Of Mice and Indians

At the Headstart on the corner of Spotted Tail Drive and We're All Going Nowhere, they hold him down and shave his head. The pale hands start in the front at the widow's peak, angling the clippers through inch-long black silk, finishing what the scissors started. A braid lies at his feet, the thick end tickling the cold tile floor, the thin end on the open coloring book he's dropped, curling around the half-colored Mickey Mouse.

I am standing in the doorway shaking snow from my own hair when Little Mike sees me. He tears out of the chair, wailing, shrieking, wheezing, his short legs kicking the hands, the air, all four-year-old motion, four-year-old terror.

The official story is head lice. But the subtext lies in the new teacher's blue eyes--a ball at recess bounced against the door of his new Chevy Citation, the only new car he will ever have, the pale of its blue flesh now bruised.

It's a good five minutes before I can disentangle Little Mike from my legs, try to move his head which leaks snot and hot tears onto the hem of my skirt, soaks through my tights to my knees. His head rests on the jagged edge of an old scar. It's a good minute more before I can look over at the chair where the hands have pulled him again, where one holds the inhaler to his mouth, which gags and chokes as the bald spot on his head widens like a clear cut.

When I leave that day, Little Mike is curled, half-sleeping under the snack table, his bare head a complex network of scars from Big Mike, his uncle. The boy's head rests on cool tile, his foot jerking like a dog chasing rabbits, one thumb in his mouth, the other gripping Mickey Mouse who now sports hair that falls down past his knees.

Twelve years later Mike will be in line for a ride at Disneyworld. He will have forgotten his inhaler in the car, will be unable to wend his way through the line of bodies, hands reaching and grabbing, shoving, only clearing way when he falls.

Or this is how I imagine it.

This is what I see when I hear it. When I stand at the checkout line in the grocery store, when Little Mike's girlfriend Charlene sobs in front of me, her pregnant sixteen-year-old belly rising and falling as she gasps for breath. I will feel the scar on my knee pulse and itch as I hold her, feel their baby kick against me. I will know that bodies remember pain minds forget, but I won't say it. I'll stroke the black silk of her hair. I'll see Little Mike, his hair once again long, arcing out and behind as he falls onto cool pavement, lands among shoes and gum wrappers, a flyer bearing Mickey Mouse's frightful grin, his hair once again gone.

About the author:

Toni Jensen is a PhD student in creative writing at Texas Tech University. She has had work published or has it forthcoming in Steam Ticket, A Third Coast Review and the anthology Women Write West Texas.