Contest #88 shortlist ⭐️

67 comments

Fantasy Happy Kids

Once upon a time, a princess lived trapped in a tower, where her hair grew very, very long. Only, not the stylish kind of long—the flowing, wavy mermaid tresses—but quadruple-split ends that crackled like dead flower stems when you touched them, because that’s really what happens when someone lives trapped in a tower without a haircut. The longer the princess stayed in the tower, the longer her hair grew. The distance between her good hair days also grew. It was either too frizzy or too oily, so that the princess started to feel more like a crone.


In case you can’t tell, that princess is me, and by the time a new spring dawned and the flowers began to bloom and cars returned to the freeways and the world basically woke up again, I just felt ugly. The hair dragged me down, a parasitic vine creeping over its host like kudzu drowning a tree in shade. 


I kept it in a silver-streaked ponytail or braid just to hide it from myself, and to keep it from cascading down into the dish water, or the bath water, or into sticky plates of pancakes. It followed me around the house, a boa constrictor down my back. 


Somehow, long brown strands still wove their way into my macaroni and cheese, into the roller brush of my vacuum cleaner and the dryer’s lint filter. It became the focal point of my appearance. “I can’t believe how long your hair has gotten!” people would comment from their little Zoom squares in the casual chatter leading into an office meeting. 


My hair was strangling me.


It’s always possible that my hair was just a convenient scapegoat. Maybe it was the tower that was strangling me—my 1,700 square feet of finicky hardwood floors strewn with legos and LOL dolls, and trendy gray walls that sucked up sunshine. Maybe it was the extra ten pounds I’d gained from the aforementioned pancakes and macaroni and cheese. Maybe it was the air outside, poisoned with virus particles that wafted like microscopic pollen. Still, I blamed the hair for the tight feeling that sometimes took over my throat. 


The day I got my vaccine, I texted my hair stylist: “Are you working? I need you!”


She had texted me last March, a mass message to clients, “See you when this is over…” That was back when we thought it would be over in two or three weeks, but somehow I took her at her word. 


“Melanie!!!” came her quick reply. “I was just thinking of you. I must be reading your mind. I’ve been fully vaccinated since February. When would you like to come in?”


We were scheduled for Saturday. I was ready to leave the long braid and my days in the tower behind me. Now, with the office opening next month and the kids’ schools opening in a few weeks, I was going to see people again. It was time to look cute, to wear real pants, time to wake up, drink coffee, and put some fashionable sandals on the pavement. It was time to be a princess again. 


Friday morning, as the sun peeked rosy through my tower window, I sipped my coffee and scrolled wistfully through pictures of layered, textured bobs, buoyant, balliaged, flirting with shoulders and kissing collar bones. 


“Mommy! Mommy? Where are you?”


My thumb still swiped downward, drawing magic from the phone’s gently glowing screen as I answered the little voice plodding down the hall. “On the couch, Baby. Want to come cuddle?”


My youngest, Clara, climbed into my lap, where she began bouncing and playing with the tips of my still-loose hair. “What are you doing?” she asked, her voice warm and rosy like the sunrise.


“I’m planning my haircut,” I said, and held up my phone for her inspection. “How would you like it if I looked like this?” 


That was my first mistake. Never ask a preschooler’s opinion on something she has no control over. But it was early, and I was still finishing my coffee. Mistakes happen.


“Uuuuh! No,” she groaned, wrinkling her nose. “Yuck.”


I swiped to the next image. “This one, then.”


“Bad,” she growled, a scowl pursing her lips.


Clara had been two the last time I got a haircut. She probably didn’t even remember it. I realized how much her world was about to change and wrapped my arms around her tiny waist.


“I’ll still have my same face,” I comforted her. “My own eyes, my own nose. I’ll still be Mommy. Just with different hair. And anyway, hair gets old,” I told her, stroking her long, dark brown curls. “It needs cuts to stay healthy. Like going to the doctor. Only, I waited so long, my hair needs surgery. I need to get rid of my witch hair.”


“But you have princess hair!” Clara flung her arms around my neck and tangled her fingers into my hair. 


I did not feel like a princess, but I remembered all the times I’d let her brush my hair this year—twist and tangle it into “styles” decorated with sparkly headbands and barrettes—and the afternoon she picked dandelions from the back yard and laced them through the strands of my braid. “Like Rapunzel!” she’d exclaimed as she brought back more and more smiling yellow weed-flowers.


To her, I really was a princess. My kingdom was small, but my status was real.


I hugged her more tightly, this three-year-old princess used to quiet mornings, slow transitions, long expanses of time for tea parties and art projects, and Mommy always a call away, ready to solve problems with a royal decree. ”Ok, yes, princess hair. But even princesses need haircuts. Remember Rapunzel?”


“But then her hair wasn’t magical,” she said in a small voice, her chin resting on my shoulder. 


“Don’t worry. We’ll figure out how to keep some of the magic,” I promised, thinking of dandelions and pancakes, and all of the other things I wasn’t ready to leave behind. Morning cuddles. Princess movies. I felt my throat tighten, and this time it wasn’t my hair.


✂️✂️✂️


The princess got her haircut. 


I left the kids behind and went to a salon with a fountain and a courtyard, clay pots overflowing with red and pink geraniums. 


“I’ve seen worse,” my stylist teased as she ran her fingers through the tangle of my ends, and the smile I gave in reply made my cheeks ache.


I listened to hip songs I didn’t know and sipped a mimosa and made polite banter while I watched big pieces of myself fall to the floor. Eight inches of hair—a year’s worth of growth and then some. I was shaped and textured and colored and dried and curled, a royal treatment. 


I shook my head from side to side, felt my hair graze the tops of my shoulders. I felt so light, like I’d come unmoored. I could float away, a dandelion seed in the breeze. 


Soon the winds of change would carry me into adult conversations, into quiet, clean office spaces designed for productive thought. But I didn’t want to drift too far away from where I’d been planted.  


“Mommy!” Clara ran out into the driveway when she heard the car pull in. She sat in my lap and jiggled the steering wheel. 


After a couple of minutes, she twisted around and timidly touched the sculpted edges of my hair. She reached into her pocket and pulled out a crumpled dandelion that she tucked behind my ear. “You’re still a princess,” she said.


I smiled through the tears that hung heavy in the back of my throat. “You bet.”


I want to say they all lived happily ever after: the princess drifted effortlessly between her office and the diplomatically-unrecognized kingdom of her tower. She is trying. She handles the transition with a graceful smile and a practiced wave, coiffed and polished. There are alarm clocks, traffic jams, tantrums, and growing pains, but the princess feels beautiful, and she can breathe. 


April 08, 2021 22:07

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67 comments

Scout Tahoe
21:09 Apr 10, 2021

Lighthearted. I like it. You’ve mixed a classic fairytale with chaotic life in quarantine. It makes me feel hopeful and comparing people to princesses always makes me smile. -“be+gan” might just want to be “began”

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A.Dot Ram
22:15 Apr 10, 2021

Good catch. Thanks.

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Scout Tahoe
20:20 Apr 17, 2021

Congrats! I’m sorry I didn’t see this before!

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A.Dot Ram
20:52 Apr 17, 2021

Thanks. You're on a bit of a hiatus lately. Giving your brain some time to unwind, or on to bigger and better projects?

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Scout Tahoe
22:03 Apr 17, 2021

I wish. Just been a little uninspired of late. I stare at the prompts for hours on end but nothing clicks. Thank you for asking, though. Sometimes I wonder if anyone notices ;) How have you been?

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A.Dot Ram
22:12 Apr 17, 2021

I certainly noticed, and miss your voice. I've been on an every-other-weekish schedule myself and trying to be ok with it. These things take time and quiet, all in short supply. I do feel like the process is becoming slightly less fragile for me, though, so that's good. I hope you come back soon, refreshed and inspired (creativity works like that, the subconscious brewing and collecting under the surface).

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Christina Marie
13:39 Apr 09, 2021

Loved this! What a wonderful and relatable way to capture the pandemic.

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Christina Marie
14:55 Apr 16, 2021

Woohoo! Congratulations on the shortlist!!!

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Moon Fox
18:43 Jul 19, 2021

I loved it! You truly captured the chaos de la quarantine. <3

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Dhwani Jain
11:52 Jul 01, 2021

Yet another beautiful story. I feel this is inspired from Rapunzel + the Pandemic + you real life? (just guessing) Well, loved it and really liked the descriptions...

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06:37 Jun 30, 2021

This was soooo greatttttt

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08:12 Apr 27, 2021

Great story. But yes, princesses need haircuts as much as normal people do. Well done!

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Michael Boquet
16:05 Apr 16, 2021

A nice modern twist on Rapunzel! Love the humor in this piece. Great job communicating the relief your main character feels after getting her haircut. A very cute story. Congrats on getting shortlisted!

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A.Dot Ram
16:22 Apr 16, 2021

Thanks! I'm glad you saw the humor here.

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Lilianna Gower
00:09 Apr 14, 2021

Oh I loved this so much! You did such a great job combining fairytale elements in with real life. What a lovely way of taking this prompt. Well done!!

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A.Dot Ram
16:45 Apr 16, 2021

Thank you!

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Emma Louise
16:31 Apr 13, 2021

Awww... Yeah, kids and haircuts are a lovely combination. Is crying over someone else's haircut really necessary? I love the play on Rapunzel.

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Sativa Schilber
01:37 Apr 13, 2021

I really liked this! A beautiful take on the prompt. And relatable on a personal level!

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Kristin Neubauer
18:24 Apr 12, 2021

This was brilliant - it has to be a winner or, at the very least, a shortlist. Taking the fairy tale paradigm and turning it on its head to bring it into this very moment was so original and offered such a fresh perspective. I also love how you incorporated the sub-plot of Clara’s unique view on her mom’s hair. This story had so much - plus wry humor - I have to read it again. Based on this and some of your other work, I get the sense that you have been reflecting deeply on things over the past year. I am glad that it is coming out in y...

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A.Dot Ram
20:03 Apr 12, 2021

Oh, thanks. I really have been thinking a lot about things lately, and I might be with Clara-- disagreeing with the people in a hurry to discard a year's worth of growth and return to former normal (despite recently having my first haircut in about 18 months). I had to help Melanie understand the mixed bag she was dealing with.

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04:03 Apr 10, 2021

Oops- and I forgot to mention, I think "still-lose" must be a typo?

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A.Dot Ram
04:16 Apr 10, 2021

Thank you! That one auto corrected, I think.

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02:55 Apr 10, 2021

I love all your work and find it so relatable. We must be writing soul sisters. My pixie cut grew out into a mullet during quarantine until I went a little crazy and gave myself a buzz cut... It was not my best look but hey! No one ever really saw it and now I know better, haha!

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A.Dot Ram
05:39 Apr 10, 2021

I suspect we may have some similar experiences that help us appreciate one another's work. (Though I've never had a pixie, mullet, or buzz cut).

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21:58 Apr 25, 2021

I was so excited to get to be on the shortlist for the same prompt with you! It was weirdly like meeting a virtual celebrity crush. 🤪

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20:15 Apr 09, 2021

This is great! Interesting spin on a classic tale and current events. The hair struggle is completely real and relatable.

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D. Owen
20:14 Apr 09, 2021

Enjoyable read.

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Aisa M
15:51 Apr 09, 2021

This is cute!

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Rachel Loughran
10:40 Apr 09, 2021

This is great! What a thoughtful (v timely) take on the prompt. Loved the family dynamics and the weaving of fairytale tropes with everyday life. This was a lovely read.

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A.Dot Ram
05:40 Apr 10, 2021

Thank you!

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Shea West
04:05 Apr 09, 2021

Can we all agree, princess or not hair holds some kind of power over us? We are quick to remove hair from legs and pits, but from our actual head? I say that quarantine made us all embrace our most raw forms, grown out hair, pale skin, frown lines, extra pounds around the middle. You do so well with the mother child dynamic in your stories, they're real and I love that.

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A.Dot Ram
04:38 Apr 09, 2021

Hair has power, I agree. I could get even deeper into it for me, but it didn't feel in character for my narrator. It's about who defines what's acceptable for hair, and how for a little while here we've all gotten to make our own rules. We do have our own kingdoms, and that's the valuable thing we're all about to give up. Clara was pretty smart, and I love that idea of engraving ourselves in our raw forms.

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Shea West
05:00 Apr 09, 2021

I totally get that notion that there are rules for hair made by other people. Simply look at the family photo album when my mom's hair went from the top of her butt to short and permed- safe to say my dad done pissed her off, and she sent a message chopping it off. Didn't say a word, just came home with over 20 inches of hair gone😂😂😂

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A.Dot Ram
05:17 Apr 09, 2021

Wow, there's a statement! Hair is power! Or power over your hair is power.

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00:55 Apr 09, 2021

Ooh this story is a whole different ~mood~ during self-quarantine!!

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Claire Lewis
23:27 Apr 08, 2021

This is fantastic. Your writing is always full of tender and comforting details. I’m always so impressed by how you can weave magic into reality and make even little things like a haircut or a child’s musings feel like the most important parts of life. I suppose, in a lot of ways, they are. I’ve been debating chopping my hair off... now I’m very tempted!

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A.Dot Ram
23:56 Apr 08, 2021

Haha. As if this wasn't inspired by my hair explorations on Pinterest 😁. Thank you. You've done some great magical work yourself!

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Claire Lewis
17:40 Apr 16, 2021

Congrats on the shortlist!! Certainly well-deserved 😁

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A.Dot Ram
17:51 Apr 16, 2021

Very good company there this week! Look, we were both thinking of dandelions. Something in the air?

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Claire Lewis
17:53 Apr 16, 2021

Yes I did notice that! I think it’s pollen in the air, at least where I am 😂

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