Kage Baker loved toys. She surrounded her working space with little doodads and bibelots all chosen to give her something to do with her hands when she was bored. She was a fidgeter, a finger-tapper; someone who could not talk without moving her hands, or listen without running beads over and over through her fingers.
When especially absent-minded or unself-conscious, she played with her hair. Mind you, that was something lots of people could not resist. That cable of red hair, hanging all the way to her hips, was a sure-fire draw for babies, small children, cats, parrots … and adults who were on intimate terms with her. Kage didn’t like to touched casually, but those in her closest circle knew they could tug on that braid or run it through their own fingers like a string of pearls. Our nieces loved to brush and braid it.
Her hair was extraordinarily thick. She called it coarse, but the individual strands were pretty fine – there were just so many of them! What had been baby curls when it was short was pulled by gravity into long waves and curves when she was an adult and it was 4 feet long … getting a hand or a brush into that mass was no simple trick. It defanged combs. It spat out barrettes and other hair dressing. Only reinforced scrunchies and leather ties kept it in place.
And the colour! Red hair is – different. Those of you who know or are redheads are aware of the truly strange colours that go into being red-headed. Natural red hair has qualities that could only be achieved in a dye job by individually hand-painting every single strand. The basic hue of Kage’s hair was a copper-bronse shade. But mixed it into that were strands of metallic gold, multiple blondes (ash to sunflower),burnt umber, red ocher, burgundy and bright polished copper. There were strands in every colour bred into minks, and strands like fine-drawn wire of several unlikely metals.
It was nothing as simple as highlights. If one could have embroidered or knit with it … As she got older, it went gold. Redheads don’t go exactly grey. They get blonder, and then it goes white. Her hair increasingly looked like cinnamon-sugar.
She liked to twist it into small plaits and knots. She never did learn to braid, but she made a killer box-stitch lanyard (which was beyond me): she often made them from the ends of her own hair. She would twist fantastic faerie-knots in it, sometimes getting her fingers stuck; often, she couldn’t get it untwisted again. I suspect some strands were dipping in and out of alternate dimensions, possibly forming Klein bottles.
When it was thoroughly stuck, the knot had to be forcibly removed. Momma was always cutting knots out of it, in loud despair; which is why Kage was constrained to keep her hair short until she left home and had to deal with it on her own. Her solution, once it was that long, was just to snap the knot off where it emerged from the mass of hair. The strands always broke with a sharp crack! – like glass. Not like hair at all.
In her time, Kage knotted herself accidentally to most of the chairs in the household, her bed frame, all her fingers and the cords of her hoodies. Pens, pencils and paintbrushes. Other people’s hair, if they sat still and long enough and too close. Several lovers.
In humid air, it expanded. Frizz is too mild a word for what it did – it was more like nano foams. By the time it dried after a shower, it was a cloud a foot wider than she was. In dry weather – it sparked. Big fat gold and white sparks of static electricity, quite visible in the dark and as audible as static. You know how cats will pad across a rug and then shock you with a sudden touch? Kage did that to cats.
My own hair is no way as interesting. It’s brown. It refuses to grow much below my shoulder blades. It makes no noises, and emits only the palest, spineless sparks even in a thunder storm. I’m getting some nice silver in it, but not near as much as Kimberly, who is a year younger than I am – but who, also, to be honest, has a large son just out of adolescence; Michael could give grey hair to Yul Brenner.
Still, something is simmering under my plain hair. The fires that burned so high in Kage’s head have sparked at least a bed of coals in mine; the flames aren’t visible on the outside, but I can feel the heat and rising wind of conflagration behind my eyes. It keeps me awake at night, writing paragraphs and outlines. It keeps me doing this.
And every now and then, in a book or a sweater or a half-finished piece of knitting, I find a strand of hair – inhumanly long, electric wine-red or burning copper. So I know her fires are still with me.