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We congratulate Maria Dahvana Headley on her publication of her first novel, The Year of Yes.
[ hardcover: Hyperion; January 2006; $22.95US/$29.95CAN; 1401302300}
In 2003, WordSmitten selected her short story out of hundreds of submissions for our annual TenTen fiction competition.
In 2003 our fiction judge, author and professor Noy Holland, selected this work for WordSmitten's short story prize of $1,010.00 (the TenTen). :: Read Noy Holland's comments below on why we selected Maria's award-winning story.


And This One Is Just Right

By Maria Dahvana Headley

Maureen is chopping sixty inches from her hair. Forty years to grow, and three minutes with a pair of dull and energetic scissors to destroy. Atomic bombs, earthquakes, wrecking balls. The cutting wasn't planned. She'd walked past the bathroom on the way to lipstick for the dinner date, and, in the mirror, caught sight of a sibyl; breasts closer to the ground than they had been, the triumph of gravity against eternity, cloaked in the hair of a young woman.

Something undignified, something appalling about shining tresses to the ankles, something somewhat less than beautiful, when the bloom's begun to wither and the only beauty is found in the bones. Now she's standing, a little delirious, a heap of red strands at her feet, her head strangely light and knobby, her neck long and white and her eyebrows stuck in London Bridges, freckles standing at attention, eyes madly green, looking like an old Irish boy, or a fire-footed witch.

The doorbell sings out and Maureen darts into her good black dress. A dress, she thinks, ha, as though it makes a difference, may as well wear boots and a sweater, may as well wear a sagging, once-white brassiere, may as well wear overalls for all the sex appeal she had and hasn't now, and how does one find love or even eat dinner without it, well, we'll see, won't we. Once upon a time she'd stopped traffic, not literally. There had been marital mortality for her sake; there had been a time when her blazing hair and curves were outlined by a thin veneer of average men's desire. He would have known her by her hair, but now it's gone, and that was the point, she was thinking that to be known would be to fail, and that if she were different, if she could change, he might be the one that she hasn't found since Bobby and that was a hell of a forever ago and how did it go so fast? It went. It's gone. That's it.

When she opens it, he's standing there, way too young for her, but she knew that would be the case. They're all too young for her, now, unless they're eighty, some quirk in her makeup that engenders contempt for men who seem to have not lived enough. She falls only for alcoholics, ravaged souls, gamblers and the ones who've been married sixty years, and are now calmly viewing youth in a fading and cracked rearview.

"I'm Kevin," he says.

Kevin, Maureen thinks again, Kevin, what a name, what a eunuch name, set up with Kevin by Angela, the daughter that hates her with a writhing snakelike ardor, but fakes love and compassion.

"Nice to meet you, Kevin," she says.

"And I guess you're Maureen?" as though hoping he's at the wrong house. He's handsome, in the way that all well-loved sons stay handsome, sunning blithely into middle age with the perfection of a nectarine. Skin free of history, his shirt starched, dry cleaner writ from neck to ankles, shoe polish, and good god also for Christ's sake, lilies, funereal, odorous, creamy decay, there they are, hard to ignore, though he holds them at arm's length, wrist limp,
pretending they haven't accompanied him from the car.

"I brought you these."

Something to like in him after all: the error of courtship, the accidental meanderings of an optimist. Sure-footed Indian guide, boy-scouted trailblazer on the forgotten fork, compass lost, moss on the wrong side of the tree. So this Kevin may have grown up more than he seems, may have lived a little on sorrow, or why would he be here, at Maureen's door, bearing lilies, seven thirty at night, looking at this shorn woman and managing a smile of some kind of anticipation?

At the restaurant, Maureen drinks most of a bottle of wine, and finds herself descending into coed flirtation, elbows on the table, lips forming wet whispers, and he drinks also, a surprisingly glorious drunken giggle, and it comes out that Angela set him up with her mother because she didn't want him herself.

"Just like me, but fatter and older, with hair she hasn't cut since she was eight years old." Maureen can just hear the raspy, sexy voice, Angela's acting school creation.

Too young for Maureen and too old for Angela, somewhere in here sarcasm is possible, but Maureen doesn't have the energy for it, and she ought to be grateful, she reminds herself, except that she doesn't care much for the daughter either and it may be her fault, though she doesn't really believe in that, a whining daughter thirty years from the womb, therapy every day but Sundays, and endless blame. All Maureen remembers is maybe one spanking, but apparently there is endless psychological damage.

Another time, Angela before kindergarten, chin stuck out in defiance, coyly screaming "I Hate You," just for the shock value.

Maureen, fed up and exhausted, morning sick with the one that never made it past month four before throwing up his tiny blue hands in defeat.

Maureen looking her craven redheaded daughter in the eye and saying "I hate you too, then."

Maybe a mistake, maybe a bad mistake, but Bobby was gone already, and Maureen was. Wasn't.

And now, the revenge of the daughter, a passed off man, a man whose hands have maybe already felt the daughter's smooth skin, ruffled the daughter's bright hair. Don't think about that. Angela's found the flaws, said not for me, but for my mother, this one will be just right. Goldilocks in the bear's bed.

And later, when Kevin's kissing her goodbye, pellmell against the doorframe, and she can feel in him a hundred years of longing and things that haven't gone the way the manual said they'd go, matches made sodden by rains beyond control, his hands in the shortness of her hair, holding her head like something expensive, Maureen thinks, this is a mother's revenge, acceptance of every unwilling gift. She takes his hand, she brings him in. Stay, she manages.

~ * ~

Native Shore Fiction

:: Native Shore Fiction ::


The winner of Word Smitten's
Annual TenTen Award for Fiction.

:: Winning Short Story :: And This One Is Just Right
Maria Dahvana Headley

Join us in congratulating Maria Headley. We awarded her the prize of $1,010.00 for this story of mothers, daughters, and equanimity.
Read her newly published novel (hardcover: January 2006; $22.95US/$29.95CAN; 1401302300).


Too Young for Maureen.Somewhere in here. Fiction by  D. H. Headley. Title: And This One is Just Right.And too old for Angela.

Our fiction judge for a recent TenTen Award for Fiction comments on her selection: I think the story titled "And This One is Just Right" ... tackles a big subject without being over-anxious to provide too much present or historical detail. It dilates nicely, patiently, reveals itself gradually, and the language is careful and energetic. The competition between mother and daughter was intense, but not overwrought; there was room in this, pleasingly, for the accidental blessing.

:: Noy Holland, author of The Spectacle of the Body

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