THE TALE OF MOLLY GRIMM
Second Place, Cleaver 2022 Flash Competition
This story is the one I kept rereading because it stuck to my brain. I thought I had finished with it and then it pulled me back into its surreal world again. It is a dark fairytale-like piece that haunts the reader and asks us not to look away from the parts of our spirits that refuse to be exorcised. There is a great deal of dark humor in the story, particularly in the end. It is told like a cautionary tale, as if we’re hearing it over a large pot of tea in a strange neighbor’s home, a neighbor who we’re not sure we trust. I marveled over this brilliant little horror story with a funny, happy ending. —Meg Pokrass, Contest Judge
“I won’t go,” said Molly Grimm.
“Sweetheart, we’re overdue.”
“The girls from the Country Club have a flip or a page boy.”
“But we aren’t from there, are we?”
Breda was the mother and had all the cards. They went over to the Polly Beauty Shop, which had a neon parrot on the front, and where Mae Willcox put Molly in a Naugahyde swivel chair and flung a circle of lavender orlon over her blouse.
“Now, then. Here?”
“Shorter,” said Breda Grimm. “It grows like a weed.”
Molly said nothing. But when Mae began to clip, she winced—as when you cut your finger or scrape your knee.
The blood began to flow, dribbling first out onto the lavender cape, thin rivulets that splashed on the lino. Molly watched as each individual hair, swollen with it, began to drip and then to flow.
“Oh, my God,” said Breda, “What have you done?”
“You nicked her neck! You cut her ear!”
“I did not!” The scissors shook in Mae’s fingers.
“Oh! Oh!” screamed Breda Grimm.
The blood flowed, now seeming to thicken and become sluggish, pulsing as it descended; shoulders, arms. Molly hunched forward and her face took on a look of endurance and—what was it? A dark joy?
“Get her to the hospital!” Breda screeched.
“Are you crazy? They’d arrest us for child abuse!”
Panicky, they swiped up handfuls of cold cream and cradled the bleeding hair—here, here, here. The blood mixed with the white grease, plopping onto the floor. It made interesting swirls, red on white.
Molly whimpered from time to time, but mostly just looked at herself in the mirror, eyes murderous and—what was it? Somehow triumphant?
Little by little, lock by lock, the blood coagulated, as blood is meant to do, and in the end mother and daughter went home, leaving Mae to deal with the mess. Molly’s hair was greasy now. She’d have to put off washing it until they were sure the shampoo wouldn’t open the—what? You couldn’t call them wounds, could you? It was hair.
I’d like to tell you Molly Grimm broke free that day and went on to heroic exploits. But that’s not the case. She led an ordinary white life: B.A. in anthropology, married a C.P.A., two boys and a girl, retired to Florida, lost her husband in ’04. The only extraordinary thing about her, her “crowning glory” as people often said, was the vibrant silver-and-pepper fall of hair, down to her ass, upswept into a chignon, or over one shoulder at the annual luau in the condo recreation center.
“It hasn’t been cut since ’56,” she would modestly brag to the admirers. She would stroke the silver cascade where it hung, one blood-red hibiscus tucked in the thick of it, behind her ear.
Janet Burroway is the author of nine novels including The Buzzards, Raw Silk, Opening Nights, and Cutting Stone (all Notable Books of The New York Times Book Review). Her Writing Fiction is now in its tenth edition, and Imaginative Writing is soon to be published in its fifth edition. She is the author of the memoir Losing Tim and the winner of the 2014 Lifetime Achievement Award in Writing from the Florida Humanities Council. She is Robert O. Lawton Distinguished Professor Emerita at the Florida State University.Janet Burroway’s flash fiction piece, “The Tale of Molly Grimm” is Second Prize winner of Cleaver’s 2022 flash fiction contest judged by Meg Pokrass.
Cover Design by Karen Rile