What really should have happened in ‘Flowers in the Attic’ by Chris Hall
This is a fictional haircutting fantasy based on the book ‘Flowers in the Attic’. All characters and some of the passages have been lifted directly from the book and are copyright Virginia Andrews. Other passages are purely the product of my imagination and have no association with ‘Flowers in the Attic’, Ms. Andrews or her family.
Our grandmother walked into the room , towering like a tree, and she bore not a whip, but a huge pair of scissors, the kind women use when cutting fabric to make clothes. They were chrome-coloured, shiny, long, and looked very sharp.
‘Sinners!’ she hissed as she once again turned those cruel eyes on me. They held no mercy. ‘You think you look pretty? You think those new young curves are attractive? You like that long, golden hair that you brush and brush and curl?’ She smiled then – the most frightening smile I ever saw.
‘Sit down, girl!’ she snapped. ‘I am going to cut off your hair to the scalp – and then maybe you won’t feel pride when you look in the mirror.’
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Scornfully, cruelly, she smiled when she saw my surprise – the first time I’d ever seen her smile.
My worst fear! I’d rather be whipped! My skin would heal, but it would take years and years to grow back the beautiful, long hair I’d cherished since Daddy first said it was pretty, and how he liked long hair on little girls. Oh, dear God, how could she know that almost every night I dreamed she stole into my room while I slept and sheared me as one does a sheep? And sometimes I dreamed not only did I wake up in the mornings bald and ugly, but she cut off my breasts, too!
Whenever she looked at me, it was at some particular place. She didn’t see me as a whole person, but in sections that seemed to arouse her anger… and she would destroy whatever made her angry!
I tried to dash into the bathroom, and lock the door behind me. But for some reason my dancer’s legs, trained so well, refused to move. I was paralysed by the very threat of those long, shiny scissors and above them – the grandmother’s chrome-coloured eyes were sparked with hate, scorn, comtempt.
That’s when Chris spoke up in a strong man’s voice. ‘You are not going to cut off one strand of Cathy’s hair, Grandmother! Take just one step in this direction and I will pound you over the head with this chair!’
He held one of the chairs we used for dining, ready to carry out his threat. His blue eyes snapped fire as hers shot hate.
‘Your hair, or none of you will eat for a week,’ she said, ignoring Chris, as she always did. ‘And if you lock yourself in the bathroom, or hide yourself in the attic, then not one of you will eat for two weeks! Or when you come down with a bald head!’ Next, she riveted her cold eyes on Chris for a long, excruciating moment. ‘I think you will be the one to shear off your sister’s long, cherished hair,’ she said with a secret smile. On the dresser top, she laid the shiny scissors. ‘When I come back, and see your sister without hair, then the four of you will eat.
She left us, locked us in, left us in a quandary, with Chris staring at me, and me staring back at him.
Chris smiled. ‘Come now, Cathy, she’s all bluff! Momma will come any hour. We’ll tell her…no problem. I’ll never cut off your hair.’ He came to put his arm around me. ‘Isn’t it fortunate we’ve hidden a box of crackers and a pound of cheddar cheese in the attic? And we still have today’s food – the old witch forgot that.’
But Mother didn’t come to see us that day, or the next, and worse, Grandmother had carried out her threat not to feed us. We had saved most of yesterday’s food, and we all ate sparingly until the end of the week when it had all run out.
‘It’s no good, Chris,’ I said. ‘We can’t go on like this any more. We’ve lived for a week on one day’s food. Carrie and Cory are looking like skeletons. We have to eat.’ There were tears in my eyes as I handed him the scissors. I could barely say the next words. ‘You’ll have to cut my hair.’
‘No way, Cathy.’ Chris was firm, and I had to admire him for that. ‘I told you, I’ll never cut off your hair. We can work something out.’ Then he brightened. ‘I’ve got an idea! Why don’t we just cut off the front part of your hair, then you can wrap the rest of it in a headscarf like you’re ashamed to be seen bald. That should fool Grandmother and we’ll be able to eat again.’
‘I guess so,’ I said, doubtfully. ‘I suppose we’ve got nothing to lose. Go on then.’
I offered the shears once again to Chris, who took them this time. He reached forward and took hold of a thin lock of my front hair. He seemed to wait for an age before slowly bringing the scissors up to my head, then laying them against my scalp and closing the blades around the hair with a sickening crunch. He looked at the severed lock of hair in his hand for a while, then shook his head and laid it carefully on the floor. Slowly, he cut off the rest of the hair from the front of my head, laying each tress carefully on the pile on the floor.
When he was done, I brushed out the rest of my hair and braided it, then arranged it all under a headscarf like we agreed. I pushed the scarf back from my forehead slightly so that the stubble at the front was clearly visible. Chris gathered the severed hair, and tied it together with one of my ribbons, then coiled it up and put it in a box, which he kept under his bed. I caught him later with it, just feeling its silky warmth and pressing the golden lock against his cheek.
Sure enough, next morning, there was a hamper of food in the room. Grandmother had obviously been in during the night and noticed my bald forehead and headscarf and been satisfied that her punishment had been carried out. I allowed myself a smile, knowing we had, for once, put one over the old bat.
We ate ravenously that day, the four of us. Normally, we tried to save some food for the next day, in case Grandmother ‘forgot’ to feed us enough, if at all, but by this time we were so hungry we threw caution to the wind and polished off the lot. Carrie and Cory were overjoyed to have ‘real food’ again, and it was good to see that their appetites hadn’t been too badly affected by the forced fasting.
Things continued normally, or at least as normally as we’d come to expect, for a few weeks: Grandmother ignored us most of the time, and Momma still didn’t come to visit us. I continued to practise ballet up in the attic – the only place I was able to let my hair down, out of the headscarf, without fear of being caught – and Chris read his books on medicine. We continued tutoring the twins as best we could, and making our own entertainment. We made the best of a bad deal. Then, one day, the Grandmother entered the room and caught Chris sitting on the ledge, gazing out of the window, in direct breach of one of the ‘commandments’ she’d given us on the day we arrived.
‘Get away from that window, boy! I told you to keep away from there!’ she snapped.
Chris turned round slowly to face the Grandmother, anger welling up inside him. She was always addressing him as ‘boy’, never by his name and never looked him in the eye. Now Chris faced her, staring into her eyes. She lifted her head and looked over his head out of the window. Chris spoke, slowly and calmly, as if fighting the anger within him.
‘Don’t ever address me as “boy”,’ he said. ‘My given name is Christopher, and you may address me by that name, or not at all, but don’t call me “boy”!’
The Grandmother said nothing, but just shot him a look that would have frozen Hell, then turned and stalked out of the room, slamming the door shut. Chris looked both surprised and triumphant at the same time, saying, ‘Ha! She’s all just talk! I knew she wouldn’t be able to handle it if I stood up to her.’
His joy was short lived, however, as the door opened once more and the Grandmother re-appeared, this time carrying a long, green stick she intended to use as a switch.
‘Come here, boy!’ she accentuated that last word. ‘You think you are a man, now? Well, I think you need a reminder that you are still a little boy.’ With that, she strode over to where the twins had been playing, grabbed the nearest one to her, Cory, and raised the switch above her head. I screamed as the switch swept down on Cory’s back, making him cry out in pain. Chris leaped off the window ledge and ran over to the Grandmother, trying to push Cory out of her grasp.
‘If you want to punish me, punish me, not him!’ he yelled.
‘Oh, I will,’ sneered the Grandmother, releasing Cory, who ran crying into my arms. ‘Now, take off your shirt before I change my mind!’
Chris stood defiantly for a second or two, then resignedly unbuttoned his shirt. He took it off to reveal his bare chest and back to the mercy of the switch. Stood next to the Grandmother, he was no match for her, and she easily pushed him down onto the bed, then began to whip him like a thing possessed. As the switch cut open his back, Chris grit his teeth and tried not to cry out, but after twenty or so lashes, he broke down in extreme agony. The Grandmother seemed not to notice, and carried on whipping him until Chris stopped crying out with each lash. Then she turned her eyes on me.
‘You, girl!’ she barked, pointing the switch in my direction. ‘Take off that headscarf! I want to see your bald head!’
Oh, God! What could I do? I couldn’t take off the scarf, or she would know we’d tricked her. On the other hand, if I disobeyed her… well, one look at Chris lying prostrate on the bed, his back covered with thin red stripes where the switch had cut the skin, told me what would happen. I decided to stall.
‘N-n-no, Grandmother,’ I stammered. ‘I d-don’t want the twins to see me like this.’
‘Tough!’ she snapped, coming closer to me. ‘I want to see you like this. Now take off that scarf!’
‘Don’t, Cathy,’ Chris gasped from the bed.
‘Silence!’ she snapped. ‘Take off that scarf, NOW, girl!’
I resigned myself to the inevitable, and, sniffling, slowly removed the offending item. As the scarf peeled away from my head, my long, golden hair came tumbling down my back, released from its prison. I stood there, watching the Grandmother’s face as she realised she’d been deceived. She looked like she was about to explode. Suddenly, she rushed towards me, grabbed my arm and dragged me back towards the dresser, where the shiny steel shears were waiting. I yelped as I realised what was in store for me.
‘So, you thought you could trick me?’ sneered the Grandmother, as she sat me down in front of the dresser. ‘Well, you can be sure your sins will find you out. Sinner!’ With that, she grabbed a long hank of my hair, picked up the shears and placed them next to the scalp, so that I could feel the cold steel on my head, then squeezed them shut.
‘Noooooooooo!’ I screamed as the scissors crunched through my hair, severing off a two-and-a-half-foot long lock. The Grandmother dropped the hair into my lap, and a hand shot up to feel where it had come from. There was just a stump, barely half an inch long. I wept, then, and hardly noticed as the Grandmother continued shearing me, grabbing huge handfuls of hair and slicing through them, tossing the fine gold strands indiscriminately onto the floor. Chris could only watch from the bed, and this seemed to pain him more than the beating had. He cried out in anguish as the old woman reduced my glorious mane to stubble.
When she had finished, the Grandmother grabbed my head and turned it to face the mirror. At first, I didn’t dare look, then I opened my eyes and gasped in horror at what I saw. Where there had been thick, luscious, golden hair ten minutes ago, now there were just clumps sticking up at all angles, and all different lengths, none of them more than an inch. I could even see a couple of bald patches, where the shears had cut right down to the scalp. My golden hair lay scattered about the floor. I broke into fresh tears. The Grandmother, meanwhile, was searching the room. Suddenly, her eyes locked on Carrie and Cory, who were huddled together in the corner. She laid the shears back on the dresser, strode over to the corner and picked up Carrie before I knew what was happening, then ordered me to get off the stool I was sitting on and plonked a very frightened Carrie down in my place. She picked up the shears again and… handed them to me!
‘Now, you will do the same to your sister!’ she told me.
‘No!’ I yelped. ‘Surely we’ve been punished enough?’
‘Ah, no,’ she said, with a cruel glint in her eye. ‘That was the punishment I gave some weeks ago. Now you have to be punished for trying to deceive me. Now cut your sister’s hair off, or will I have to whip you both and shear her myself?’
Faced with another impossible choice, I turned to stroke Carrie’s hair. She was crying now, as well, pleading with me not to cut her beautiful hair. ‘I’m sorry, Carrie, I have to,’ I told her, then half-heartedly snipped off about six inches from one of the long locks at the back of her head.
‘Shorter!’ hissed the Grandmother. ‘Cut it all off.’
I could barely see through my tears, now, but I slowly set about the awful task I had to perform, raising small portions of Carrie’s mid-back-length hair and snipping them off about an inch from the scalp. I laid the cut-off tresses carefully on the dresser, hoping we would be able to save them later, and continued, making the haircut as uniform as possible. I certainly didn’t want her to look like me if I could possibly avoid it. The Grandmother just stood over us, arms folded, making sure the job was done this time to her satisfaction. As I snipped off the last of Carrie’s long hair, she snatched the scissors out of my hand and stalked out of the room, once more locking us in our prison.
I surveyed the battlescene. Chris was still lying on the bed, writhing in agony from the whipping he’d been given, his back cut to shreds. Cory was huddled in the corner, whimpering quietly. Carrie had gathered up her hair from the dresser and now stroked it in her lap. My hair was strewn all over the floor, and my head looked like it had been savaged by some wild beast.
We had definitely come out second best in that one.