kate paine


The first curl floats down into the sink like a letter C, closely followed by the second, which comes to rest next to it, so that the two of them form a perfect circle.

The third and fourth tangle with each other on their way down like fighters in a bar, landing with a thump on the first two, and suddenly it’s no longer a fight but a brawl, and I hear the curls on my head quietly cheering them on.

“Quiet!” I say, first pointing my scissors in the direction of the curls lying panting in the sink, and then towards my reflection in the mirror. “Never forget that I have the upper hand!”

They quake, these curls of mine, then sigh and settle around my head, flattening a little, inching a little closer to each other, clinging to my ears like a ship to a harbour, or rocks.

And so, I proceed, snip, snip, snip, until that first curl is no longer discernible and merely another face in a crowded sink.

With each cut my head feels lighter, as if, were I not tethered to the ground by the weight of responsibility, I would float to the ceiling, my head bumping against the light fitting, my toes stretching out to catch the rim of the bath on the way up, my fingers trailing up the damp walls.

Yet this light-headedness comes at a cost, for, with the next cut, the curl seems to jump out of my fingers and I miss, catching the tip of my own finger with the blades of my scissors instead.

“Ow!” I cry, looking down into the sink just in time to see the ruby red tip of my finger bounce onto the pile of curls and down the plughole.

The faint sound of tinkling laughter echoes in my ears, but I pay no mind because there’s still half my head to go and I will not give up now. With a determined grip on the scissors, I reach up with my bloodied hand to grasp the next curl.


Triumphant, I watch as it floats down, down, into the sink, and then I do it again. And then once more, and with each cut the pile in the sink rises higher, higher, and so do my spirits.


But then, in the blink of my eye, my scissors skip from the curl I’ve already stretched out in readiness to my ear and before I can stop it, it’s dropping to the sink, where it bounces once, twice, before settling, like a shell, on the rim, beside the toothpaste.

Now the sound of cheering is so faint I can barely hear it, but I feel the brush of hair against my neck as the remaining curls sway like football fans scenting victory.

But this is a game they will not win.

“I’ll have you!” I shout, wielding the scissors like a sword from days of old.

I thrust and parry, parry and thrust. My curls quake and quiver, dodging and feinting behind my lone ear, attempting to wrap themselves around the scissors and my remaining fingertips in a tangle of effort that results in nothing more than a knotty mess, the sight of which, when I was a small child, used to have my mother in despair.

Alas, she is not here now, ready with her steady hand and a wide-tooth comb.

With a final loud snip I extricate the scissors, bringing a lone curl and another fingertip down with them. The curl floats, slowly, slowly, and lands, gently, gently, on top of the pile. My fingertip heads straight for my ear, still perched next to the toothpaste, and lands in its centre, nestled like a pearl.

Fingers throbbing, shoulders sagging, I rest the bloodied scissors next to the toothpaste, bow my head, close my eyes, and wait.

All is quiet. No swish of hair past my remaining ear, no caress of a curl on my cheek, no whispering revolt at the back of my neck.

Is this victory or defeat?

Will I be forced to remain in quarantine for evermore, my head a writhing mass worthy of Medusa? Or have I managed to tame these curls of mine until the next time I’m forced to pick up the scissors?

It’s as I think this that the soft sound of singing reaches my ear, a lament, if I’m not mistaken, and when I lift my head and open my eyes I see before me a single curl, right in the middle of my forehead.

My family, were you to ask them, would tell you that, while normally I am very, very good, when pushed, and especially in these trying times, I can be horrid.

Keeping my eye on the curl, I take up the scissors once more.

“Lucky last,” I whisper, with a smile, “but not for long.”

Note from the author: With thanks to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and his poem “There Was a Little Girl”

© Kate Paine

Kate Paine is an Australian musician, teacher, and writer living with her little family in Meilen, in the Swiss canton of Zurich. She teaches piano, singing, and musicianship, and also has an English writing and research skills consultancy. When not working, she sings and writes as much as she possibly can.