Durre Shahwar with Hair as the next contribution to Wales Arts Reviews’ Flash Fiction Month, a month-long celebration of the flash fiction form.
She is only just reaching for the shower gel when the water submerges her ankles and she notices them; black lines that stick to her skin. They are everywhere. Little leech-sized strands that crawl up the sides of the white tub and the white tiles. Some float in slowly accumulating water. The worst of it all is in the plug – a whole nest of them, banked, wriggling to escape from its mouth.
‘Oh God!’ she shouts over the sound of the water plummeting down into the tub. She flips shut the lid of the gel, slams it onto the shelf, then steps over to the far end of the tub where the water is shallower and doesn’t reach her ankles. Unhooking the showerhead, she sprays the water over her left foot, while balancing on the right, until there are no traces of black on her skin. Then she steps out of the tub with her left foot, balances on it, and rinses her right. She places the showerhead back and turns it off. Her lips curl upwards.
She wraps her body in a towel and grabs the drain unblocker from behind the sink. Plunging it into the water, she hears the slurp of its mouth as it encloses around the drain. She presses down with force, waits a few seconds, before yanking it up.
Gurg gurg gurg gurg gurg. Gurgle.
She does this repeatedly, each time using the taps to fill the tub with more water until she is satisfied that it is flowing out quicker. Then, once she is sure there are no more worms floating around the tub, she steps into the shower again.
That night, she dreams of worms. They come out from the mattress and scratch against her skin when it rubs against the bedcovers. Her nails rake her legs, trying to fight them off. She dreams of their two little fangs biting into her every pore, trying to tunnel their way in. In the morning, the worms are gone and she wakes up with bloody scratches all over her legs.
After that, she starts seeing them everywhere. She is sure there is always one or two lurking in the bottom of her tea mug, in the crumbs of her toast, in her notebook, in her toothbrush. She makes herself gag sometimes when she thinks she can feel one lining the back of her throat. She is always on the lookout for those little black lines and fighting them off slows her down. It takes up all of her time. Her friends wonder why she is so jumpy, why she looks so keenly into the mirror or into her food. She starts scratching her head because of the worms. She shaves off her hair and wears white, so to see them better.
A few months later, her tub becomes plugged again. This time, she is prepared. She gets the unblocker and pulls them all up and out of the drain and to the white tub. All the bits of dirt and mould float up with them.
‘I’ve got you now,’ she says.
She blocks the drain hole, trapping them to the surface. She throws acid on them and lights a match.
Hair by Durre Shahwar is part of a Wales Arts Review series publishing original flash fiction pieces by some of Wales’ top authors in a celebration of the unique literary genre and National Flash Fiction Day.