Sara Baume is the author of three novels, Spill Simmer Falter Wither, A Line Made by Walking and Seven Steeples, and one book of non-fiction, Handiwork. Baume’s lyrical prose is finely tuned to subtleties of rhythm and cadence. Born in the United Kingdom, she now lives and works on the south coast of Ireland, where she balances writing with her work as a visual artist.
Listen to an audio extract of ‘The Hair Baby’ here
‘The Hair Baby’
Alannah, sitting on her mother’s bed in the lotus position. It is morning, raining. She feels unwell – queasy, leaden – but does not complain. All over the printed duvet cover there are flamingos in bandanas, facing right, facing left. Alannah’s mother is putting out items on the bed, arranging them around her daughter’s folded legs, wordlessly. Three piles of clothes, four magazines, two pill bottles, a phone charger, a stack of cotton knickers. Alannah is embarrassed by the sight of her mother’s frayed and faded underwear. A few wispy strands of elastic have come loose from the pair on the top of the stack. The waistband is torn. She looks away. Down to the carpet, where a wheelie suitcase is lying on its back with its mouth thrown open. Up to the curtains, which are still drawn even though it is light. She hears cars passing, an electric scooter hurtling across the uneven footpath. She hears the mechanical front door of their apartment building followed by the dog that barks, sadly, every time it clunks.
Alannah, bowed and folded, surrounded by pink birds, haloed by the yellow ceiling lamp. She has limp brown hair and wide-spaced eyes and a weak chin. She is ten. She has been ten for a month and she does not like it. She carries the weight of her extra digit like a chain-mail vest. She hunches her shoulders as if recoiling from the cold metal. Her mother is twenty-nine. Alannah calls her by her name, Maia, except for when she is upset, and forgets, and calls her Mum. Maia has blonde hair with the sides shaved and a tattoo of a man’s name across the notch at the base of her throat, Reuben. Maia and Alannah live together in the apartment with Reuben, who also has tattoos but hides them beneath an ironed white shirt every weekday morning and leaves at precisely eight to drive Maia’s car to work. Reuben is not Alannah’s father, though he has been around for years. Alannah can remember back when Reuben and Maia were kind to each other. Nowadays she hears them quietly shouting in their bedroom at night.
This morning Alannah and Maia are leaving the apartment and going on a journey without telling Reuben and Alannah is both worried about where the journey will take them and pleased that she does not have to go to school.
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