Friday, July 13, 2007

Samson's Hair

For Sunday Scribblings. Sometimes the old stories are the best.

They say women should cover their hair, because... Well. If men should see it. You know, men have no self-control. They’ll run wild, or... something.

They never think about the other side.

You should have seen him. Oh, the face was nothing to write home about. Body? Plenty muscles of course, but he wasn’t very graceful. Not much of a dancer, I never figured out if he was too musclebound to really move or if he just took himself too seriously.

But that hair! Midnight black, full of little gold sparks. Not steel-blue, mind you, not that coppery-red that people get when they’ve been out in the sun. Gold.

And there was so much of it. He could have taken off all his clothes and been perfectly modest down to the knees. Thick, thick luscious hair. Every woman who saw him saw herself naked, wrapped in that hair, bound to him and him to her and all hidden inside that cloak of hair, that tent of hair.

We old women washed clothes down at the river and talked about it.

“My granddaughter can’t talk of anything else.”

“My niece swears she’ll die if he doesn’t look at her.”

“Your niece? She’s been married how long?” We all knew, of course: five years, three kids.

“Does her husband know?”

“Does he know?”

“What if she...” But no-one dared finish that sentence.

I said: “It’s not just foolishness.” We knew foolishness. We’d all been foolish girls ourselves, once upon a time. Most of us had made it through, one way or another. Most of us had young granddaughters, whom we worried about; married daughters, whom we had not expected to have to worry about.

“It’s that hair. They think it makes everything different somehow. Like he’s... favored... like a prophet or a judge.”

As if anything done under the veil of that hair was sanctified, without sin, hidden from shame. Hidden from the eyes of the Almighty. It was blasphemous.

“We can’t let this go on.”

“We don’t dare harm him. He’s a great warrior.”

“It’s his hair. It’s just the hair that’s the problem. We don’t need to hurt any other part of him.”

I knew what it would come down to.

“Delilah? You’re the oldest.”

Yes, oldest. Not most senior, although I was that too: old, dried up, immune to desire. It would be safe, they said, for me to touch that hair, brush it, wash it, crop it close. You’ve been a widow for a long time, Delilah, they said, and there’s never been any talk. We all know how you loved your husband and honor his memory. You can do this. We wouldn’t trust anyone else.

(And besides, he wouldn’t look twice at an ugly old crow like you.)

Didn’t I know better? I did. I’d looked at that hair myself; I’d imagined the weight of it pouring across my palms, the tangled smoothness trailing against my skin. My wrinkled, sagging skin.

Spite whispered that the rest of them must harbor the same feelings, secretly, lying awake beside their sleeping graybeard husbands: I might not be entirely safe from the magic of his hair, but I was in no more danger than any of the others. Cold common sense said that he could have no interest in a woman my age: even if I completely lost control, the worst that would happen would be that I’d make a fool of myself. I went and sharpened my bronze shears.

He came to my tent politely enough. He ate with me, and drank with me, and the poppy did its work. I gave him a pillow, the pillow from my bed, and he lay down and slept with his hair all unbound and streaming across it like a river with stars caught in its ripples. I have this, I thought, you old bitches, you dried-up sacks of jealousy, I’ll have a pillow that smells of his hair and the rest of you will have nothing. I’ll burn the hair and you can have the stinking smoke.

The first cut made me shiver. The severed tress slid across my arm, warm and heavy, and fell to the ground with a serpentine hiss.

The second cut made me weep. Short ends pattered down like rain on dry dust, and caught in the wrinkles of my wrist.

I stopped counting then, and I cut and cut and cut. I forgot all about the daughters and granddaughters. I forgot about the other old women and the washing. I forgot everything except the slither and caress of his hair, the weight, the salt tears in my eyes and the merciless, rhythmic clack of the shears. And then it was done, and I fell on my face in the pile of his hair and wept for joy.

I burned it all, every strand; I even burned the pillow. If my eyes were red, it must have been the smoke. And after he ran from my tent, cursing and swearing vengeance, with his shirt pulled up over his head to hide his shame—after the other old women came around, murmuring respectfully while the younger ones looked daggers at me and spat behind my back—I closed my tent flaps and sharpened my shears again.

Mine is the only hair I’ll cut from now on. It grows slowly, but it grows enough.

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