By A Hair

“We were supposed to be past this!” Jonathan Quinn battered his statement across the servant’s face, wrought iron gate, and brick wall that outlined the Lieutenant Governor’s mansion. “How are we supposed to have a better life if we can’t even be a community?! Ya can’t do this simply because we’re Gingers!”

Unapologetic, the butler restated his comment which provoked the outburst. “I’m dreadfully sorry, my good man, but the council has once again denied a hearing. They further state city ordinances are in clear compliance with the regulations set forth in the National Contract. We simply cannot hold a gala in any venue within Harpshire for the Red Class.” A snuff followed the cold delivery of news, which made the oily, inky black hair of the butler’s head shift to the front. The man had finally gotten a whiff of a paver’s world. His only recourse was to slam the gate shut and retreat from the foulness of grunt work.

Roiled, Jonathan twisted his wiry head to the house. “Ya can’t stop us from dancin’. Ya hear me, Madam Guv’ner! Ya can’t arrest us all! We have the right to live just as much as any of ya towheads! Ya can keep us out of your city, but ya can’t keep us from our happiness!” Growing hoarse from shouting, Jon took a look back at his sons who came along after work for moral support. “Boys, let’s go home,” he sighed with disappointment heavy on his brow. The cap with which he held in his calloused hands was wrung in fierce anxiety. The freckles on the back of his paws twitched in excitement as he thought of the deeds he’d do if he were to ever set his hands upon a member of the Flaxen Class.

The Flaxen Class, it was even unconventionally named in the National Contract! It couldn’t have been “Yellow,” or “Gold,” or “Blonde.” No! It had to be “Flaxen” to set themselves a great distance apart from the rest of society. A wedge throughout the land was made when that wretched document was signed. None of this could be changed at the moment, though, and evening was fast approaching. The long walk to Ruster’s Point had to commence quickly.

High above the three-story mansion, a pale face observed the entire exchange. Lacy Alderwell’s keen hazel eyes scrutinized the commotion below for lip reading. Judging from the reaction of the Red Class’s councilman, he had been denied event permits for the third time. He was a Ginger, and there was no guile needed in applying “influence” upon their caste. They had to do what they were told, much like the Black Class, yet they were on the manufacturing side of the economic equation.

As she watched the sullen procession head away from the building, she caught the likeness of a young man staring back at her. Lanky, yet fresh and spirited, Connor Quinn’s face locked upon the figure Lacy made in the window. Bright blue button eyes could still be seen through the veil of dusk setting upon Harpshire, while his fiery bangs danced upon his head with fight.

Lacy shrank from the leaded glass startled. What raw emotion the boy had! She could feel his anger, though yards away, and was rendered speechless from the encounter. She had never considered herself a “root lover,” but she could not deny the presence of some inexplicable attraction held in that moment. She looked again, but he had started off with the rest by that time.

In a moment of spontaneity, Lacy decided to seek her parents. Attempts to appeal for a lower social class were absurd for many at the top, but she was to be groomed for her mother’s position when the time came. This could simply be a lesson on refining her skills of parlay. As so often it happens, the Lieutenant Governor wasn’t at home, but she easily came by her father. The city judge was a caricature of comfortable living. An ample wallet and ample chin left for a sense of self-satisfaction.

A little too lacking in political tact, she approach the topic head on. “Dad, why won’t anyone let the Gingers hold a social event in the city? They’re human are they not? We have them all the time, and no one thinks a thing of it. This does not make sense.”

“Why, it’s simple my dear,” began the Judge who obviously had the decision set in stone. “If we were to allow them permission to host a ‘social event’ in Harpshire, they’d burn the place down. They’re like children, you see. We’d have to supervise them, and our jail cells would be filled by morning. It’s just common sense.”

“Where would you be without gatherings like this, father? As I seem to recall you met mother at one. You both seem happy together. Is it correct to deny others that same right? To be happy?” Lacy laid her conviction on a little too strong, which instantly sent the judge in a rage.

“Yes! A thousand times, yes! I will not have a group of mongrels tear up my city on the mere chance they could meet and make more! I do not care about their happiness! They will not make us all miserable because of it!” With that the portly gentleman stood up from his chair and headed toward the dining room. After a pause, he softened and turned to Lacy.

“Let them have their ball in their Ginger-bred houses!” The jape gave way to fits of laughter. So violent were his giggles and jerks from his new-found cleverness, he clutched the railing tightly as he went downstairs for he feared tumbling down a flight in carelessness.

Walking about snowdrifts in the dead of Winter seemed a lesser task compared the days spent thinking about Connor. Often Lucy would sit in her bedroom staring out at the trees, and wondering why she felt this way. Many meals were passed up for the chance to be alone. It wasn’t until the maid, Angelina, came to her door to determine if young Lucy needed the care of a physician.

“Lucy! I have breakfast for you. You haven’t eaten in too long. What’s the matter with you girl? Are you sick?” A clink of the service tray added to the suggestion that she eat something.

“No.” The long drawn out denial brought Angelina closer to the bed.

“You’re still hung up over the Gingers are you? Why in the world would you do such a thing like that? They’re holding a makeshift gathering in a barn near Ruster’s Point. They’ll be fine. Besides, you haven’t any reason to pay attention to those hoodlums! Why…”

“STOP! STOP IT I SAY! DAMN YOU AND YOUR THOUGHTS!” Lacy was prone to passionate talk, but this was out of character even for her. “You don’t know anything about them, do you? You say those things because you’re not one of them! What if you’re wrong? What if they are better people than you even? Why they could be the most beautiful people anywhere and you won’t know it!”

Angelina took a step back at this reproach. She often considered herself a motherly figure, as Madame Governor was often elsewhere. The scalding tongue took her back to a place she had not been in a long time. Intuitive and sharp, her eyes narrowed at the set upon Lacy.

“You’re in love. Aren’t you, Miss Lacy? You’re in love with a Ginger boy! Oh me, it’s true! This is dreadful news! I’d never thought I’d see the day. A daughter of the Governor a root-lover!” Her legs almost gave out on her and she took a chair close to the service tray. Frantic, Lacy rushed to her side and knelt at her feet. Burying her head and hands into the old maid, she began to sob.

“Oh, Angelina,” she choked, “I can’t stop thinking about him. He’s haunting me and my thoughts! Why can’t I get him out of my head, Angela?! I must see him! I must find out what it was I saw in him that afternoon.”

A world-wizened woman Angelina was. Age painted streaks of grey in her raven hair resembling that of a river, the river that time carved into her existence. The story whimpered though Lacy’s tears was highly obscene, yet rang as true as a clock chime. There once was a time in her life where she was that folded mess before her. It may have not been cross-caste like this, but very similar nonetheless. She once cared deeply for a man long ago. He captivated the very life, and she could not think of anything else. As history would have it, it was never meant to be. The love of her life was inevitably beaten to death by his Flaxen master because the eggs were cold, one crisp Autumn morning. She would do anything to spend one more moment with that man. Anything. Lacy would obviously do the same.

“My child,” Angelina spoke after clearing her throat, “if I do a favor for you, you must promise me never to tell you parents. I could very well lose my life over it.”

“Yes! Oh, yes, Angela. You’ve known me to be an honest girl. I’d never betray you. I swear.” Her eyes looked up to the maid with red-rimmed hope.

“We’re going to make you a Ginger for the ball. There are some dying chemicals in the utility wing of the house, and an old friend of mine could see to it you have the work clothes from their laundromat. You need to understand what you’re about to commit. This is treachery, my dear. Many people could get hurt over this, if you were found out.” The seriousness of her plan stared at Lacy like a black cat.

“I… I’ll do it. I want to see him. I need to see him. I need to know if I’m right about this. I can’t go through life without knowing.”

…and so they set to work. A call was sent out to the supervisor at the Ruster’s Point community laundromat, who agreed to “misplace” an order of clothing. It would be stowed in the cook of mansion’s purchases for the week. The red dye from the fabric center took to Lacy’s hair beautifully. Being that most of the community would be at the council meeting that night, she was left with a little breathing room being a Ginger in the mansion of a Lieutenant Governor. Quietly she moved just after dark. Ruster’s Point was set apart from Harpshire by a wooded area. She advanced quickly on the barn, as the event could be heard for miles. Emerging from the thicket she quickly melted into the crowd. She had never seen so many red-headed people in one place! The workers we up to all sorts of activities: dancing, drinking, storytelling, playing music, gambling. and maybe even more private affairs upstairs in the hay loft. Such means didn’t afford much, but they certainly bought euphoria that night. Madame Governor could not crush the will of the Red Class!

Poking in and out of stalls, Lacy had a terrible feeling she was being watched. Observed. Studied as one would document a science experiment. She had to push past her paranoia and seek the boy she saw days ago. She would never forget his face, and there was no face like that here! She felt her chest tighten as she considered her stunt may have been all for nothing. As she sat, she watched the Gingers interact with each other. There was laughter. A sea of sound came from all corners of the place. They were happy. These people didn’t remotely resemble the beasts painted by the Flax class. Not in the slightest. She may have been so bold as to say this was a better ball than the black-tie gatherings held by her parents.

It wasn’t until she took notice of a dice game that she spied the bright blue eyes of Connor Quinn. Without another second she was upon him laying a hand on the shoulder of the boy who was her phantom-made-flesh. Caught off guard, he shot straight up. After catching his breath Lacy smiled slightly at him. “Pardon me, miss!” He wasn’t expecting to see much of the womenfolk that night.

“I caught you from across the way. Would you care to dance with me… ?” Lacy tilted her head and moved her ear forward in a backwards attempt at an introduction.

“Uh, Connor. Connor Quinn. Uh, yes! Yes, miss…” Reciprocity has its charm.

“Lacy.”

“Well, lead the way Miss Lacy. Lads, I’m out for now.” Connor wasn’t completely convinced this was even happening.

The band prepared for their next song. Slowly and carefully, the fiddler set his jaw on his instrument and was off in a flash. The tempo hit fast and hard with no sign of slowing down. Couples all about the dance floor bounced and swung in tempo of the music, but no one was keeping score on form. That was for a Flaxen event.

The energetic movements of the newly met team swirled with the spirit of youth. They were connected at last and in unison. The rush of twirling finally wore off and Connor spoke first.

“I’ve never seen you before. Where are you from?” It was a legitimate question. Everyone knew everyone else in Ruster’s Point.

“I’m from out-of-town. I’m visiting the area in hopes for find what I’m looking for.” She said with her mouth pushed into a huge smile.

“What’s that? What are you looking for?” Connor wasn’t good with code. He never had to used double-speak before.

“A feeling.” She wasn’t going to tip her hand so soon.

Puzzled, Connor, began to search her eyes for clues. His father always said that the eyes were the window to the soul, but he never told the boy what he’d find. In doing so, Connor realized he had limited function over his body. This state of semi-paralysis frightened him. He was not able to command himself in the way he always could. It was new; it was terrifying. It was only then was he introduced to Lacy’s influence. It wasn’t mistake. Her intuition had found something on the street that evening a few days ago. She took him by his collar and kissed him. There was no penalty of law that would dissuade her from recreating that moment again.

As if on cue, the local constabulary hollered at the mouth of the barn. “Hold up! HOLD UP! We have reason to believe there is an imposter among us.” The news sent waves of chatter throughout the building. “Calm down. Calm down folks. Harpshire’s sheriff has told me that we wouldn’t have any trouble if we brought back the suspect ourselves. She’s 5′ 5″ and has dyed her hair to look like us.” The band put up a horse laugh with the retort, “why the Hell would she do that? Is she paying penance for murder?” The house shook at the jest, which wasn’t taken very kindly to the police captain. “Dammit, Bill,” he barked, “this is a Flaxen Class refugee. If they don’t have her back, they will tear every last board off our town looking for her!” The joke was over, and the Gingers could only murmur as to the danger of the situation.

Panic took over Lacy as she started to take flight only to realize her grip on Connor was so strong it made her come to a dead stop.

“What are you doing?” He was still trying to comprehend the situation as she was scurrying away.

“We have to go. Now!” Lacy nearly ripped his arm out of his socket as she dug the heels of her work boots into the mud.

The police captain caught on to the commotion in the back. That was the girl. He knew it. No one else would dare think they were Flaxen class, and feel right about it. “That’s her! Over there!” He raised his baton and pointed squarely at the two making for the back gate. The barn became a free-for-all as the screams and shout bounced from person to person. The whole town needed to purge itself of the foreigner.

Pumping her left arm, Lacy held tightly to Connor’s hand. “Where are you taking me? They’re after you. Not me. You are who they’re looking for, aren’t you?” He stopped at attention, breaking the link between them.

Cupping her knees, Lacy finally came to grips with the situation. “Yes,” she said panting, “after I saw you in the street with your father looking for an event permit. I needed to meet you. I couldn’t explain much of it at the time, but I knew I needed to see you. There was something there that I needed to find out for myself. I felt a connection, and I couldn’t live my whole life without knowing if I was right.”

“Well?” Connor started to get upset at the stunt, “you risked the lives of my family and townsfolk to do it. Were you right or was this all for nothing? How did your little experiment turn out?” Locking up his body, he clenched his jaw. What kind of game was this? What a reckless stunt to pull under the circumstances. This was insane!

A hurtful pang wrapped around Lacy’s stomach which made her grit her teeth. “What?” she uttered under her breath. “You tell me, Connor. Tell me you didn’t find anything back there that you couldn’t explain. You tell me you could let me go so easily. Did you find someone in me that allowed you to come this far? Tell me!” Her fists balled up in frustration at the interrogation. With little provocation she launched her fist into his shoulder and pushed him back a foot.

With quiet contemplation Connor stared once again at her face. He couldn’t find any words to articulate what transpired that evening. His breath slowed and he began to speak, but the only word that came out was “yes” softly and quietly. Brevity is the soul of wit, but the tongue of love. Their tête-à-tête soon broke with the shouts of the pursuers.

Connor looked in the distance, then back to Lacy. He only had one more word to give: “go”. She could not stay any longer. Their paths had to diverge again. All she could do was nod when she made a skip backward and took off for the forest. A new phantom was born, and Connor watched as the slight figure disappear among the branches and twigs. This would be unbelievable, if it had not happened to him. He sat down to relive the minutes that recently passed him as quickly as they came. Why did it have to happen like this? Many a man would kill to meet their match. Love isn’t always kind. Love isn’t always convenient either.

Not long after, Jonathan and the police caught up to Connor. He was alone. Still as the night air with no sign of the Flaxen charlatan.

“Where’s the girl, boy? She’s in a heap of trouble.” The anger in his voice came from a place of deep-seated fear.

“I broke loose and she kept running.”

“What did she want with you?” The question had to come up sooner or later.

The moments that passed between Connor and his father sharpened the anxiety of the people behind them. “I don’t know, father.”

“Where did she go?”

Connor pointed his thumb towards a corn field  off to his left and simply said, “that way.”

The posse rallied around councilman Quinn and tore off in that direction. Maybe they knew he was lying? It didn’t matter at that point. All he could think about was giving Lacy a few more minutes on the run, and more importantly, in his head.

Lacy crumpled her porcelain body upon a park bench well outside of Ruster’s Point. It wouldn’t take long before word reached the Lieutenant Governor’s mansion, which would lead to nothing fortunate. “Home” as she knew it stretch out around her. She then thought of Connor and his face looking at her while they were together. That was supposed to be the solution to her problems, but she hurt more now than ever. How could being right hurt so much? After a moment of nursing a sore mental state, a fire flickered inside her. A red fire, pushing her off her perch. It wasn’t going to die here. No, not after that. She needed to see him again!

© 2014 by Corvidae in the Fields, all rights reserved

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9 thoughts on “By A Hair

  1. You’re on a roll, Nate …….and that from a man with white hair…and not much of it:)

    • Thanks, Roger! It was for someone in the Reddit Writer’s Prompt subforum, which I’m currently dubbing the Reddit “write me a story” section. Most people throw out about 500. I took this to 3,500 and gave them the insert.

  2. rebecca2000 says:

    Wonderful Nate. I wouldn’t worry about the editing when you’re that tired. It can always be fixed. I totally understand. You’ve got tallent. 🙂

  3. kerbey says:

    Well-written and suspenseful. I have a ton of questions. Can she dye her hair back when she realizes she is being a bit impetuous in changing her life standing over a glance? Will she leave it that way? All that trouble simply for a look in a boy’s eye? It sounds like a lot of fuss and drama over a simple act, which is precisely what a teen girl would be prone to do. It also makes me wonder, wouldn’t the Flaxen class sometimes have ginger children, just out of genetic chance? Would they kill them? I imagine if he took her by her collar and kissed her, he could be beat to death. But she does it to him, and it’s okay. I’ve had red, black, and blonde hair, so I’m all of those classes. Very St. Patrick’s timely!

    • As much as I understand about caste systems and certain societies, it could go a lot of ways. It was often suggested that Amazons would send their male children down the river to other communities. Ginger children could easily be pressed into a blue-collar life. Slaves were hunted and destroyed for any romantic relation with a master’s kin, if it was an inconvenience to the master of course. That’s how power works; it’s very hypocritical.

      Considering the chemicals, most people let the color grow out and cut it off as needed until the natural color comes back. There’s always bleaching, but that can really damage the follicle and leave the hair feeling like straw.

      Thank you for reading it, kerbey. It went past 3,000 words, and I got a little overwhelmed at it last night.

  4. And here I’ve been, worrying about how to keep my ginger hair ginger in the back end of nowhere. I could learn a few things from Lacy.

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