Friday, December 20, 2019

...pretty like you (fiction)

Ardeth Shaw was looking for her daughter Amber. Amber was supposed to be in the dining room setting the table for lunch.

It was doubly vexing because all of her children knew that they were supposed to be in the house at 11:20, sharp, when that was their weekly chore.

Amber was four years old and was her youngest daughter. Amber, like many youngest was generally very biddable and eager to please. It was very unlike Amber because setting the table was one of Amber’s favorite chores.

Ardeth called outside but got no response. She walked through the house calling and still got no response.

Ardeth saw three of her middle children playing near the barn. She asked if they knew were Amber was and they said they did not know.

Something told her to make one more sweep through the house before calling her husband. Going through the rooms of the basement, Ardeth heard a sound from the pantry. Opening the door, she saw Amber sitting on the dirt floor, sobbing.

Scolding her, Ardeth told her to get upstairs, to wash her face and start setting the table. Walking up the stairs toward the light, Ardeth shrieked. “What have you done with your hair?”

Amber once again melted into tears.

Amber’s straight flaxen hair, normally the platinum blonde found in very young children and Southern California models was as coal-black, except for a two-inch band up the center which was still her natural blonde. If Ardeth had not known better, she would have assumed a skunk had taken up residence on Amber’s head.

There was just no getting around it. Lunch was going to be late.

It took Ardeth fifteen minutes to calm Amber down and get the story.

Several of her sons were in the business of collecting and selling chemicals. Most recently, Dr Sam Wilder had commissioned the boys to find sources of tannin. She supplied them with small bottles of ferrous sulfate which turned tannin inky black.

Her entrepreneurial sons decided to find markets for tannin other than for tanning hides into leather. They used Amber as their guinea pig.

Ardeth was still not sure why Amber had a white stripe down the center of her scalp, though.

That mystery was cleared up when she interrogated her sons. They told her that Amber consented to the experiment, but only if they did it that way.

They regretted making the inevitable comparison. Everybody loved Amber and the last thing any of them wanted to do was to make her cry.

Ardeth once again questioned Amber.

Ardeth was floored when Amber’s reason for wanting the white stripe is she wanted to be pretty, just like her mother...Ardeth.

Ardeth had to think for a few seconds and then she realized.

Hair coloring was no longer being manufactured. Ardeth dyed her hair, one of her few vanities. Given a future with no hair dye, Ardeth had been stretching out how frequently she touched up her hair coloring.

In fact, Ardeth had dark brown hair with a two-inch gray stripe down the center of her head, almost exactly like Amber.

That Sunday, the Shaw clan marched into church with heads held high. Both Ardeth and Amber had coal-black hair without center stripes. In fact, had anybody looked closely, they would have noticed their scalps were also dark gray.

Ardeth had not agonized for long. There is a time for rooting out pride and vanity and there is a time for kindness. God willing, Ardeth would have many more years to work on her vanity but Amber was only going to be four-years old once.

Within a week, the Shaw boys had sold out of their first run of hair dye and had long-term contracts with the four stores in Capiche.

Ardeth insisted that they share the profits with their guinea pig, Amber.



  1. That's a neat way of handling the situation. I like these small asides.

  2. There will always be a market for small luxuries. My father-in-law did route sales for Frito-Lay. He always said his best business was during poor economies, because, while they might not have enough money for a new car, people always had enough money for a bag of chips and a drink.

    1. Very true. The same goes for any business involving the sale of alcoholic beverages. When times are good, people drink. When times are bad, people drink more.


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