The two sisters sat on the riverbank. Misty gazed out across the silver mirror gleam of the water to the ploughed fields, her sight fattening on the freshly turned earth. She closed her eyes and welcomed the sun kiss every inch of her face: cheeks, nose, forehead, mouth. She smiled into the sunshine. Her older sister, Beth, removed her lilac sandals and dipped her toes into the heated water, wriggling them as though they were little more than worms.
Both sisters had lustrous red hair which caught the fine rays of sunshine spilling from the heavens above. At certain angles their hair looked positively golden and glowing like maturing halos.
Misty had toyed with the idea for a while now. She had been told by an old beggar woman that all she had to do was believe with her head and her heart, and her wish would come true.
Still looking at the coffee-coloured earth, Misty undid her hair and cast it out like a fishing net, watching it spread across the water like a Chinese fan.
‘What are you doing?’ her sister asked.
‘What does it look like? I’m trying to catch myself a man.’
Beth laughed. ‘Good luck with that, Sis.’
Misty smiled and it seemed that in that moment, the world grew brighter. Beth shielded her eyes.
‘I think I shall have good luck,’ she added.
‘You’ll need a bloody miracle more like. Men don’t exist anymore, well not in the conventional sense.’
She thought of the handful she had ever known, the ones who promised her that they’d protect her from harm, the ones with chocolate brown eyes like fathomless oceans and others with eyes the colour of crystal rainwater. They had all let her down in some way.
Beth sighed. She had listened to that old peddler long before her sister, and instead of kicking her to the roadside which she should have done, she crossed her palm with gold and listened to her words.
‘You have a strong head and a good heart. You will go far. But don’t be fooled by those handsome enough to steal what’s good in you. They harbour funny ideas, and given the chance, utter sinful words. Avoid them at all costs.’
When Beth thought she had met “The One”, she was alone, dipping her feet in a different river, a river whose water was the purest turquoise. She hadn’t told Misty where she was going nor what she was up to; sometimes it was good for sisters to spend time apart.
Beth had cast her hair exactly as Misty did now, marvelling at its sheer span as though her hair alone was enough to seal the river and keep it pure. She had waited for a short while, losing herself in the distant birdsong which flowed effortlessly through the breeze until the gentle tug beneath the water’s surface dragged her attention to the handsome stranger below. He was well and truly caught like all the others before him, semi-naked too, which brought a violent splash of colour to her usual pallid cheeks. As he surfaced, Beth saw his chiselled features and flaxen curls reminding her of an amphibian Adonis. Her heart swelled inside and then sharply contracted when she noticed the silver flash of scissors in his hand. A single snip later and the man had freed himself from her red-gold tresses, leaving a gaping hole in her hair.
Since then, Beth has never let her hair down. She cannot physically bring herself to do it because what would Misty say? Would she cry out in horror? Or would she simply shrug and look the other way?
Misty said suddenly, ‘Come on, Beth. Be a daredevil like me and let your hair down.’
A shadow of fear crossed her face. Suddenly Beth looked old, old enough to be mistaken for Misty’s mother.
She shook her head and said, ‘Oh no, catching men is a young woman’s game’, and gently touched the tortoiseshell clasp holding what little hair she had left.