They clenched tight, holding her head in their vice-like grip, twisting knots of pain and rage, each trying to out-pull the other. She could feel her eyes prickling, and a vein in her forehead of pulsing its indignation.
“You look gorgeous,” crooned the hateful woman that had given birth to her, securing the last grey bobble, “and it’ll keep your hair so neat. You probably won’t ! to wash it when you get back from school this afternoon.”
Bonnie tugged hard on one of the twisted monsters, and felt it wrench her hair straight back.
“I hate them!” she shrieked, “they’re ugly and sore and horrible!”
“Don’t be silly,” her mother said, holding out her coat for Bonnie to put her arms in, “plaits are all the rage for kids nowadays. Besides, you really suit them.”
“No!” Bonnie wailed, pushing the coat away and stamping her foot, “take them out!”
“Come on, Bonnie, just give them a try.”
“But they’re pulling my head off!”
“Wait and see. By breaktime, you’ll not know they’re there.”
But this was a lie. By break it felt as if the plaits had redone themselves, pulling each strand of hair so tight, that they were stretched to their limit, a second away from snapping and leaving Bonnie with a shiny bald head. Worse still, some of the boy started tugging at them, and every time Bonnie had to fight back the tears of pain.
“I still hate them,” she said to her mum over tea that night.
“You just need to get used to them darling. We’ll try again tomorrow.”
So it went on for years and years it seemed to Bonnie. She cried and screamed, rolled on the floor, threw her toys, wrenched at the bobbles. She’d even hide in the wardrobe or under the bed, but her mother would find her, hook her out, and administer the torture whilst holding Bonnie firmly between her knees. In desperation, she tried taking the plaits out once she was at school, but her hair was so sore that she stopped halfway through, and had to go around looking all messy for the rest of the day.
“What’s wrong dear?” her grandmother asked when Bonnie went to tea on Saturday.
“I hate my hair.”
“What, your pigtails? I thought you quite suited them.”
“Yes, that’s what we called them when I was little because they were all long and curly.”
“You had them took?” Bonnie asked in horror.
“Oh yes. Only mine were a bit different.”
“Well, I had lots for a start, all over my head.”
“Well,” Grandma said, taking a sip of tea, “that’s how princesses wear their hair. You see, all their powers are hidden in their hair, one for each plait. There’s one that makes them fly, one that makes them invisible, one that helps them see the future, you name it. And to make it work, they tug on that particular plait.”
“That’s not true.”
“How do you know? You’ve never had little plaits.”
“No, I only have two, and I hate them.”
“Hmmm.” Grandma stood up and moved to stand behind Bonnie, examining her plaits. Bonnie winced automatically as her small, gnarled hands took hold of them. She gave each one a very gentle tug. “My goodness, they were never as tight as that.”
“Indeed they are,” Grandma said. “Well, how about we play hairdressers?”
She sat Bonnie sideways on an eld wooden chair, undid the nemesis and brushed out the long blonde locks.
“OK, let’s make you a princess.”
Grandma’s hands worked tirelessly, dividing tiny strands of hair and weaving them together into minute, perfect plaits. Though they were the children of the evil ones, they did not make Bonnie’s head scream with agony. Grandma’s old hands did not have the same power as her mother’s, and so the plaits were much looser. They were just as neat, however, even though there were dozens of them.
“And the last secret,” Grandma said as Bonnie watched her in the small hand mirror, “is the ribbons. You have to tie ribbons around the plaits to be a princess. Hold the ends of these for me, while I get my special box.”
Bonnie held the soft, coiled infants whilst Grandmother reached into a drawer and drew out a circular wooden box.
“I keep my childhood in here,” she said.
Bonnie saw what looked like a wooden doll and some china before Grandmother said: “aha!” and closed the box.
She held up a mass of coiled ribbons, long and silken, and a deep, warm red.
“You wore these ribbons?” Bonnie asked as Grandma took the plaits from her and began to secure each one with a bright kiss.
“Oh yes, these hold the magic. It’s no use having plaits without them.”
“I’ve changed my mind, mum!” Bonnie said excitedly when her mother came to collect her, “I love plaits!”
“So I see,” her mum said, “but I won’t have time to do that every morning, Bonnie.”
“But I have to! Or I won’t be a princess!”
“Once a week is quite enough to keep the magic alive,” Grandma said quietly, “and for the other days, maybe you could try other hairstyles. It doesn’t do to keep everything the same forever.”
And so it was. Bonnie’s head stopped screaming, as after her smile was undone with her many plaits, her mother agreed that she could have a ponytail three days a week, and bunches for the others. They weren’t nearly as bad. And every Saturday, in the low-ceilinged kitchen, Bonnie would sit sideways on the chair, and the old, gnarled fingers would weave, hour after hour, tying the ribbons and working their magic, to the steady tick of the grandfather clock.
by Sarah McLean