It took exactly 26 minutes to end her life. She timed it from the minute the wig-maker called her back to the minute she stepped outside, cash bills folded in her pocket for the first time. People said before you died your memories flashed before your eyes, and hers had, in a fashion. She saw images of the life that had been planned for her: her long hair covering her back on her wedding day, falling around a baby’s face, sparkling under the stage-lights as she cheered her husband. With each snip another memory fell to be collected, weighed, and bought. The price was scandalously low, but as she fingered the bills in her pocket she imagined all the once forbidden things she could buy, books filled with philosophy, unwholesome foods, ungodly music. She smiled.
A woman without hair was like a day with out meals, something to be endured with great suffering until you could get away from it. The shunning would begin the moment she stepped inside the house. One or two of the servants might speak to her, her parents never would. They expected her to marry a man with father’s political beliefs, a man she would lift up, help into the spotlight. She would carry his children and help his campaign. But all of that called for a woman with long hair that proved her godly values. She tried to run her hands through her own hair but stopped short, barely an inch off her head. The movement caused spikes and she impaled every junior senator she knew on them.
She came in the back entrance, moving fast so the cook didn’t see. At her computer she transferred the money out of her accounts and into ones her father couldn’t empty. She could stay as long as she liked, in a silent bubble, but instead she started packing. The clock chimed in the hallway and she ignored it, one last box of clothes. Should she take the political-biblical t-shirts or full length skirts? Neither she decided and tore down the stairs.
She stood in the doorway, memorizing the scene. Servants lined the walls, heads down in reverence. Her parents sat at the table, hands folded. Her sister glanced up, then quickly down in horror.
“Merciful God, help us to steer those in darkness to your light, help us to punish them for the error of their ways and lift them up when accept your righteousness,” Father’s voice intoned the dinner prayer. “And help our daughters, Liberty and Chastity to-”
It would have been a laugh but it caught in her throat, the muscles knowing better than to interrupt, but her heart incredulous at the irony of her name. Father looked up sharply. His face clouded with rage, then immediately became a blank slate. The senator knew how to maintain appearances.
“And help our daughter Chastity to be a beacon of femininity, and some day motherhood, in a world where woman put on manly garments.”
The last words were a departure, added to be his only acknowledgement of her. Her mother looked up, saw her hair and stifled a sob. She took her place at the table, serving herself, knowing better than to pass the food to people who wouldn’t take it. The conversation continued as if she had never existed at all. She delighted herself by taking a second helping of the rolls, snatching the basket away from her sister who couldn’t acknowledge the crime. But when the plated desserts arrived for everyone but her the thrill faded.
She went to sleep with a filled suitcase propped by the door. Staying guaranteed food and shelter, leaving meant more freedom. The choice was easy and she slept well.
“Honestly, Libby, I don’t know why you bothered to try it,” her sister’s shrill voice woke her up. The darkness outside her windows told her morning prayers would start in a few minutes. Chas was already dressed, playing with a pair of earring, probably planning to steal them. “You should’ve known it wouldn’t be that easy.” Chas debated a necklace, stealing from her sister with aplomb. “You’d better hurry up or you’ll be late, and you already have hell to pay.”
She sat up in bed, wondering what her sister meant. She was free, she was finally-
Her eyes fell on the mirror in front of her bed. A second later her hands confirmed the impossible sight. Every single strand had grown back, stretching down past her shoulders, locking her into servitude.