While I sleep, the louse who has made my scalp her home stretches her six legs and begins to explore. To me, the hair atop my head is something to be tied into knots, braided into ropes, covered with hats and scarves, bemoaned over, vacuumed up from the bathroom floor. Its color is a reminder of my grandmother, its smell is a signal of my penchant for lavender, its length is an ode to the pandemic.
To the louse atop my head, my hair is a forest. There are over 100,000 trees in these woods, dense and honey-colored, well-rooted and huddled together. It is a grove worth dying in, worth passing on to her children. It is the last forest that she will ever venture to. By the time the louse has reached my head ready to raise her legacy, she is near the end of her month-long life. She is an elderly woman, this louse, with a tiny cane that she taps as she inspects my roots.
While she looks for the perfect trunks to leave to her children, she thinks of the forest she was born in: dark curling trees, thick and sun-soaked, prone to saltwater showers and vigorous scratching. She wonders what became of her siblings, wonders onto which forests they now dwell, considers her lovers, and if they have already flaked away like dust. She thinks of the perilous jump she made, how daring she was to leap, but how compelled she was, as well. When she felt the wind of this forest brush against her childhood home and knew that yes, this was where she was destined to die.
To the louse atop my head, maybe I am a God to which she gives thanks for sustenance. Maybe I am a necessary evil, of which she knows it is my nature to destroy her and her offspring. Or perhaps, maybe I am nothing but a moving arboretum. How nice it is to think of that. To be thought of as something incapable of good or of harm, to be something simply being, simply breathing.
Evelyn Maguire is a writer living in Northampton, MA. She is the co-founder of the literary magazine Overheard, loves horror movies, and anything with olives. Follow her on Twitter @evelyntweeting.