NEAT PILES • by Nicholas Olson

The hair wasn’t as hard to part with as she thought it might be.

The scissors in her hand clinked in time to the locks’ slow descent, the roots they came from nothing but a grove of dead trees at varied heights and colors.

There was a time when the grove was The Grove, with little dancing lights hung from glittering boughs, with expectant faces all around for the rehearsal. Here comes the bride, all dressed in jeans and high-tops. But back. Go back.

The weight came off with each click, and the tears that ran wet grooves down her cheeks were an unsolvable variable. The hair collected in neat piles at her feet.

Smoky Mountain tops and antsy car rides to fast food. The road trip’s final destruction gathering in wisps and draws like the mist that rolled into the highway, when her family and fiancé were silent and not screaming. Before her brother pulled it on him.

Her shaking hand brought out the clippers and turned them on. They hummed for the rest of her hair.

The grove was cut down to size, now only varied in color and not in height. It was all even. She put the clippers away and remembered to breathe.

A squalid squad car with its own dancing lights. First red, then blue. Ladies and gentlemen, the bride holding the groom back. Ladies and gentlemen, the bride’s father tossing knife into knee-high grass, the kind for picnics in times of innocence. Ladies and gentlemen, the bride’s mother crying. The groom saying things he won’t be able to take back.

Her Winksy account was left open on her monitor, an old expo picture of her wearing a dress she’d stitched and designed herself with over two hundred winksies and only six blinksies.

And here’s her brother blinking in the camera’s light for a mugshot that’ll keep for as long as her fiancé wants it to. Charges or no charges? Charges or no charges?

She could deactivate the account entirely, but that wasn’t the right way to do it. The scissors had to come before the clippers.

And we can do it without them, beb. And we can get married in a truck stop bathroom for all I care. And where are you going? I let him walk, okay? I let him—

She opened her friends page, scrolled and scrolled through her digital deck of social cards. All the perfect little lives contained in smiling whites and insistent questions. Where’s the wedding going to be? Have you registered? When’s the shower? What’s your song?

Punch pillows if you have to. Scream into them first. He wrote the note and I hope you’ll take it seriously because he did the best he could and you should call. Just call. Or write. He’s sorry. I know him. He’s my brother.

She deleted the frenemies first. It was easy to watch them go. They didn’t run grooves down her cheeks, and they weighed nothing as they fell.

Next were the acquaintances. The expo friends and the secret critiquers. They fell soundlessly, but not weightlessly. The grove was quickly thinning.

The finger-crossed well-wishers silently praying for a fall. The backstabbers and the double-crossers and the friendship-feigned competers. The false friends.

Reservation at The Grove, with the days melting on and the damage unrepaired. We have to cancel. Beb, we— I know, okay? I know. Let’s just keep it for one more day, please. Just one more day.

When Winksy said zero, she moved on to Topface. Then Wowza. Then Yammer. The accounts collected in neat piles at her feet.

She cut and she clipped till only one “friend” remained. The worst saved for last. The one who lied and tried to tear them apart. Who told her brother he’d been beating and cheating.

She opened her closet doors and fetched hair-bound scissors. Took out the rudimentary brutes first, the ones with vestigial cuffs and archaic hems. The first cut was the hardest, but the rest came easily.

Ephemeral dresses and gowns, deftly-stitched blouses and crisp pencil skirts. She cut and she snipped and a fresh grove was felled. The fabric collected in neat piles at her feet.

Remember the honey-dipped days again, with family intact and geocache hunt on. Let’s search for treasure together. The boughs back with sunlight streaming through. Her brother with the knife, using it to carve a walking stick.

She pulled out her makeup and personal effects and let them fall too. Let them make their own neat piles.

Tossed away her purses and her shoes and her tasteful clutches. Opened her travel bag and let it sit expectantly on her bed.

Ticket purchased through the cloudy bubble world of tears. One way. No carry on. I’ll be waiting for you there. I’ll be there. Trust me.

She looked and she weighed, but nothing from the neat piles went in. She opened a zippered pocket and removed her passport. Slid open a dresser drawer and retrieved her wallet.

Her breaths came in quiet and steady, the grooves and groves both still. She stood at the precipice and looked at the neat piles she’d leave behind. Studied their form, weight, shape, and color.

The door opened with a click, slowly closed and lock clinked in time with her footfalls. Her phone started to buzz back in her room; hum. She let its varied tone fall away as she walked down the hall and left the neat piles behind.

Nicholas Olson earned his BA at Columbia College Chicago. A triple finalist in the 2013 Written Image Screenwriting Competition, he currently lives in Chicago where he’s writing a novel and wrangling a cat. He has work published or forthcoming in Every Day Fiction, Eunoia Review, Apocrypha and Abstractions, Foliate Oak, The Open End, and Flash Fiction Magazine.

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