The pink in my hair needed to go, the faded ends looking more tired with each wash. It was time for a change. I bleached the dark roots, lifted the purple-brown from the middle strands. Over the resulting sunset blonde, I painted a dye red like fire, like blood. Thick as ketchup stuck in a glass bottle. The open pores drank it up. I left it on for the prescribed time, half an hour, give or take. Then I washed it out in the shower.
At least, I tried.
I knew there was a problem when I realized I forgot to wear gloves. My hands looked as if I had tried to staunch a hemorrhaging wound. When I glanced down to check if the water was running clear, I saw pink rivulets racing from breast to pelvis. I tried to switch the angle, to bend forward and flip my hair over the top of my head. But I could already see the staining down the backs of my calves, absorbing into the dry skin of my heels.
I had to bleach the shower tiles. I had to bleach my skin. My fingernails maintained a hot pink hue—a bar graph of intensity in the ridges from lunar curve to distal edge. My hair is now a brilliant red, but it’s as if it cannot contain the color. My pillow was pink when I got up the next morning. So were my neck and ears. My shirt—more than collar. The hand I had pressed between pillow and head. I washed and wiped as best I could, but every time I itched my scalp, adjusted my strands, the color transferred again. When I went for walks, the sweat from my scalp worked up a pink lather that prickled along my hairline. I swiped at it subconsciously and my knuckles imprinted on my pants—a fragmental grip. My pink palms stamped the window seat, the table. Even when my hands sting from clean and I think I no longer see the color. Still, my fingertips leave half-moon smudges on the pages of books I read, light switches, door handles, the wall. Miniature footsteps marking movements across time.
This is what it is to love you.
Melissa Nunez lives and writes in the caffeinated spaces between awake and dreaming. She makes her home in the Rio Grande Valley region of South Texas, where she enjoys observing and exploring the local flora and fauna with her three home-schooled children. Her essays have been featured in FOLIO, Yellow Arrow Journal, and others. Her poetry has been published in Susurrus and Alebrijes Review.