A Short Story on the Website of
the Red Dirt Writers Society

The Braid
by Melissa Neely (Oct 2008)

      I lightly brush her limp, damp hair slightly to her right side to begin a diagonal French braid. I separate it into three parts and slowly begin to add hair to the braid. It won’t lay smooth and instead shows every trek of hair into the braid. I start over and over. Jessica’s mother, Sandy, says its fine, but I want this last braid to be perfect.

      How many times had I done this in years past?

      There were too many times to count: “Mom, Jessica and I want matching braids.” “Mom, Jessica wants one down the back, and I want one across the front, and Valerie wants two starting in the front.” “Mom, we want braids all over our head – hundreds of them!”

      But, this will be Jessica’s last braid, and it has to be perfect - for her, for Kyrstie and Valerie, for Jessica’s mom, and for me. This is the final act of love from her mother, Sandy, and Valerie’s mother, Connie, and me.

We lovingly dressed Jessica for the last time. The room is full of tears and stories and laughter and more tears. Braiding Jessica’s hair is my job. And it is hard and sad and cold and damp and full of regrets and sorrows, but, mostly, it is full of love.

      I want to go home and hold my child.

      A little tear slips from my eye, a tear of sorrow for Jessica’s mom, a tear of selfish gratitude that it wasn’t my child I was saying good-bye to with a braid. I finish braiding her hair and tie a pretty ribbon on the end and lay the end of the braid on her right shoulder. Tomorrow will be Kyrstie’s turn to say good-bye; tomorrow will be harder.


      I sit on the couch with Kyrstie on the floor between my legs. “How do you want your hair?” She thinks while I methodically brush her hair over and over, petting it as I go.  Finally she says, “I want the back down and a braid across the front.” I smile and tell her that will look nice.  I tip her head to the side and begin to braid her warm, thick, soft hair. Slowly and carefully I pull more hair into the braid; it immediately lays smooth and full.  I’m taking longer then normal, and I’m tempted to start over for the pleasure of it. But time is running out, and we have to go.


      We sit at the viewing for over an hour, waiting for most everyone to leave. Kyrstie clings hard to my hand as we approach the casket.  Kyrstie looks Jessica up and down. Her free hand starts to rise and then comes back down. “You can touch her if you want to,” I whisper to her gently. Her hand comes up and softly touches Jessica’s braid. She lets out a loud hiccupping gasp and says, “I have to go.” She bolts for the door with me in tow.

      We reach the private bathroom just as she bursts into uncontrollable, body-racking sobs. I sit on the commode and hold her on my lap, rocking her back and forth. I cry softly with her, for Kyrstie and all her sadness at losing a friend at such a young age and for Jessica.  I rock and rub and chant, “It’s okay to cry… everybody is sad,” over and over until it penetrates her mind. The sobbing slowly stops and is replaced with quiet weeping. We stay in the bathroom this way until Kyrstie feels in control of herself enough to go and hug Jessica’s mom.

      We return to the viewing area and give Jessica’s family one last hug, telling them that we will see them tomorrow. Sandy strokes Kyrstie’s hair as she hugs her extra long and hard. As she releases the hug, she fingers Kyrstie’s braid with a watery smile. As we walk from the room hand in hand, Kyrstie looks back at her friend one last time and softly whispers, “I like her braid…Jessica would like it too.” I whisper back, “I’m glad. I liked braiding it.”


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