‘Remedies’ by Kali Fajardo-Anstine

When I first read this story, I felt a joy that was hard to explain. It was easy to put into words, but very hard to explain. Here it is: I have been long-searching for a story about lice. Lice, to me, is the ultimate lived experience of tension. Lice are always traversing you, moving about your hair and neckline, falling from head onto the table or desk you’re sitting at. You are always acutely aware of how close other people are to you, how they might react should they notice. When people know, they avoid you. When you’re a child, nothing feels worse than exclusion. My chapbook title, Maybe This Is What I Deserve, is pulled from a story I wrote called ‘Toddy’s Got Lice Again’, about the impact poverty has on a child with lice. When I was a kid, I wondered if there was a direct line between family income and longevity of a lice infestation. If you had lice, you were a kid; but if you had lice for a long time, you were a poor kid. I identified with Fajardo-Anstine’s character Harrison, the impoverished half-brother that the protagonist didn’t know she had, the living representation of her mother’s failed relationship and the man she’d like to never see again. There is a lot happening in this story–family dynamics, shame, the tradition of herbal remedies, but Harrison is who I gravitate towards, the child who doesn’t know what he represents. Who he looks like and what that means for those around him. Yet, for all his shame, for the grotesque display of his body, his smells, the apartment he lives in, I thought of the moment of grace he receives at the end of the story, when the protagonist sees him years later through the window at a punk club, sporting a blue mohawk, and compliments his hair – hair intended to draw attention to itself, to draw people close and not away, no longer the source of shame.

Published in Sabrina & Corina, One World, 2019. Read the story online here