The Girl with the Fire Hair

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    The idea of the audience's gaze fixated upon her hair was unbearable to her, and she went so far as to attempt sun bleaching again. This had no effect on the color of her hair, however, and simply made pink the color of her skin. Yet she checked in the mirror repeatedly, holding out a curled strand and examining it thoroughly. When she pinned it back as all the other dancers did, it did not look regal. It looked as though she had sharply forced the curls to be straight, and they had retaliated fervently, because, in fact, they had. Her reflection frowned pointedly. She hated how her fair skin accentuated the vividness of her hair even more, and how her features were so plain and simple. If only they were bolder and drew attention away from her hair, she would be satisfied.

    As the days drew closer to her recital, her fear grew. The sun would offer her no help with her hair, nor would the blonde dancer, nor would her instructor. Her fire hair glared back at her from the mirror, and she turned away in despair. Her eyes caught on a black ribbon rolled neatly on her mother's dresser, which she touched gingerly. With a fleeting hope, she tied the ribbon into her hair. She decided that the ribbon only made it worse. She yanked it out sharply and held it in front of her, as though it would offer a solution. As she looked at her reflection holding the ribbon before her neck, she had an idea. She tied the ribbon around her neck gingerly. The stark black of the ribbon made a bold line across her white neck that begged a second glance. She smiled.

    The next day she met her fellow dancers with a ribbon around her neck and a new thrill of hope in her heart. She went through the motions of her solo absentmindedly, for she was fixated on how else she could draw the attention away from her hair. The recital was in two days. The next day was a dress rehearsal, when the fire haired girl would have the privilege of wearing the prized, snow colored leotard. A blue ribbon was tied around the waist of it, and a tutu of extravagant tule rested just below it. There was a blue ribbon for her hair, as well, which would not be pinned back like the other dancers, but half down. She shivered.

    The morning of the dress rehearsal, she awoke before dawn. She tied the black ribbon around her neck and rummaged through her mother's things, taking whatever she could find. She smudged some gel onto her brows to further define them, and colored her lips just slightly with the rouge she found. She added the tiniest bit to her cheeks, as well, and looked into the mirror. She had never been so pleased with what she saw in the mirror--a new girl, a smiling girl, with rosy cheeks and pretty eyes. Her hair was only an afterthought. The girl's heart leapt for joy.

    She worked on brushing out her tight curls for hours. Her hair expanded to an almost comical volume, but when she brushed it back and tied it, half up, it was reduced to a reasonable size. She looked beautiful, she thought, perhaps even as beautiful as the blonde dancer. She replaced her mother's rouge and gel, and tiptoed back to her room to practiced her routine.

    She was met with stares at the dance studio as they took in the soloist's appearance. They made no remarks, as the instructor had instructed them not to speak, but after she had left, one girl remarked that she looked very pretty today. The fire haired girl could not formulate a coherent reply.

    She dressed quickly, pulling the snow white tutu over her body. She tied the blue ribbon into her hair, and walked gracefully into the studio. The other girls watched as the fire haired girl stared into the mirror in front of her, one hand resting across her waist and the other long and graceful at her side. She shifted her feet to fifth position, and admired the girl staring back at her from the mirror. She was an unfamiliar girl, not the girl with the fire hair, but a girl who was pretty and striking in all the right ways. She felt a smile pulling at her red lips but tried fervently not to let it show. She was shy that way.

    The boy with the tilted cap appeared in the mirror through the window behind her. He put his hands on the glass and stared in, his eternal smirk and soot distinctly visible even through the dirtied glass. The girl felt her heartbeat quicken, and her rosy cheeks become rosier. The other boys gathered around him, all shoving each other to see what he saw. She started to turn her head, but stopped short. She did not want anyone to think she had any interest in the boy with the tilted cap. Instead, she met his eyes in the mirror, holding her pose and poise.

    He grinned, showing all his teeth, and announced loudly to the boys next to him.

        "Somebody set her hair on fire!"

    The girl froze. Her heartbeat drowned her senses, and she heard nothing in the moments following. She could not hear the dancers' laughter, but she saw their faces and their lack of posture as their eyes flitted to the boys outside. She could not hear anything else the boy said, or any of the boys said, but she saw them grinning and shouting over each other.

    She turned away from the mirror and bit down hard on her lip. It stopped the tears.

    She did not wear any rouge to the dance recital. Nor did she wear gel on her brow, or the ribbon around her neck, nor did she brush out her curls. It did not matter anymore. She knew it made no difference. She decided that the fields were not so bad after all—the sun was a cruel joker, but the beasts and the birds would make no remarks—and she decided fields were much more appealing than dancing, anyway. She did not return to dancing after her performance. Her mother was surprised but minded not. It was less money to spend. She did, however, give her daughter a small bit of money to spend as a treat, for getting the solo.

    The hat barely managed to hide her fire hair as she walked down the streets to the corner shop. There were not many people about, and for that she was thankful. The bell at the top of the door rang out cheerfully as she entered. The clerk looked up, barely interested, and his gaze fell back to the counter as soon as she was inside. The girl needed no help from the clerk, however; after longingly gazing at her desired purchase for years, she knew exactly what she wanted, where it was, and what it cost. She took it from the shelf and walked up to the counter, gingerly setting her item and coins atop it.

    The clerk frowned and hesitated to take her coins.

        "Aren't you a bit young for this?"

    The fire haired girl said nothing, but removed her hat deliberately and met his eyes with a pleading gaze. His eyes widened as he saw her fire hair, and he took the coins.

        "You read the instructions real careful, then."

The fire haired girl walked home with her purchase in a little bag that the clerk had given her. She bounded up the stairs to her room and shut the door behind her, shivering as she retrieved her purchase from the bag. She looked at the little box, and her heart beat fast as she placed her fingers on the side of it.

    She opened the box of hair dye with a trembling resolution that she would never be called the girl with the fire hair again.

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