The scissors shake in the mirror, but the blades close with a snick, and another long strand of hair drops to the ground. Crap. Why was this so hard? There was one more strand of hair at the back, and it doesn’t take long for that to go. Then she pulls the plastic gloves on and starts mixing the chemicals to squirt into what hair was left — only one bottle, it’s that short. After a few minutes she has to turn the fan on in the tiny bathroom because it smells so bad. This is the second set time the bathroom has been filled with these fumes.

She pokes her head around the flimsy door and looks at her child. He’s exhausted, sleeping hard, his face still red from his earlier tears. His hair looks patchy now that it’s dry, mostly medium brown, with a few golden-red spots. He had squirmed and cried while she applied the dye, tired, hungry, and confused by the long bus ride to an unfamiliar place that did not resemble a theme park.

The lights of Kansas City leak through the cheap curtains and the roar of the traffic from the interstate competes with the wheeze of the heating unit under the window. She wants to sleep, but it’s probably not going to happen. She hadn’t been able to sleep on the bus, either, with all of the curious eyes she’d felt sliding over them. As soon as they got off the bus, she’d dragged her whining child to the nearest Saint Vincent dePaul to purchase some clothes that didn’t look like they came from Neiman-Marcus. There had been no time to pack with care when they left. She regrets her panic now, wishes she had chosen with more care. Can’t be undone.

Her cell phone is gone, too, memory wiped, boxed Priority Mail, addressed to a stranger in Bangor, Maine, and mailed during a rest stop. She would have liked to keep it, but it was a fancy model with GPS.

After she steps from the shower, the worst of the stink washed out of her hair, she stares hard into her eyes in the mirror.

She can do this.

She has to do this.

But who will she say she is now, the tall woman with the short black hair and the uneasy eyes? A single mother, sure, someone with nowhere to go, no skills to market. The closer to the truth, the better — and this is closer to the truth than is comfortable. She’s never held a conventional job, has nothing to put on a resume. She daren’t use her credit cards, even if they haven’t been canceled. She doesn’t even want to use her driver’s license, her social security card. They are all ways that she can be tracked, can be trapped.

How is she going to protect her son? He’s only six, an unwilling party to her deceit. How can she explain this to him without destroying his world? How will she get him what he needs to grow up healthy and happy? Russ Derleth was the only father he’d ever known. How will she explain that Lucas will never see him again?

She sighs at all these questions that she has no answers for yet, bundles up their expensive clothes, the stained towels, and her hair to be thrown in two or three different dumpsters, and turns off the bathroom light. They’ll buy another set of bus tickets to a random destination in the morning, after a breakfast of stale Pop-Tarts.

She’ll find the answers.

She has to find them.

ballet dancer stretching and preparing shoes
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