she left the house for the first time since her downfall, it was either be branded as an adulteress or pretend she’d cut it of her own volition.
“It was time for a change, is all,” she’d say, smiling. Always smiling, too petty and prideful to let him think he had the upper hand. Even when she was approached by another woman wearing her hair, she did not flinch. “Oh, you know me. I like to help, plus it grows back so fast.” She wanted to choke him, but found revenge in inviting men to his bed when he wasn’t home.
“I just couldn’t trust him.” She carefully moved a stray lock behind Merrill’s ear. “Don’t ever let a boy tell you what you can and cannot do with your own body. Or anyone else, for that matter.” The incident with her hair was where things escalated too far. Everything prior to that seemed so insignificant. No, subtle. It was all so subtle; manipulative remarks on the way she wore her hair, how she dressed or acted in public.
She could tell he was being passive aggressive when new accessories appeared around the house, or when he tugged a little too hard at knots in her hair. Even their sleeping arrangements were affected. She never pinned or tied her hair back before bed until she met him. He didn’t like being the small spoon, either. It was either cut it all off or accommodate for his needs, and obviously she couldn’t do the former. And then when Merrill came along…
He left some time after their daughter turned two; Yaela had made sure of that. Partly because their marriage was falling apart, but also because he took scissors to the girl’s hair.
”She looks cuter with shorter hair, don’t you agree?”
“Can I have a new dad?” If Merrill understood the gravity of Yaela’s message, it did not show in her hopeful, yet mischievous, face. “You have a lot of boyfriends.”
Yaela sighed and hugged the girl. “Had. And you don’t need a dad.” Nor was she so eager to get into another serious relationship with a man right now. “Men don’t grow on trees, Merrill. Not good ones, anyway… How would you feel about having two mothers, instead?”
“But I already have you, silly.” Merrill giggled and bounced in place. “‘Sides, Tommy Perkins doesn’t have a mom, and his dad is a carpenter. He’s…” She looked down at her hand for a moment. “He’s good with trees!” She held her tiny fingers into the air. “Or he could make me a new dad. And then with a little magic.” She rubbed her palms together before making a soft ”Boom”.
“It doesn’t work that way, sweetie. And I’m sure Tommy’s dad is a nice man, but…” She cut her eyes to the side. Tommy’s father, Thomas sr., knew Yaela’s reputation well and did not approve. “What about Ingrid? You seemed to like her?”
“Ingrid? Your best lady friend?” Merrill rubbed her chin, tiny brow scrunched in concentration. “Well yeah but…” She tucked her arms behind her and stared imploringly at her mother. “Daaaads.”
“Merrill, why do you want a dad all of a sudden?” She’d never shown much interest in it before, and Yaela was extra cautious about the men she brought around her daughter. She showed less restraint with the women, who either had children of their own or would adopt Merrill in a heartbeat if they could.
The girl stepped back into Yaela’s arms. “No reason…”
“Honey, are they teasing you? Because of me?” Yaela was used to this… As a child, her beauty was deemed a threat to boys and men alike. So when she blossomed into womanhood, there were men and boys lined up for miles to take her hand or warm her bed. She was quite vain and enjoyed the attention, but (harlot) grew to realize that she was not as beloved as she’d assumed.
“They say really mean things…about you. And daddy.”
“I see…” She wrapped her arms around the girl and shifted her to one hip as she stood up. “Merrill, I can’t promise you I’ll find you a father, but it’s not the end of the world if I don’t, either.” She gave the girl’s nose a light poke. “And don’t worry about what the other kids say.” She had a good idea of who, and may or may not have bedded their mothers or fathers. Possibly both… “Some have two parents and aren’t very happy at all. Focus more on having good parents, alright, sweetheart?”
Merrill mumbled a little “Okay,” into Yaela’s shoulder, not too thrilled with the lecture. “I’ll ask Tommy Perkin’s dad to make you a husband, okay?”
“That would be lovely, dear.” Yaela did not consider herself to be a very good mother, but she would try for Merrill’s sake.
“That way I’ll have a really cool dad who can like…zoomy fingers! And he’ll be tall! And I can climb on him and and…”
“Can I still I have my friends?”
“Mom, you have so many friends. But you’ll only have one tree husband.” She was beaming now, one arm wrapped around Yaela’s neck, the other lightly flailing in the air. “It’s gonna be greaaat~.”
How could you say no to that face?