The Word is Scissor

04/05/2010 at 4:48 pm (Janet's Prompts)

Here’s another short exercise inspired by one of Janet Fitch’s prompts. It explores one of the main characters of the novel, Rose,  the mother of Stephen and Demian.  I envisioned this piece as taking place about five years before the opening action of BEAR, at a moment soon after the boys’ father has left the family in order to follow his unencumbered bliss to New York.


Berkeley, 1971.

She was alone.  The house retained a calm, Rose thought, that was unique.  Eerie.  It lacked qualities it routinely possessed: heavy footfalls rumbling its floors, cigarette smoke swirling and dancing in the air with the scent of five-alarm fires and seared flesh, upraised voices of male war cries, chaos of an unearthly kind rattling the very structure of the two-bedroom house.

She was alone.  The men were gone, all three of them emptying the house of its weight, excising a force that had previously strangled her, savaged her, shackled her to an existence of servitude and subjugation.  She sat curled up in the velvet-upholstered chair she had purchased long before the boys had grown inside her.  Before her essence was compromised, her body twisted and torn and devalued in the eyes of her suitor.

The suitor was gone.  The boys remained, the oldest nearly six and the youngest — the hungriest, the neediest, the loudest — still nursing and always screaming, screaming, screaming.  For the moment, the children played and ate and slept at her mother’s home, the home where Rose’s essence once bloomed like the perennial flower she had been named for, but they would return.  The man, the husband who rushed into her world like a cowboy on a comet, all teeth and curls and hands and hair, would not return.  The man who had given his love freely, generously, his only request that she trust him, that she worship him, that she support his every whim and desire.

The man was gone.  Abandoning his castle, his queen, his princely heirs, in search of a new kingdom, a place to re-invent himself as a pauper and a genius.  She believed he had wiped his mind clean of her, of them, of this tiny house and this beat-down chair in favor of a spiritual rebirth.  All she saw of his spirit now was blackness and rot.  A void.

Rose drew her legs closer to her recently nurturing belly and glanced down at her hands.  She held a pair of scissors, silver as the poisonous mercury she knew coursed through the cold, cruel veins of her first and only lover.  She pressed her finger against the slick metal of the blades, long and sharp and poised for menace.  She wrapped her other hand around the tempest black eye rings of the instrument, allowed the joined circles to separate, to drift outward as the thin blades opened with the sound of Excalibur freed from the stone.

She tasted metal at the back of her throat, a flat, uncompromising flavor of  violence and snow.  When the blades clamped shut, the crash of the oblong rings rattling her fingers like a tectonic shift, her mind was set free.  Power had been returned to her, choice restored to a woman who lived for them, for their needs, their desires.  It was her turn.

The scissors she placed on the knee-high Laotian bamboo woven basket, its sharp reed fingers like tiny tentacles poking upward and outward.  Her hands dove into her hair, strong and black, twisting the lengthy strands as a mariner would untangle a gallows knot from an ocean-ravaged dock.  Rose felt moisture surging toward her eyes, the vision blurring and a point at the peak of her temple pulsating as it sent waves of pain through her scalp.

She had grown this hair with the care of a gardener tending her nursery, pruning sections of it periodically to prompt new growth, in order to maintain the shape and feel of her healthy, blooming filaments.  She had waged numerous battles during her childhood over the elongation of her hair, unwilling to shed so much as a centimeter despite complaints from her parents, her teachers, even her closest female confidantes.

The suitor had never complained.   The man who courted her with hand-written sonnets and later proposed on a high cliff in Big Sur had adored her face, her lips, her body, but admitted that he had fallen in love with her hair.

She opened the mouth of the scissors wide, slid the cutting edges of the blades into the darkened cave that was once an object of so much affection, and closed her eyes.  She waited, her breath slow and measured.

The whistle of a train, miles away at the edge of the bay but its sound carried north by playful winds, reached her in that empty, noiseless house and she held her breath.  Her fingers tensed inside the two metal loops.  Her scalp pulsed with ache and anticipation.

By the time the train’s song faded and the house reclaimed its eerie silence, Rose had clamped shut the polished blades of the scissors and placed them back on the bamboo basket.  A single strand of errant hair clung to the keen point of the closed blades.

She was alone.

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