Author: Molly Patterson
Location: San Francisco, California
Molly Patterson teaches at the Writers Studio in San Francisco, and her work has been published in the literary magazine Zone 3
The first few days you will sit on the edge of the cot that is pointed out to you. Mostly, you will stare down at your hands. In the early mornings and the late afternoons, your eyes will rest on the little patchwork of windows high up on one wall and your fingers will wander to the ends of your hair. It will be brushed down over one shoulder and you will comb through it with the fingers of the opposite hand, feeling the smoothness of it, its soft oil. It will always be the same shoulder, the same hand. You will brush and brush as you watch the
small windows, the sky outside, the gradual changes in lightness and dark.
At times, your hair will hang thickly in a plait down the center of your back. When it feels loose you will reach back to undo it, piece by piece, so that you can braid it back up again, more securely.
You will start to notice the other womenís hair. You will see how each one touches a hand to her scalp first thing in the morning when she wakes up, yawning. Some will be coarse and curly, some straight. Some will be changeable from day to day. You will notice a frizz around some womenís heads like a summer haze around the moon. Othersí smooth veils will remind you of water.
You will watch them take turns brushing each otherís hair. One will sit in a chair with her eyes closed, the curve of her spine gradually loosening. She will sink down against the plastic seat-back, slowly, while the other one stands behind her, running a comb from roots to ends. This one will tell a story that you wonít understand, that few will understand. You donít share languages. The one in the chair might understand, but she will not say a word. Her eyes will stay closed as she breathes slowly and evenly for fifteen or twenty minutes, until it is time to change places.
In the evenings, after the dinner trays have made their appearance and been taken away again, you will wait through the trickle of the dayís last hours for your turn at the sink in the corner. There, you will bend like a supplicant before an altar. The water will be warm on your scalp, and for this you will be thankful. Twisting your neck from side to side, you will ensure that every strand falls beneath the stream, and then you will take the shampoo that smells of chemicals and oranges and massage it in with your fingers. You will work up a lather.
And when you have rinsed out the soap and squeezed out the excess water, you will return to your cot and sit with a towel twisted round your head—the sweet heaviness of it like a deep sleep—as all around you women brush and brush, and then you, too, among them, each of you lost in the act of forgetting.