That summer, I cut my hair to an awkward length. I found a pair of blunt scissors in a drawer in the dormitory kitchen, and simply removed the excess. All that dead wood – that thicket that fell over my breasts and back – was clipped away, until the blunt bristles skimmed the nape of my neck. My discarded plumage lay limp on the linoleum, and the memories with them had been plucked from my mind.
It was odd to feel the summer's breeze on my shoulders then, a violation from which I had previously been protected. My shroud had been shortened by circumstance. In its place, a sheet of spines now lay, pins flowing from my temples, puncturing the past until it died in my hands. So, with the vulnerable skin of my throat freshly exposed, I was sent home, hoping to find new solitude in my disguise.
The house looked just the same that summer. Red brick walls and iron gutters stood squarely at the end of the terrace, rhododendron and foxglove clamouring for space against the austere façade. The little pond - no more than a puddle due to the lack of rain - was punctuated by the soft fleshy commas of tadpoles. The old ford sierra sagged in the heat of the mid-morning sun like a damp rag on a washing line. The door to the house was still blue, the paint still peeling.
Victor sat on the steps that led up to the porch, staring coldly at me as I descended the path. He was smoking one of those filthy roll-up cigarettes and as I approached, his face clouded with confusion. A small, ugly ridge appeared between his brows as he recognised me.
I felt the jagged whiskers of his chin bruise my cheek before he had even stood to greet me, and each time I moved my head, the brush of my own hair would dig into my throat like pins into the soft flesh of a jumper. His eyes penetrated me, searching out my motives. My nerve flickered and he smiled.
Of course, he knew why I had done it. And with his knowledge, Victor seemed more dangerous to me than he had in January, when he had stroked my face and told me that he loved me. The jagged edges that sat just below my ears would not dissuade him, and I had been foolish to think that they might. Next year, I would shave my head.