Josephine sat quietly before the mirror, watching her mother as she worked. She had Josephine's hair wrapped around her fingers, the skin covering her knuckles almost translucent with age. She had begun to twist the hair around itself, forming a tight bun, which she struggled to hold together.
"Josephine?" she asked, winding another clump of strands into the knot, "What was the name of that man who used to come 'round here with you?"
"His name was Alex," replied Josephine. Her voice was soft, but flat. She brushed a strand of hair from her face and continued to look in the mirror.
"Alex. Yes, I remember it now. He would wear those dirty tennis shoes whenever he came. He was such a nice young man. Whatever happened to him?"
"He's been gone a long time." She looked back to the mirror and touched her finger to her eyes. There was a redness around them all the time now, and her age had begun to draw itself into her skin. She studied her eyes, her finger still touching the red bags that lined them. The blue of her irises seemed dull and clouded in comparison.
"He went off to live in New England, didn't he?" her mother asked, dropping the bun. "The sun must've been too dry here." She chuckled to herself. Her laugh sounded like a fit of coughing. "That happens around here, though, doesn't it? People coming all the time looking for some sunshine and beaches, but they don't know how dry it can get. A lot of them go right back to where they came from. Even with all the coolers on, it's still real hot, and you don't even turn on the air, so I can hardly stand it!" She laughed again. "But it certainly is more comfortable in here than it is out there." She looked out the window before looking back at Josephine. She was still staring into the mirror, her fingers pressed under her eye. "Josephine?" Her clouded blue eyes snapped toward her mother's face, suddenly alert, but dropped back to disinterest after she settled her gaze.
"I'm sorry, I wasn't listening. Did you say something?"
"I asked if Alex was in New England now."
"He moved to Boston, I think." She grimaced as her mother pulled at the knots in her hair. "But that was a long time ago."
"You haven't lived long enough to have seen 'a long time ago', Jo," the old woman said, separating her hair into two parts. "Whatever you've done, it's still fresh and new, and we all remember it as good as it happened yesterday. Me, I've seen 'a long time ago', but I can't remember a bit of it." She laughed her choking laugh again. Josephine wordlessly looked back to the mirror. Her mother had begun to wind sections of her hair around each other in to two long braids.
"Not braids, Ma. They look childish." Josephine put her hand over her mother's to stop her.
"Not childish, dear, youthful. If I had hair like yours, I'd have it braided all the time. I'd go to bed with my hair in those braids! They make a girl look fresh and vibrant."
"I'm not a girl, Ma, and I don't want to look youthful. I want to look my age." She began to work on untying the braid.
"Now stop that," snapped her mother. She shook Josephine's hand away and continued braiding. "Now about this Alex boy," she began, "why did he decide to-"
"I'm done talking about Alex, Ma," Josephine said, returning her finger to the red bags under her eyes. "That was long enough ago for me."
"Well it couldn't have been more than three years ago," her mother replied, indignant at having been cut off.
"It was twelve." Her mother fell silent as she tied the end of the first braid into place. She moved to the other side of Josephine's head, separating the hair into three parts.
"Please don't braid my hair any more, Ma. It really doesn't suit me." She moved her hand to the completed rope of hair and tugged lightly at it. Her mother did not stop. She continued to pull at the hair and twist it into tight braids. "Ma, please," Josephine said, sighing. Her mother finished the second braid and tied it off at the end.
"You're done now, Jo. Do what you want." Josephine touched the braids that hung against her neck and chest, and then the bags and wrinkles that framed her eyes.
"I wish you hadn't done this. It doesn't look right on me."
" Well I think it looks better than just about anything you've done with your hair so far," her mother replied as she moved a braid in front of Josephine's shoulder. "But that's just my opinion."
"I'll leave them in, if it means that much to you." Josephine ran her hand down the cord of hair and sighed. "I suppose it doesn't really matter."