Peroxide

One standard murder, crime of passion: 300 strands

One standard murder, pre-meditated: 540 strands

Manslaughter: 150 strands

Assisted suicide: 50 strands

Robbery: 400 strands

Burglary: 350 strands

Assault (sexual or otherwise): 250 strands

Fraud: 600 strands

For other crime investigation charges, please call your local police station. 20 strands a minute.

When Ricarda was attacked, she couldn’t afford the police’s rates. Her last tufts of hair were thinning daily, as she paid for food for her daughter and gas for their heat. The box Ricarda’s mother had given her, with a long lock of blonde tresses tied in a black velvet ribbon in it, was empty; the last of the hair had been spent on a new pair of shoes for the ever-growing Tessa. Two-fifty strands? No way. She scoured the house again. Definitely not. Never. She felt his hands around her throat and wiped the bed again with her bruised-knuckled hand, attempting to find a rogue. Tessa warbled to her toys in the corner of the room. The only room. The others had been rented out. She wondered how the Bathroom family were doing. The son around Tessa’s age, his chestnut hair would satisfy her needs. Would they sense that it was child hair? Would they smell that fresh naive perfume that seems to pervade little ones? Tessa, too, her mousey curls would have the police here in seconds. For what? To have their disapproving stares cut through her already scarred face. To have their invasive questions, hands, bodies moving around her house – room – to remind her of the attack. Reliving the moment. Reliving the aftermath, while still living it. He would not be caught. They would take what hair she could offer them, maybe cut from a rat, a stray dog, coarse, unsavoury hair, and treat her like the animals she had shaved.

She bundled Tessa up and put on a coat. They would go walking, to clear Ricarda’s head and give her daughter a little visual stimuli; it wasn’t good to be trapped in the room all day, with nothing but occasional wafts of pollution renewing their air. They walked down Main Street, the brown cobbles slippery with recent rain, and Ricarda directed Tessa’s attention to shop windows, holding the wares of old men and old women and old people, their bald heads wrinkled and sun-spotted. Bits of wood and copper shone out at them, old black birds with feathers like fern-spikes, repeating the curse-words of their owners, glared fatally. Tessa cooed at the raggy cats that passed by, and her mother laughed nervously, conscious of her family’s death rate due to rabies. Turning the corner, they passed over Rury Road to the Gold quarter, where the cobbles were dry, the shops sold silks and crystal elephants and the crows were preened and accommodating. Ricarda felt self-conscious of her bald spots, as she saw women with long, glowing waves cascading down their heads, and men whose beards reached their mid-riffs. They laughed in groups, as though their wealth was infinitely funny. Their clothes were grey and well-tailored, fitting slender, toned bodies with clean, creamy skin. Their teeth were white as the rabies foam she had seen on a tabby around the corner. Another bald woman passed by, cowering with crooked shoulders, trying to hide her scalp with a faded-pink cloth; on seeing Ricarda, she gave a slow smile, but soon she was gone. Tessa was oddly silent, and staring to the left of her mother. Ricarda brushed her daughter’s hair back, and smiled, enjoying the sun on her head and the feeling of affluence around her, any anxiety quashed by the joy in her surroundings. The stores were at once inviting and alienating, showing their most expensive clothes in the window, alongside bejewelled pens and small mirrors. She missed mirrors. She missed vanity.

Tessa moaned a little.

Just tired, Ricarda thought. But no, her little head was stiffly turned to the left, her eyes wide and fearing. Ricarda followed the little girl’s sight to a man, with mid-length black hair and a large, hooked nose, chatting jovially to a woman, blonde. This man was tall and imposing, his features exaggerated but slightly faulty, the crooked nose being only one of his flaws. His chin was pointed and prominent, his brow primitive and hooding black, evil eyes. They were evil eyes. Ricarda had been behind them. This was her attacker. He had held her down in the room they had been in earlier, on the bed she had checked for hairs, and she had felt a dark cavernous growth set its place in her lungs as she panted with resistance, her knuckles bruising as she thrashed and spat and hit out. Her anger swelled in those big, black lung-holes, filling her ribs with a gale-force wind of outrage, a definite feeling of injustice, a righteous exasperation that left her shaking. Tessa began to cry, not loud, but whimpering. She felt Ricarda’s empty anger and could find no solution in her over-worked infant mind. Ricarda pulled her eyes away from the man, onto a cobble stone that had lost its solidity and seemed like a quagmire or patch of quicksand, trembling in time with her adrenaline-tripping heart. Did she rip her final strands out and call the police on this man right now? She thought of Tessa’s curls. She thought of the cats they had passed. She thought of dragging the nearest person into a back alley and beating them to death, biting off each strand one by one and laying the hair out sardonically to the police captain, demanding he catch the perpetrator and enjoy her bloody payment. But she closed her eyes and started walking away, back to Rury Road and over to Main Street, where the black birds and the old people did not pity her, nor did they cause her harm. Back to the house, back through the kitchen, greeting the families inside, back to the bedroom, back to the bed.

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