Alexis Stratton




The bathroom floor is cold under my feet as I face her, scissors in hand. Sunlight reaches for us through the window, turning the black-and-white wall tiles gold. Her white undershirt hangs loose on her slender frame, but she always buys her shirts too big. I touch the ends of her curls, my fingers skimming her collarbone.

“But where will you go?” I asked her the week before. We were sitting by the Saluda River, the dark water swirling in front of us.

“Anywhere. Everywhere.” It was May in South Carolina, just a few weeks before the heat got to be something unbearable. Birds flew up and away from us, and I watched them circle into the sky.

“How will you know if you’ve gotten to the right place?” I asked.

She laced her fingers into mine. “I’ll know.” I heard a sound behind us. I pulled my hand away. A fox disappeared into the brush.

It was the beginning of something. An end.

My fingers curl around the scissors’ cool metal handles. I push her hair behind her ear and lean down to kiss her neck.

She swore and wore pants and button-down shirts and thick glasses and rolled her own cigarettes. She used to wear dresses, when her mother made her, but now that she lived a couple counties away, she didn’t speak to her family anymore.

She’d stayed there for a while after she was grown, working odd jobs on the farms near her house, but when the war started and the mills and factories started hiring more women, she came to the city and worked at Kline Iron and Steel making parts for ships. When the men came back, though, they gave her job away. She said she knew it would happen, but she’d hoped for something different.

“So much for hoping,” she said when she came home that day, tossing her cap onto the bed. Within a few weeks, she managed to get hired on at one of the cotton mills—“something more appropriate for a lady,” she joked. But her boss at the mill had begun asking questions—the way she dressed, the way she walked—

I’d touched her face. I’d kissed her mouth. I’d called her other names. I knew who she was, underneath.

My fingers are tangled in her hair, tugging and pulling, the way we’d tugged and pulled in bed, the way we’d tugged and pulled all our lives. Tugging against this, pulling against that.

“Are you sure you want this?” I ask.

She nods, but she doesn’t look at me.

The faint tinge of reddish-blue still colors the skin around her eye, but the swelling has gone down. She told me at first that it was just a bar fight, but later, when she was drunk, she said she’d gotten jumped walking home from the mill. She wouldn’t tell me the names they’d called her.

The sun in the trees, the sound of the river kissing the muddy banks. I’d touched her face. I’d kissed her mouth. I’d called her other names. I knew who she was, underneath. Underneath her eyes and underneath her clothes and underneath her skin. I knew. I knew what her muscles felt like as they pressed against me in bed. I felt her warm breath as she cried into my shoulder, her mouth gasping for breath. I felt her, I saw her.

All I wanted—all I wanted was to set loose the ties that bound her to this place. She knew that, and she asked to be set free.

She sits on the edge of the bathtub. I hold her hair in my fist. The scissors swish. Her long curls fall into the tub’s basin. More and more. Strands floating in the air, catching in the gold of the sun.

I dreamt once we were both flying in hot air balloons, in two different ones, their bright reds and yellows and greens flashing in the sunlight. We kept floating higher and higher. Her balloon gained speed as mine slowed. I called out to her. I told her to slow down. I couldn’t reach her, I couldn’t—

I put the scissors down. She is crying. I pull her into me. “My baby.” I kiss her short hair down to the scalp. Her eyes find mine, and there is something new there. Something changed.

“I love you,” she says.

“I love you, too.”

She holds my hand and stands. She turns toward the mirror. She runs her fingers over her scalp and stares.

“It’s you.”

She smiles. “It’s me.”

It is as if our lives have been compressed into moments. Thin as hairs, but full of life, full of parts we can’t let go of. Glimmering in the light. Smiles and touching and holding. That space, that space ours—that moment ours and no one else’s.

“Thank you,” she says. Her dark brown eyes, I could fall into them.

She pulls me in again, and kisses me, and I press my hands into her hips, and into the slight curve just above them, my favorite place. Her fingers are in my hair, trapped there as if they won’t let go.

In my dream, she looked back, and she saw me—she saw me, but I don’t think she recognized me. And then her balloon was a speck in the sky. And then she was gone.

Her hand in mine, and her mouth on mine, and my arms around her—I know this is where it will end. The world would crash down on us, and this is where it would end.

I pull away, brushing tiny hairs from my skin. “It’s everywhere.”

She laughs and grabs a washcloth from beside the sink. She presses it against my cheek. The heat of her, the heat of the day. She wipes away the pieces of her that cling to me. She rinses them down the drain. She scrubs at her face and head and ears and neck until her skin is red.

“I have to go,” she says.

“I know.”

“I love you.”

“I know.”

I want to tell her to take the train or bus or car and drive as far as she can. To leave this place behind, to forget—but I don’t want her to forget—I want her to remember, I want her to think about me and the way it felt, skin touching skin, her thin fingers skimming my ribs. I want to give her a lock of hair, to ask her to remember me there, wherever she goes. I want her to hold it some place safe, to tuck it into some small thing and place it in her breast pocket. And I want to ask her to stay, to tell her I don’t know how I’ll wake up the next day without her beside me, to tell her it’ll all be okay here, to tell her that we can go down to the river, and the water will pass us by just like time passes by, and things—they might one day change.

“I’ll come back,” she says.

I nod. But no one comes back after they’re gone.

She pulls me in again, and kisses me, and I press my hands into her hips, and into the slight curve just above them, my favorite place. Her fingers are in my hair, trapped there as if they won’t let go.

But they do.

“Do you love me?” she used to ask.

“Yes, of course,” I’d say.

“No, but really love me?”

Her fingers at the crook of my elbow, tracing lines and time. Bringing into me feeling.

How was I to know then? How was I to know?

I loved her, so I helped her transform. My feelings went into each strand and left with her.

“Tell me a story, Delilah,” she’d said.

“What story?”

“All of them.”

She would leave that day on a train. She would go somewhere far from Columbia, South Carolina. She would take on a new life and a new name. Find a job and some new friends and maybe a lover and hopefully a place where she could manage to get a drink in peace. But here the sky would come crashing down. Thousands of pieces, all around me. Spreading everywhere. Those moments, her, all I had ever known.

Reach for those memories. Gather those threads and weave them together. Make them into something new. Live the story again, but do it differently:

Stay there, holding her hand, kissing her mouth.

Take the next train and find her, wherever she goes.

Grow old together, both of your heads filling with grays, faces lined with wrinkles.

Watch her hair grow out.

Cut it again and again and again.



“In her poem ‘Delilah,’ Carol Ann Duffy retells the story of Samson and Delilah from Delilah’s perspective. It begins with a request from Samson: ‘Teach me, he said— / we were lying in bed— / how to care.’ It ends with Delilah cutting Samson’s hair—not to bring about his destruction but to allow him to be vulnerable—to free him from himself. Duffy’s poem stuck with me, and after years of joking that I was a “reverse Samson” (that I gained strength when I cut my hair), I wondered what the story might look like if these lovers were queer or gender non-conforming. ‘Flight’ grew into a retold tale that answers this question, offering the story of a lesbian couple forced into hiding by the gender and social norms of the American South in the 1950s and their attempts to break free.”

Alexis Stratton is a native of Illinois but has spent their life in many homes, from New Orleans to South Korea. They received an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of South Carolina, and they won the 2012 BLOOM Chapbook Contest for Fiction. Find out more about their writing and other projects at and