1st Place Winner – Flash 405, June 2022: “Inheritance”
Mom is making flan on the one day of the year she will make me Puerto Rican food—Christmas, her savior’s birthday—when she tells me that while she was still forming me inside her, she only prayed for one thing: that I would have my father’s hair. All around her, the kitchen smells like burning sugar. She says it half-turned to the dark melt coating the bowl on the stove where she will soon pour whisked streams of condensed milk and cream cheese, rich and pale and frothy, then bake it all to custard. An offering for me, prepared to celebrate the one who redeemed her. Now you have good hair, she says, smoothing a small string of strands pouring from my head between her fingers. I don’t tell her about the ritual I perform every morning, a sacrament I learned from her young. She already knows I used to watch her stand naked in the bathroom as she partitioned sections of dark frizz, pressed each portion inside the flat iron, slid them slowly into the holy perfection she saw at the non-Hispanic supermarket in my father’s hometown, where a clerk would follow her down the aisles if she didn’t dress nice. At the altar of the sink, steam incensed with burning hair flashed upwards like a penance, like, I’m sorry, let me live. I don’t tell her, I do that now, too. It wouldn’t make any sense. I don’t ask, Do you remember when I requested my own straightener for Christmas the year I got old enough, even though my hair is already straight? How I copied your movements in the mirror until I got it right, until I could’ve been your reflection moving its hand back and forth across the scalp? I certainly don’t say, Just this morning I tried again to worship in that same sacred way, only to make myself look exactly as I did before: straight, gleaming, nothing like you.
Reading this story felt like coming home. The vivid descriptions of food, the careful language, the breaking of bodily boundaries between its two female characters, the complex mother figure who offers tender touches and invokes defiance in the narrator—everything fuses together to create a story that is familiar, relatable, and universal, yet completely unique. I loved the author’s exploration of mother-daughter relationships, religion, beauty standards, and individuality, all through the lens of hair. While not a happy or joyful story, it’s still tender, graceful, and true.
Amanda Whitehurst lives in Nashville, Tennessee. This is her first publication.
Photo Credit: sblaps