“Did you know that the dark side of the moon is turquoise?” Lisa asks, her finger dragging slowly against the warm glass.
Mom yanks her hair slightly to say stay still and tugs at another section as she combs. “You mean like the Pink Floyd album?” She asks. “That’s black. Your dad liked that album.”
“He still does.” Lisa says. “And no, the real moon. Scientist measured the reflected light, and it’s turquoise.”
Mom doesn’t respond, just keeps tugging at Lisa’s head. Mom puts down the comb, finally. Lisa’s head feels sandpaper-scrubbed, but she doesn’t reach up to rub at it. Mom squeezes the white and pink bottle and it squirt-shits rosemary, the type of overpowering scent that makes Lisa sneeze. Mom’s hands are rough as she rubs it in as fast as she can, stepping back and stretching her arms out over Lisa’s head to keep the cream off of her work suit. She braids Lisa’s hair quickly, and then washes her hands in the sink twice.
“Remember that Sarah is coming over tomorrow night, so I don’t want you going out with your friends, Lisa,” Mom says. She picks up her briefcase and crosses to the door. “We’re having a family dinner.”
When Lisa gets to school, Mala is twisting her hands in her lap. She normally twirls her hair around her thumb when she’s anxious, but right now its braided back tight, almost pulling at her scalp.
“Where are you taking the ACT this weekend?” Mala asks.
“Same,” Mala says. Lisa watches the way she sits, her back one long line, carefully holding her head away from the back of the chair.
“Apparently Isabelle’s mom found it too. That’s all of us, now. And all of Ella’s younger siblings have it. Her mom is furious,” Lisa says.
“At who? It’s nobody’s fault.”
“Yeah. At us though, I guess. Her mom probably thinks its retribution for posting too many friendstagrams.”
“We look great in them, though.”
The email went out to the entire school the night before. Mala thinks it was Ella’s mom who told the school. She said it was her responsibility to inform the other parents. But the other kids are probably fine, Lisa thinks. It isn’t like they ever touched anybody who wasn’t in their circle, and they all already infected each other.
Lisa realizes by lunch that everybody knows they’re the subject of the email. The beanbags they always use during lunch are normally full, but all day nobody touches them. Nobody brushes against Lisa’s clothes, either. When Ella and Mala and Isabelle approach Lisa during lunch there’s that awkward moment when Ella’s arms lift up for a second to hug Lisa. Ella pauses with hovering Frankenstein arms, and then drops her arms back to her sides. Lisa pretends she didn’t notice.
They take a team photo during practice. Lisa keeps her back perfectly straight and her shoulders tucked in as the photographer shouts at her to smile.
Sarah comes to dinner around seven, knocking even though Lisa knows she has a key. Over chicken, she tries to bond with Lisa. She asks Lisa what she likes to read, with that visible pause that adults sometimes have when they’re afraid teens don’t read at all.
“Fantasy, mostly. YA novels.”
Sarah nods. “I always liked vampire stories. When I was in high school, I loved Dracula. It terrified me, but I loved it. A little bit like your mom, when we first met,” Sarah said, reaching out and holding Mom’s hand.
Lisa looks away, holds in the biting comment about how, yes, your boss is supposed to scare you when she’s your boss and maybe you should just leave her alone. Except she doesn’t because she knows her mother made the first move, and that creeps her out even more, because you aren’t supposed to be with people who work for you. Or worked. Sarah changed jobs when it got serious. When Mom decided to leave Dad.
Lisa thanks Sarah for bringing pumpkin pie and eats more than she normally would.
Sarah goes home, and mom goes to sleep, and Lisa stares at the ceiling of her bedroom, feeling the teeny tiny little twitches on her head. She fists her hands into the cold sheets and glares upwards. The watermark on the ceiling doesn’t move. Neither does she. Her head crawls as her guests settle in for a nighttime snack, pinching every now and then. Lisa imagines shedding her skin, gripping her waist-length hair and tugging until her skin is pulled over her head and discarded, another dirty shirt to be thrown in the wash.
She forces herself to think about something different, anything, but thinking about school makes her chest feel tight so she goes to bed dreaming of vampires bending over her and drinking her blood. The drink her blood and they explode into thousands and thousands of smaller vampires walking all over her prone body and she’s frozen.
Sarah is there when Lisa gets home from school the next day, making tea in the kitchen. The bergamot scented steam wafts through the kitchen and the bitterness of it is so normal Lisa’s stomach unclenches slightly. Lisa watches Sarah settle into the worn hollow on the right side of the sofa where Lisa normally sits. When Sarah’s long brown hair brushes the couch pillow, Lisa says, “You should put a towel down on the couch if you’re going to sit there. I sleep on that a lot.”
Sarah shrugs her shoulders, smiling calmly at Lisa. “I think it’s fine,” she says. “Besides, it wouldn’t be the first time for me. It’s not a big deal.”
Lisa shrugs, screaming internally that yes, it is a big deal, that there are aliens who have invaded her head and they are crawling and who knows if they will crawl into her ears and eyes and nose. But she stays silent. She goes up to shower again and rub in the rosemary and olive oil until she tastes like focaccia.
Sarah stays the night, and Lisa lies in bed with her headphones in. She can hear the scratching on her head, the sucking and the eating and the taking, and despite the hour her mother spent combing her hair out before bed they are there and she can’t handle it, can’t handle them all over her hair, sucking her blood out and out like a million vampires and she’s so out of control and it's just too much.
She gets out of bed, barefoot, stumbles into the bathroom. The moon dips through the window—not the dark side, but the everyday everybody one. It paints the room gray and purple like a bruise.
Dad left behind an electric razor under the sink when he stumbled out with a ratty suitcase and a couple of supermarket plastic bags. She pulls the razor out and plugs it in, turning it over and finding the on button, the one dad never showed her, the one dad should have showed her, or should still be around to show. Her fingers tremble as she holds the buzzing beast.
Her heart speeds up badumbadubbadum and she can’t focus on anything, not the noise in her headphones or the itching on her head. She tried to be good and nice and get good grades and all she got to show for it is lice and she repeats the word in the mirror, the first time, the next time, until lice has turned to ice and nice and she can’t decide which one they want her to be, ice-girl or nice-girl or what she is now, lice-girl. And Sarah the secretary is in Mommy’s bed, and Daddy is gone and Isabelle spent years lying to them and the only thing she can be sure of about her friends is that they have lice too.
She pulls her hair out of the braid, watches it tumble down, heavy with oil until the tips brush near her bellybutton. And she wonders if, like Samson, her power will be gone in the morning—and is it a power, to make people want you and love you and desire you? It has to be.
A sob tears out of Lisa as if a hook is pulling it out of her throat. It tears upward like sandpaper, leaving scratches in her esophagus. Lisa stares at herself in the mirror, the heavy cheeks and bruised half-moons beneath her eyes, and she pushes the razor against her scalp and shaves a stripe into her part. And she’s trying to keep cutting but there’s too much resistance, it isn’t cutting well and she swipes and swipes until she is choking on snot and salt and her shedding mane.
The door creaks open. Sarah stands in the door way, her eyes widening as she takes in the feet of hair making a halo nest around Lisa’s feet, the razor in Lisa hand, the left side which is long, and the hacked bits of bald speckling Lisa’s head.
Lisa stares at Sarah, at Sarah’s long black hair and tan skin and the oversized Fruit of the Loom t-shirt and she doesn’t really understand why her mother loves her. Sarah steps away for a second and pulls a stool in from the hallway. Her hand is warm as she pushes Lisa onto the stool. She doesn’t speak, doesn’t seem to mind that Lisa’s headphones are still plugging her ears. She carefully uncurls Lisa’s fingers, loosening Lisa’s death-grip on the razor. Lisa keeps holding on, won’t let go of it. Sarah’s hand brushes Lisa’s back gently, soothingly, and for the first time Lisa sees that Sarah’s eyes are soft, gooey and warm like a brownie fresh out of the oven. Sarah meets Lisa’s searching stare calmly, submits to the inquisition. Something that was tight in Lisa’s chest loosens. She can still feel the soreness in her heart, like a stretched muscle, but for once, it doesn’t hurt. It’s like when the trainers at school dig their fingers into the knotted muscle in Lisa’s leg and it’s agonizingly painful and then suddenly the soreness that had been lurking for hours is completely gone.
Lisa stares at Sarah, at her freckled nose and the crow’s feet that crease her eyes, and lets her fingers uncurl.
Sarah takes the razor. She adjusts the setting until the buzz seems less angry and more like the calm of a white noise generator. She presses it against Lisa’s scalp and begins to shave. Lisa lets her.