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by Nicole Simonsen

You are breathless after I pick you up at your dad’s and stepmom’s. Two days of nothing but fun: the zoo, Funderland, and for dinner: waffles with Jackie’s special “unicorn” whipped cream.  

“Unicorn whipped cream?” 

“It had rainbow sprinkles!” You are a bee in a field of poppies, practically buzzing with happiness.   

I am your mother so I want to be happy for you. I will always want to be happy for you.

“Guess what Jackie did this morning?” 

Probably sacrificed a cat, worshipped Beelzebub, drank blood… the witch. I know, I know, it’s been two years, I should not keep feeling kicked in the gut. I’m working on it, but sometimes the old outrage flares up.

“She braided our hair together so it was like this rope connecting us.”    

I keep my eyes on the road. “That’s funny.” That was no rope. I know exactly what it was – an umbilical cord. She was saying, Look, at this double helix of hair – we are connected, we are blood.

“Dad was like, ‘Uh, what are you two going to do when one of you has to pee?’ And we were like, ‘Uhhhh…’” You giggle. “And then, a few minutes later, she did have to pee!” You slap your knee. “Can you believe it?”

“Oh, I can believe it.” I glance over. You still have two braids, pigtails, on either side of your head. She did a good job, your stepmother. I will give her that. At the tracks, a stalled commuter train gives me the chance to stroke one golden lock.

You prattle on, not noticing my touch, or maybe ignoring it. “But Jackie didn’t want to undo our hair yet, so I had to turn my back when she peed.”

Then I see it – one black hair, thick as a licorice whip and just as bitter, woven into your braid. 

“Isn’t that funny?”

She did it on purpose. That single black strand is a message: what you think is yours, I will take.  

Oh, the joy on your face! She’s cast her spell. And how can I compete? I want to grab her by the throat.  Have your own daughter, I would say. You can’t have mine. But even as I think it, I know it’s not true. She’ll take you away too. Because she’s fun and pretty. Because she makes unicorn whipped cream.

“Earth to Mom! Isn’t that funny?”

“That is funny.” 

The commuter train passes. The truck in front of us speeds on. I press the gas, glad to have an excuse to keep my eyes on the road. I wouldn’t want you to see how glassy they are.

Nicole Simonsen’s stories and essays have appeared in many publications, including Masters Review New Voices, Booth, Tin House Online, etc. In 2021, she won the Fiction Prize at Salamander magazine. She has an MA in Creative Writing from UC Davis and works as an English teacher at a public high school in Sacramento, CA. You can find her at

Lead image: “waffle” (via Flickr user SoQ錫濛譙)