LONG AND SHORT • by Jeff Alan

I have a thing for hair. My wife knows this. So of course she was prepared when I asked her why she’d pinned it up.

“This dress has a graceful neckline. I don’t want to cover it.”

“Yes, that’s true,” I said. “It’s a nice dress.”

We drove in silence the rest of the way to the restaurant.

When we walked into the banquet room everyone else was already there, standing around in sequined dresses and sharp suits, holding cocktails and plucking hors d’oeuvres. I heard my mother’s voice amidst the chatter and laughter and weaved through the crowd to where she was standing. As we hugged, I wished her a happy birthday. And then I spotted Carolyn.

Carolyn. What a surprise. I hadn’t seen her since my wedding. I did the math, remembering she’s a dozen years older than me, which made her forty. Apparently the years had passed easily for her; smile lines were etched into her face, shooting out from the corners of her eyes like exclamation marks. Her hair was short and sensible; gone were the long, bouncing curls I remembered.

We mingled and drank. People gathered in small groups, drifted apart, formed new groups. The room was not large, but somehow Carolyn and I were never in the same group. It was like a secret dance. At dinner we sat at opposite legs of the U-shaped banquet table: Carolyn beside her longtime husband, I beside my wife. Carolyn and I exchanged furtive glances. She smiled at me. It was quick, but I saw it.

The party followed a familiar rhythm, peaking and then petering out. I stayed behind to say my goodbyes, but with Carolyn there were no words. She just hugged me, briefly and carefully, her hair sweeping the air a few cautious inches away from my face, my skin shivering in the delicate breeze.

When Carolyn was out of earshot my wife whispered, “Who is she?” I told her it was Carolyn Baxter, and I explained that she and her husband were at our wedding. She said she didn’t remember. When we got home I showed her a picture of our wedding reception as she unpinned her long, tumbling hair. I pointed to Carolyn. She said she still didn’t remember, “but she sure had pretty hair back then.”

In bed that night I thought about Carolyn’s hair: wild curls that had bobbed and bounced against my face when I was nineteen; a short broom so close just hours ago.

I listened to my wife’s breathing, waiting for it to tell me she was asleep. I waited with scissors under my pillow.

I have a thing for hair. My wife knows this.

Jeff Alan lives in a small, quiet town in North Carolina. His work has appeared or will soon appear in MicroHorror, Flashshot, and Boston Literary Magazine.

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Joseph Kaufman