Excerpt: The Woman In the Water

It’s funny how traits attributed to women are often tinged with scorn, or amusement, at best. A male noticing stereotypical female behavior doesn’t even feel the condescending smile as it snakes across his lips, observing the cute little quirks of a girl, as if that’s just what she is — a little girl.

During my first week living with Jared in the tiny cabin, surrounded by trees and bordered by Soquel Creek, I started letting my bangs grow out, preparing for my next transformation. Jared thought I was behaving like a typical woman, always changing hairstyles, never satisfied with my appearance.

Changing one’s hairstyle is actually an admirable quality. It suggests survival, it suggests adaptability. Animals lose their thick winter fur coats and grow them again every year. Reptiles shed their skins. It’s perfectly natural. Caterpillars whip a blanket of cotton around their bodies and emerge unrecognizable in comparison to their former selves. Gone is the fuzzy, fluffy, undulating body and all those legs. In its place are silken wings that lift it far away from the earth, gorgeous colors that cause nearly all other insects to cower in shame beneath dull brown or black shells.

Cutting, curling, or coloring hair has the same transformative power. Why is that a flaw? Why is it considered cute and childish, the woman painted with a brush stroke of self-doubt or flightiness, when in reality, it has tremendous power? A woman, or a man, can become an entirely different person with a pair of scissors and a bottle of dye. Right after skin color, hair color is used to provide a lazy, unobservant description — that blonde, that guy with gray hair, that kid with stiff purple tufts. She had long hair, short hair, curly hair.

For a woman who has committed murder, and will again, the traits of a chameleon are critical.

Throughout the ten years, give or take, of my adult life, my hair has been every color dictated by nature, and a few that are not. It’s been short and long, curly and straight. When I went looking to rent a room with a woman who described herself as sweet, I had my hair cut to my shoulders with thick bangs across my forehead, dyed a deep brown. Thick bangs provide a suggestion of naiveté, and once that was no longer necessary, it was time to let them go. The color change would come later.

Despite his teasing that I was being such a cute girl, Jared liked the change. He liked seeing my eyes without hair brushing across my brow. My eyes were like jewels, he said. Rubies, diamonds, sapphires — only one of those works as an eye color. I didn’t ask what he meant.

Living with Jared in a single great room and a tiny bedroom, sharing a bed until sunrise was oppressive enough. I didn’t want to encourage intimate conversations. The only time I could escape was to run, go to the gym, or work. I was working longer hours.

His face had a constant look of desire, and not for sex. We had plenty of that, but after falling away from each other’s bodies, the hunger for conversation consumed him. He wanted to talk as if it was some post-coital cigarette — inhaling my words, exhaling his own. He didn’t push for shared meals and the required chit chat and he didn’t push for quiet evenings drinking wine and talking. He knew where I stood with all of that — a little goes a long way. We were sharing housing costs and sharing good sex. We were not a couple.

That didn’t stop him from looking at me, his lips parted slightly, eager to spill out words, his eyes searching my face, hoping I’d reveal something unintentionally. He seemed to think I was putting up a wall to close him out of my life. It wasn’t that at all.

The person I was interested in having a conversation with was Deborah, the female occupant of the enormous main house occupying the property where our rented cabin was situated. I’d yet to lay eyes on her husband — Hal. I’d seen Deborah several times, her blonde hair pulled back tight, giving the appearance of no hair at all, dressed in sage green leggings and an oversized matching sweater, undulating like sea algae behind the floor to ceiling windows of the house.

It was a dreamy house. One where I would fit quite nicely. I belonged in that sleek house, rather than in the tiny cabin, with Jared smiling at me every time I glanced in his direction. Sometimes when we slept, he held himself wrapped around me so completely, I thought he wanted to squeeze the life out of me just so he could keep me close.

The Woman In the Water Cathryn Grant


Excerpt from The Woman In the Water


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