Mia Saul was late—again. She raced down the stairs of the subway station, an overstuffed canvas bag of produce hauled from the farmer’s market thumping uncomfortably against her hip. Just as she reached the platform, which, despite the pleasant coolness of the September day, still held the wretched August heat, not one but two trains, the N express and the R local, pulled out simultaneously. Mia watched the retreating red lights and wanted to cry. This was the third time in a week she would be late picking up her daughter Eden from afterschool, the third time she would have to contend with the teacher who would no doubt charge her the fee no matter how profuse her apology, the third time she would have to face her sullen child, standing outside the double doors of the gym and dragging the toe of her new, forty-dollar black Converse high tops across the pavement in furious, stabbing lines.
However, instead of crying, Mia pulled an apple from the bag and after giving it a surreptitious–wipe on the front of her shirt, took a big, noisy bite. A woman standing nearby turned to look, and Mia, embarrassed, stepped away, making sure that her next bite was not so loud. She hadn’t eaten lunch and she was ravenous. She consumed the apple in tiny, fastidious mouthfuls, not only because she wanted to be quiet, but also to make the fruit last. The organic Macouns, the pear cider, the goat cheese and the tangy cheddar in her bag were really too expensive for her budget these days, but were purchased in the hopes of getting Eden to eat. Eden’s eating was just one more thing Mia had to worry about. As of June, Eden had stopped eating meat or poultry of any kind, and just last week she announced that fish was off her list too. Rather than engage in yet one more battle, Mia had chosen to pursue a different tack, one of enticement and temptation. Hence the trips to the farmer’s market, or Whole Foods when she could spare the time. She figured she had to try while she could—for all she knew, next month Eden would eschew dairy products too.
Mia finished the apple and looked for a place to pitch the core. The platform filled up with rush hour travelers; a tall black man with a rumpled linen suit peered anxiously over the edge, as if the force of his gaze would summon the arrival of a train. Finally, an R train rumbled in and Mia worked her way through the throng so that she was right in front of the double doors when they slid open. Good thing too; some of the people waiting behind her didn’t get
to board before the doors closed and the train began its journey to Brooklyn. Even though this was a local train, it somehow managed to chug along at a decent clip and twenty-five minutes later, Mia was bounding up the staircase at the Union Street station.
It was ten past six when Mia turned the corner onto First Street. As she anticipated, Eden was waiting outside with a lone teacher who was checking her watch, probably not for the first time either. But the thing Mia did not, could not, anticipate was the fact that Eden’s hair, or rather half of it, had been hacked off, as if by an inept scalper who suddenly lost his nerve. On the left was the braid that Mia remembered her daughter plaiting this morning; on the right, an angry bristle, scarcely more than an inch long.
“Who did that to you?” Mia burst out. “I’ll have them expelled.” She put the bag down, panting with an ugly combination of exertion, stress and shock.
“Eden’s teacher tried calling—” began the woman whose name Mia could not recall.
“So why didn’t you reach me?” But even as she spat the words, Mia remembered that she had turned off her cell phone during an editorial meeting and neglected to turn it back on later.
“I know they left messages,” the woman continued. “At least two.” She glanced over to Eden, who had so far not said anything. “Why don’t I let Eden tell you what happened.” She turned to Eden and waited. Still nothing. “Eden,” she began again, in a cloyingly sweet voice. “Eden, we’re waiting.”
“No one did it to me,” said Eden, sounding way too jaded for someone who had only recently entered the double digits. “I did it myself.”
“You cut half your hair off? Why?” All of Mia’s righteous, maternal indignation evaporated in an instant, leaving her drained and reeling.
“It was in art class. We were doing self-portraits and they were all so boring. I wanted mine to be different. Interesting.”
“So you had to cut your hair?
“Well, you wouldn’t let me get a nose ring.” She waited a beat and then asked, “Would you?”