It was the first class of the morning. Five of six new students sat around the table, propped upright in their plastic garden chairs, attentive and ready to work. So far so good. Then the sixth student arrived.
She had long, long black hair. She said nothing, set a notebook on the table, lowered herself into a chair and in one unbroken motion laid her head down on the table and fell asleep. Her black hair spread out on the table like an oil spill.
From time to time I glanced at her, and eventually I asked her a question:
“Julia? What is an example of a relative pronoun?”
There was no answer, no movement. In the suspended silence, which seemed to anticipate—some consequence—all of us stared at her. Now her hair began to undulate in wide swaths, floating, covering her notebook, and a full quarter of the table’s surface. It looked as if it would entwine itself around the books, the chairs and finally, around us. It was voluminous, its brilliant, black sheen hypnotizing—alive in itself, it was both a reflective surface and a depthless expanse. As I stared at it, it darkened and—began to grow. I stood up and backed away from the table.
I covered my split second of terror by hop-stepping over to the blackboard. For the rest of the class, I stood beside it, supported by its reliable, solid substance. I scrawled all over it until the uninterrupted mass of sentences on the board reflected the uninterrupted mass of hair on the table.
For the next hour I couldn’t help glancing over at that hair, and every time I did, it looked slightly different and began to take on a range of emotional qualities. In one moment, the hair was luminous—emanating angular and vibrant rays of warmth and light; at another it was a malicious stain, glowing with hate. At another it was as brittle and fine as glass, emitting a shrill and painful sensitivity—I could almost hear it screech. At the worst moments, it was dull—implacable, the dark matter of the universe.
I was shocked when this nameless substance rose up from the table at the end of the class. I gasped but covered, “Ah—I—I hope you’re alright, Julia?”
She said nothing, picked up her notebook and did not show her face as she left the room.
She came to three more classes and slept through each one, her hair spreading out over the table and taking on an array of emotional qualities and physical transformations as I watched it. I tried to speak with her, but she wouldn’t respond or show her face.
After the fourth class, Julia disappeared. I never saw her again, but in the days that followed, the overhead light reflected off the table where her hair had been—a negative image of its substance— out of an obsidian darkness, a faint and iridescent haze of light.
Rosalind Goldsmith lives in Toronto. She has written radio plays for CBC Radio Drama and a play for the Blyth Theatre Festival. She began writing short fiction four years ago. Since then, her stories have appeared in Litro UK (print and online), Popshot UK, Thrice Fiction, Flash Fiction Magazine, Understorey, Filling Station and antilang., among others.