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Dandelion Daughter Excerpted from Dandelion Daughter (2023) published by Véhicule Press. Reprinted with permission from the publisher.  

Dandelion Daughter

Translated by Eli Tareq El Bechelany-Lynch

My mom wants to bring me to the village hairdresser. I make a fuss in the car by kicking the back of her seat every two seconds. She doesn’t say a word. Angrily looks at me in the rearview mirror. I’m chasing my own thunderstorm. I don’t want to leave the car. She removes my seatbelt and pulls me out by my overall straps. “Oh, stop being such a nuisance. Don’t you want to start off the new year fresh? You’re going to have a nice mushroom haircut like everyone else. Otherwise, what kind of impression would that give of us?”

At lunchtime, we head to the hairdresser’s, which is in a basement. It’s a funny place. When I walk in, the smell of hairspray burns my nostrils. Three chairs, one of which is waiting for me. The chairs in the back are occupied by two women reading magazines with massive round blow dryers covering their heads. It looks like they’re going to be abducted by aliens. There’s a door at the other end of the room leading to Gisèle the hairdresser’s house. On a zebra print shelf, miracle products promise a transformative experience. There’s something for everyone’s wants, everyone’s needs. I open the bottles, charmed by their smells.

There’s a poster displaying the newest, most popular haircuts. My mom points to a little blond boy on one of the posters. “Give him a Nick Carter haircut, he’ll be cute as all that. I’ll come back to pick him up in two to three hours if it isn’t a bother. I have to run some errands in town.” 

I’m stunned that my mom would leave me for so long. At my age, trapped in a chair, three hours is an eternity. She kisses my head before leaving.

The hairdresser has rings on all her fingers which come alive like centipedes. Her rings are silver, in the shape of hearts, arrows, one set with a diamond, another with amethyst, the rest engraved with her children’s names. My hair strands are seized, one after the other, between heart and arrow. The scissors chomp my hair. I watch the strands fall, my eyes obstructed.

“Don’t make that face, little guy. It’s going to grow back anyway.”

Gisèle goes to get a cigarette from her purse. She sets down her scissors. Lights up. A cloud soon appears above our heads. Gisèle asks one of the other women to open a window.  A small guillotine window. When she turns my chair in its direction, I count the number of people passing by outside. We can only see their shoes or their sandals walking past. I imagine that the shoes and sandals are bodiless, the bodies at home resting. We’ll never know.

Sometimes when she’s in front of me, my nose almost presses up against her large breasts. I try to move my head. She warns me not to move, otherwise my haircut won’t be even. When she brings her face close to mine to cut the top, she squints her eyes, closes one, checks if she’s done well. She has the intensity of a huntress. She stands for a while in front of my face. Her fingers smell like Alberto mousse and cigarettes. “You look like an angel.” I smile at her. I want to count each freckle on her face. I like counting. I ask her how many heartbeats we are given before we die.

“That’s a big question for such a little person.”

She takes a second to think about it. She looks at the ceiling as though the answer to my question is hidden there.

“I don’t know, but when I think about it, it makes my heart pound faster, so let’s cool our jets, eh?” 

Gisèle keeps a bobby pin between her pursed lips. They’re plum coloured and make her skin look green. Probably why people gossip that she’s a witch. They say she’s a husband thief, a home-wrecker. I can’t see any danger because we exchange smiles and conspiratorial looks in the mirror. The other day at church, she sat at the back, alone, at the periphery of everyone’s thoughts, almost forgotten. After the communion, my dad went to talk to her. Standing in front of the confessional booth, he tucked a fallen strand of hair behind her ear. She smiled.  Her eyes bore into his. My mom always insists that she, and not my dad, bring me to the hair salon.

I look at my hair on the floor. A blond cloud splayed open. Even though I’m having a nice time with the hairdresser, I can sense a feeling of dread creeping in. I feel like I’ve lost a limb. I have the exact same haircut as the little boy on the poster. I don’t look like myself. I look like someone else. I have the same haircut as Nick Carter. I could be his double if the Backstreet Boys ever needed a replacement. Gisèle takes off my black cape with magisterial flare.

“Tada!” I’m not me. I’m someone else. I don’t recognize myself in the mirror. I keep touching my hair while she goes to check on the ladies at the back of the salon. She lights another cigarette. I pass my fingers through the few long strands left, then through the shaved area. She flattened my femininity, a forest of trees uniformly cut, leaving only the stumps. From now on, I’ll be afraid to wash my hair because I’ll have to pass my hands over the coarse short hairs that bristle against my fingers.

“I like your mom and all but you’ll have to remind her that I’m not a babysitter,” Gisèle tells me. “You can also tell her that she can pay me at the end of the month, that’s no problem. It’s been a good month, so I’m not stressed."

Another two hours of waiting before she comes back. One of the women leaves before my mom returns and another client arrives. I spend the time imagining what the witch’s lair looks like upstairs. There are probably men sleeping, victims of her spells. The missing husbands. The casualties of love. I spend two hours daydreaming about the long and radiant hair of the girls in my class and wonder why boys have to keep their hair short. I wish I had Rapunzel hair. ⁂

Gabrielle Boulianne-Tremblay is a writer, actor, model and trans activist. She is the first trans woman to be nominated as an actress at the Canadian Screen Awards. Her other publications include two poetry books: Le ventre des volcans and Les secrets de l’origami. Dandelion Daughter is the English-language translation of her novel La fille d'elle-même, which won the 2022 Prix des libraires du Québec.

Eli Tareq El Bechelany-Lynch is the author of knot body, which was shortlisted for a Quebec Writers' Federation award, and The Good Arabs, which won the 2022 Grand Prix du livre de Montréal.