pages Rosary Beads

by Thea Atkinson

Published in Issue No. 106 ~ March, 2006

Seven months ago I had hair. They tell me it’ll grow back eventually,
although it might curl like licks of flame around a dried out pine log. It
might even grow back in patches. I don’t care if it ever grows back. Now
that the chemo has devoured it, my husband finds other ways to amuse himself
and leaves me alone.

He says hair makes a woman beautiful. Any woman. They should wear
it long, and please their men, tease their men, with the tickling of it
across skin. He has no patience for short, manly styles. He so loves my
hair, he takes it in fistfuls. Handfuls that he yanks hard during a
beating, fistfuls that he wrenches when he makes love. Even when my hair
was dripping to my waist, I couldn’t escape him.

Once, after we’d made love, months ago, before I got the cancer, he
had cursed at me. All I’d said was he looked like a woman with that one
fingernail he kept long on his right hand. The pinky. It was white and
ridged because he had thyroid trouble — overactive, like most of him — and
he used it, I knew, to scoop cocaine and press it delicately to his
nostrils. As genteel as a snuff sniffer from the 1800s except he’d never
been a gentleman. Not by a long shot.

Like a woman, I’d said, because he had grown soft in the chest over
the years. His breasts sagged. I chuckled, thinking he’d enjoy the joke,
and he seemed to at first, reached out to me as we lay together on our bed.
He ringed my nipple with that pinky nail. Smiled. Three seconds later my
nipple hurt. Three after that, my scalp did.

So it was no good to me, hair. It attracted him because it was a
mane of chocolate gleaming down my back. At first he treated me as
beautifully as he said my hair looked. He touched me as softly as it felt.
But that was years ago.

Sometimes now I wonder what the neighbors think when they hear us in
the middle of the afternoon. His voice makes the glasses rattle in the
cupboards. I wonder if the spinster next door rocks in her chair when she
hears him yell, spilling her rosary down her chest through her fingers,
thanking God with each bead that she never married.

I see her walking in church in the evenings. I’m careful to keep a
kerchief over my head when I peek through the curtains so she doesn’t catch
my scalp winking in the waning light. She always scurries past my house,
afraid I suppose, that cancer is catching.

And I wonder if he can be heard three blocks down where I imagine
his pert 20-year-old waits for him with a negligee made of lemon silk. She
has black hair. Curls. He comes home now and then with strands in his
collar; the smell of her perfume creeps ahead of him when he opens the door.
He doesn’t see me sitting in the chair watching him, praying like that
spinster from next door.

I’m invisible to him now, thank God. I hail Mary quietly, but
fervently for that naive brunette with each remembered lock, so the cancer
can free her too.

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Thea Atkinson is a freelance writer who lives in Nova Scotia, Canada. Her recent fiction has appeared in The Danforth Review, In Posse Review, The Nashwank Review, The New Quarterly, and InkPot. Her non-fiction has appeared in Canadian Living, Atlantic Cooperator, Atlantic Progress, and Family Chronicle.