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The Glass-Bottom Boat
by Olive Senior

SHE WAS SITTING IN her slip at the dressing table, getting ready to go out. Where, he knew, she would not even bother to say. Or, if he asked, as he might have done at some earlier point in time, she would answer in her crisp, new voice: "I am going to Joys." Or "I am going to class, "I am going to town."

He sat in his chair in the little living room from which he could look directly at her in the bedroom and, watching her, he wondered at all her busyness nowadays with pots and jars and lotions when so little result was obtained. What upset him the most was that her hair-combing ritual had come to an end, and what was she without her hair? That was one of the things he had loved about her, she had a thick head of hair, natural, unstraightened, which she used to comb out slowly every night, rub with oil, and then twist into small bumps all over her head. That gave her such a sweet fresh-faced innocence as she came to bed, he imagined every night she was born anew. Then in the mornings before going to work she would take out the tiny bumps and, with innumerable hairpins, work the hair into an elaborate pinned-up style which, he knew, was very unfashionable, but was one of the endearing things about her, making her what she was, though he had never told her so.

Imagine his shock, then, when she came home one day with her beautiful natural haircut off. Barbered. Chopped into the short mannish style they were calling the Afro. He was so stunned, he thought a stranger had walked through the door, and that night he had to take a whole tablespoon of bicarbonate of soda to settle his stomach. Sick like a dog all night Headache all day. Chopped off her hair like that He was outraged that she hadn't even bothered to say anything to him beforehand, as if, like so many things she did nowadays, she was doing it deliberately to show her contempt for him.

But although her action raised such intense feelings in him, he said nothing at all, merely looked interested when she came in with her new hair, for he was not accustomed to argue or even to express strong opinions. And when he did voice an opinion, no one was ever much interested in what he had to say. Except for her. But that was once upon a time.

From "The Glass-Bottom Boat," in Discerner of Hearts (McClelland & Stewart, 1995


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