March 14, 2012 by The Citron Review
Trina’s hair licked. It dripped. It sucked.
It patted her back (the very top part connected to the neck and shoulders, but back nonetheless) and said, “You are so Ola Ray in ‘Thriller,’ girl!” and other stuff Trina needed to hear because now her cousins Helen and Hattie (Twins!) would not play in her hair. Before the jheri curl, on mornings when her mother worked first shift, her daddy would spend the morning singing The Ohio Players’ “Fire,” “Pow”ing, “Boom”ing, and “Watch out now”ing as he bopped and picked her hair into an explosion hardly contained by a purple and white polka-dotted headband. He’d point his finger gun at her and she’d head to school full of Froot Loops and pride, but by the end of the day with a bunch of fifth graders gone off of Prince and Madonna she would wish he had cocked his thumb and banged out something real.
Helen and Hattie’s hair was sickening. Up and down and up and down waves that stretched on forever like the water park slides at Six Flags that made Trina and her friends smile and point and get all bouncy like Helen and Hattie’s curls that reached the back strap of Helen’s training bra, Hattie’s real one (they were fraternal).
On the days when Trina’s hair wasn’t restrained in tight plaits—her mother’s victory after an evening of combs twanging, metal teeth shaken from ripping through knuckle-baring curls—Helen and Hattie, one on each side of her, would stick fists in Trina’s afro and shout, “Marco?…Polo!” their peanut butter breath floating in Trina’s face. Or they would drum the bass lines to their favorite rap songs on Trina’s head, beatboxing for actual sound. Or they would arrange barrettes in the shape of constellations, crowning an orange one right atop Trina’s head the North Star. Or they would bury Barbie’s little sister.
“We found her in the deep brush. She’s a little scratched up, but otherwise fine,” Helen would say, her face frowned up from gathering all that bass for Ken’s voice.
“It’s a miracle!” Hattie would croon, wagging her hand to make Barbie come running.
Sometimes Barbie and Ken would have safari dates, sighing contently as they lay amidst the tall grass.
The first time they saw Trina with her curl, the girls had dug their hands in her hair, screamed, and chased one another with their wet, shiny fingers hooked and disfigured into something grotesque. This, they had said after playing the same game the next day, was the only thing they could do with her new hair.
Trina’s father didn’t touch her hair on those Daddy Day mornings, but he still sang “Fire” and pointed because he had seen Michael Jackson’s head blazing on the News at 4, 5, 6, and again on Wake Up, Kentuckiana. At night, she lay in the too sweet smell of activator with a shower cap on her head trying to keep things as they should be—her hair moist and pillows dry.
Kristen Gentry is a Kentucky girl who lives in Rochester, NY and teaches creative writing at SUNY Geneseo. She misses Louisville winters that end without a fight, being able to find cans of fried apples in the grocery store, and people who say “pop,” but she is able to find all of these home comforts at the scratched and dented desk the department chair’s wife found discarded on the curb.