It’s Only Hair
March 4, 1918
We fell into a routine, Ambrosia, Felicia and I. Most days began with a modest breakfast of porridge and cream. Gone were the days when the cook would produce a smorgasbord of dishes each morning—fried kippers and kidneys, eggs either boiled, fried or scrambled, toast and butter with a variety of fruit jams, all consumed with a hot cup of tea with milk and sugar.
Tea was still consumed, naturally, but it was weak, made with fewer dried leaves to make the supply last longer, and sugar had been unattainable for some time. Because of the cows on the property of Bray Manor, we still had dairy, though much of what was produced had to be relinquished to the government to be used to feed the army.
After breakfast, we’d listen to the lated BBC news on the wireless, an imposing block of wood and wires that sat in the corner of the sitting room, to follow the latest goings on in the war, and then Felicia would leave on her bicycle to join the other land girls.
There was no butler to bring in the morning post, so I put it upon myself to walk to the front door to check the mailslot, hoping beyond hope there were be news from Daniel. I sighed at the sight of the useless rubbish, a small pile of flyers from the crown encouraging steadfastness as the nation moved into its fifth year of war. “Do YOUR bit, save Food.” “Britons! your country needs YOU.”
Ambrosia stared at me with her unnerving round eyes, silently questioning, and I shook my head.
“Not today,” I said, and with an air of resignation added, “perhaps tomorrow.” I dropped the flyers in the bin by the fireplace, then reclaimed my armchair.
Ambrosia rung her bony hands. I’d only ever seen them decorated with rings made with large gems and baubles, and it was mildly shocking to witness them nude and unadorned. When I’d asked, Ambrosia had snapped at the inappropriateness of showcasing her wealth and wellbeing in such times as these and that sensible and sympathetic ladies knew better, but I half suspected she worried that they’d be snatched away by the powers that be under the auspices of going towards the war effort. I couldn’t blame her for her caution, as I feared her assumptions could be correct.
It’s been several weeks since Captain Smithwick had banished me from France. The days spent in Ambrosia’s company grew overly long and I was itching to return to the continent where my blood would beat with excitement and I could contribute to bringing about the end of this blasted conflict. And Daniel was there. My husband. Even if I couldn’t live in the same quarters as he, at least I could walk along the same ground. My chest tightened around a pounding heart as the thought moving like molasses through another dreary day made my skin crawl as if fire ants were marching along my being.
“Are you quite all right?” Ambrosia sound put out rather than concerned. “You look like your about to become apoplectic.”
I inhaled deeply. “I’m thinking about cutting my hair.”
The lines on Ambrosia’s forehead creviced further. “What? What on earth for?”
I pulled the pins out of my hair, releasing my long red braid. “It’s all the rage in Paris.”
“I doubt women in Paris have time to worry about such vanity whilst bombs fall around them.”
“They’re not falling in Paris, Grandmother. I’ve spent the last years working there.”
Ambrosia tskked. “An unnecessary danger. You’re poor husband has enough to worry about, just keeping himself alive. He should be comforted knowing his wife is safely at home awaiting his return.”
I couldn’t argue with her on that point. However, I was merely on leave, not released from the duties I’d contracted for. Captain Smithwick was expecting me back in France with the caveat that I returned looking like someone else.
I changed the subject to safer, if still contentious topics such as women over thirty recently being granted the vote in Great Britain, and Trotsky’s declaration that Russia is leaving the war.
After a reasonable amount of time, I refreshed the fireplace with a quarter bucket of coal, then returned to my room. I’d asked the cook if I could borrow a pair of scissors and they were waiting for me on my dressing table.
Sitting on the chair in front of my vanity, I examined my reflection in the mirror. My face was thinner than before the war, my cheekbones sharper, my eyes sunken ringed with darker shades of stress and worry. Removing the string that secured my braid, I comb my fingers through the strands freeing my red locks. I read magazines on hairstyles, especially the “bob” with headlines declaring the freedom and ease that came with less hair. Many women professes a newfound liberty tossing out locks of hair with their corsets.
I’d abandoned corsets a while back and could heartily agree with the sentiment of freedom that came with a corset-free life. Breathing for one, was much easier.
Splitting my hair down the middle back, I pulled equal lengths over each of my shoulders. I grabbed the lot on my left, held the scissors in place, then closed my eyes as I pinched the handle and heard the loud snip. A cry escaped my lips has a swatch of red floated to the floor. With determination and snipped again and again, until a mountain of red lay at my feet.
The girl in the mirror stared back at me, green eyes filled with horror. I had to tell myself I did it for Daniel, for the war effort, and the greater good. I felt ugly, boyish, and unrecognizable.
But that was the point.
It didn’t matter how I felt. It was only hair. And it was still red. I couldn’t return to France as a redhead, but that was a problem to be solved on another day. For now, I had to brace myself for the inevitable afternoon tea with Ambrosia.
I summoned my fortitude and swept up my hair, depositing it into the rubbish bin and then search for a hat with which to temporarily hide my transgression.