By Cynthia Morgan
Copyright 2006 on this one. All rights reserved.
Mama traded me for a handful of greens.
Most pregnant ladies have cravings, but Mama’s were cravings on steroids: She wanted the greens next door. ALL of them. ONLY them. Now. Daddy grew desperate as she wasted away, and struck a deal with his neighbor: Anything she wanted, in exchange for ALL her greens.
Done. Daddy fixed salad after salad, Mama gave birth to a healthy girlbaby (me), and the neighbor (Auntie Rue) made her choice: Me. Like that, I had a new mama.
Auntie Rue said she took me because of the greens. Parents willing to trade a baby for greens, she sniffed, shouldn’t be parents.
Auntie should talk; what she really wanted was my hair. It grows faster than kudzu; by the time I’d left my mother’s womb it had already grown to the floor. And it was red.
Redheads were scarcer than rubies in our kingdom, but King Casimir’s delightful new Queen, the beautiful Arimae, had long, silky, fire-colored hair. Every nobleman in the kingdom was in love with her, and every noble lady wanted to look just like her.
In the whole kingdom, only one other person had Arimae’s ruddy gold tresses: Me.
Auntie smells opportunity like a cat smells tuna: She saw my hair, and started making plans. She swept me into her house, crammed a bottle in my mouth, and started cutting.
Morning and night, Auntie’s scissors swept across my head. Morning and night, my hair grew back. She wove that coppery harvest into wigs. The fine ladies bought and bought and bought and the money poured in.
TAuntie hired a gardener, and took on a second housemaid. I slept in a silver cradle and shook a rattle of gold.
On my 16th birthday, Arimae caught cold and died. She took our living to her grave.
The king married a brunette, and suddenly you couldn’t give away red-haired wigs. We could have been quite comfortable living off our savings for the rest of our lives…if it hadn’t been for my ever-growing hair.
Without a market to snap it up, hair filled our house, flowed past the porch, and into the yard. It invaded the neighbors’ yards, choked children, strangled livestock. The more we cut, the more it grew. Auntie hired men to dump truckloads of hair in the sea but the hair floated back home. We tried burning it but set fire to the neighbors’ fruit trees.
Constable Dill needed a machete to serve the eviction notice.
“I’m only one step ahead of torches and pitchforks,” he warned, whacking through mountains of red-gold locks, “Keep that hair under control, or the mobs will do it for you…permanently.”
That night Auntie shaved my head buying enough time to race to the old storage tower that once held a town’s worth of water. Inside, it was cold and dark, and I shivered as Auntie tossed up candles and blankets and loaves and a pair of scissors.
My hair was already down to my waist, and I stared back at Auntie with despairing eyes.
“You’ll have to stay here until I can hire someone,” she warned. I burned hair to keep warm, and waited.
Auntie advertised for a handsome prince to rescue me from my lonely tower. Usual pay and perks (fabulous wealth, beautiful daughter, worldwide fame), usual penalties (death).
I’m still in my tower. So far nine princes have answered the ad, and they keep coming. They’ve got great references, big clanking swords, noble steeds.
If I hear “Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your red hair,” one more time, I’m going to scream.
They climbed the hair, made brisk love to me in my tower, and eat enough to feed three armies. But tonsorial warriors, they’re not. We’re running out of headstones.
Fairy godmothers? Forget it. The only one that answered the ad tried to sell me hair tonic.
Auntie thinks there might be a market for golden-red sweaters, up north where it’s cold and grey and nobody ever heard of hair shirts. She took her spinning wheel and a 3-day supply of hair to find a distributor.
Until she gets back, I say a nightly prayer:
Forget the princes. Send a barber.
Love and tresses,