The hair refuses to pull free from Fran’s flesh. It shivers and recoils against her razor blade, fearful of what fate awaits after being discarded into a trash heap among other equally long black hairs. It wants attachment, flesh, sweat. Seeing other hairs collected in her sink, in her tub, in her trash, only compels the single armpit hair to stay here longer, to remember a time when there were more of them. To Fran, its insistence is cause for concern.
Days later, she will receive a wax underneath her pits, above her lip, below her crotch. By the time it is all over, she is pink and cold and filled with ache. The hair, dejected and irresolute, still remains. In her apartment, she will lie in bed, her arms and legs splayed like a starfish while she tries to pluck the hair free between her fingers. Later, she will get her girlfriend to try, and though the hair finally relents under her touch, it’s still there and craves attachment.
“I don’t know why you need it off so badly,” says her girlfriend. “If a person can’t comprehend that women grow hair, then they seriously need to grow the fuck up.” She is fuzzy like a peach and soft. Tiny hairs sprout from her legs like weeds, waiting to be uprooted. Among other things about her, this is what Fran likes: feeling her girlfriend’s hair stand on end as their arms and legs brush against each other in bed. Feeling the hairs on the nape of her neck as she draws her into a kiss.
“You don’t get it,” Fran says. And she knows just by the look her girlfriend makes Fran disappointed her somehow, disappointed to find the woman she believed to be careless and inventive and all the things she is not, is in fact just as acutely aware of her existence as everyone else. “I can’t have the kids seeing me with this. They’ll eat me alive.”
“It’ll be a good learning experience for them,” her girlfriend explains. “They’re, what, like, eight or nine? They should understand, and if they don’t, then they’ll understand now.”
Fran wants to be the kind of teacher the kids find pretty and affable and memorable. She wants them to tug on her skirt, throw their arms around her, and cry, “We love you, Miss Fran!” Something about their affection, so open and unified, strikes her as the most authentic. Even now, weeks before she begins her position as an art teacher, she can envision her students returning back to her years later in high school, their voices several octaves deeper, stubble amassing under their chins, and arms long enough to wrap her into a familiar embrace. The potential memory is sweet, welcoming. A single hair, even tucked beneath her armpit, somehow disrupts the possibility.
She finds herself in a doctor’s office, lying against the paper-lined cot with her arms raised and pits exposed. Her doctor is a bespectacled man and forever sniffling, as if he is trying to exhale the world in a single breath. He is too old to be a doctor, she thinks. His trembling finger curls around the hair, testing its viability, its strength. Under his breath, he says, “Mmm,” and “Interesting,” and, “That’s nice.” Fran doesn’t say a word, even as his ink pen glides across his notepad.
“I’m referring you to a specialist,” says the doctor. “A good one. Laser hair removal. You’ll like her.” Teasingly, he pulls at the hair. “It’s nothing but a little growth,” he says. Then, his eyes narrow. This is the first flicker of expression passing over his face since she entered his office.
A little growth. That’s all, that’s it. Growths are simple, extractable. Later, in bed, as her girlfriend fingers the single hair, she tells her, “Later, there won’t be anything.”
“You’re making a mistake,” her girlfriend says. She goes on about how if kids can’t understand she grows hair, then they have to deal it with regardless. They’ll grow up to actually hate hair on women. They’ll grow up to skirt away at the site of fur, to question the presence of imperfection on a woman’s skin. All the while, she kisses underneath her pits and keeps the hair curled around her finger. Fran fears her girlfriend loves her body hair more than she loves her.
Later, when Fran finally finds herself sprawled on the surgical table, she admires the stinging sensation as the laser glides across her flesh, each zap bringing a dull ache and discomfort, each flicker of pain sending her whole body humming with life. She feels as if bees are sinking into her flesh only to remove their stingers and inject it again and again. She feels as though fingers are plucking weeds from her flesh, desperate to find flowers there.
When it is all over, she thanks the surgeon and studies the pink, blistered flesh. In this way, she is reborn. She is all naked and hairless and shivering. When it is all over, she goes to her girlfriend who sits in the waiting room flipping through Marie Claire, points at the smoothness of her flesh that no longer feels like her own, and says, “Do you like it?”
Together, they ride home in silence. Neither mention how there is one week before school starts, one week before Fran encounters her first classroom of eager, wide-eyed eight-year-olds who may or may not know what grows from flesh.
Fran tells herself she wants to be the teacher everyone likes, the teacher who allows children to dump entire containers of glitter onto their creations. After her first day of teaching, she is uncertain whether anyone fully likes her yet, but she remembers when she placed popsicle sticks onto the table for their latest activity, one pig-tailed girl deeply inhaled the sweetness of her grapefruit-scented deodorant and smiled at her. Normally, a moment like this would’ve made her buzz with validation. But Fran only wished she had something underneath to keep her warm.
Brianna McNish writes from Connecticut. Her stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Moon City Review, Jellyfish Review, Pidgeonholes, Hobart, and elsewhere, including a Pushcart nomination and recognition on Wigleaf’s Top 50 longlist.