Like Grapevines

Like Grapevines

Olivia Tu | Art by Helena

“Excuse me, sweetheart, would you mind braiding my hair? Just the way yours is done.” On the street, cellophane bags shuffle down the concrete and tires sputter until they reach the horizon, converging into paltry points. A poster flutters on the bus stop pole. Luna stops picking at her toothed nails and torn cuticles once she spots the woman who asked – the only other person on the bench. Hair the color of overcast skies on a winter evening, eyes as green as the sapid grapes that slipped through her fingers long ago, the elderly woman peers at her through thick frames. 

“It’s beautiful,” the woman compliments. “Reminds me of the braids I used to do back in my younger days. It’s a pity I can barely raise my arm high enough to open the door now.” She laughs in spite of herself. 

Luna inches next to the woman, close enough to feel warmth and coarse hair pricking her cheek – her hands tremble on the bench despite the sultry sun. 


Fingers knead her scalp; her nose clogs with the earthy scent of styling cream. The comb bites through inky, gnarled strands, tugs like the steady pitter-patter of morning rain. “Mom, why’d you buy so many of those flowers again?” she asks, legs dangling from the leather chair, hoping she’d soon be able to touch the ground with her feet. “They die so quickly, isn’t it a waste?” 

The mother smiles, twisting two tresses her child’s hair together. “Luna, don’t you love them? They’re peonies, and I see you sniff them all the time.” 

Luna gazes at the blushed peonies on the windowsill, swathed in the golden spill of the sinking sun. “I do – they smell good and they’re real pretty,” she admits. “But why can’t you just get cacti instead? I heard they last forever.” 

Her mother secures the braid with bobby pins, wrapping it to the back of her head. “Well, don’t they make you happy?” 

She nods, and her mother pokes her cheek. “Then, I suppose it’s worth it. You know, nothing stays forever, no matter how good it may be. Even me.” 

Luna frowns, twisting her head up to her mother. She rakes her fingers through layers like silk, letting it stream down the grooves between knuckles. Her mother removes her flower hairpiece, slipping it into Luna’s hair like a key to a lock. 

“You look like a princess,” she whispers, balmy breath nestling on bare neck– she waits for her giggle. 


“Why thank you,” Luna replies. “Of course I’ll help you braid yours. We’ve got quite a while before the next few buses come.” The woman smiles. 

Her hair is rough and thick to touch – like grapevines, Luna thinks, as she glides a finger through hair criss-crossed with white. Her nails skim around the woman’s scalp as she parts the strands, hands still trembling. 

Above the stop, clouds are locked in a sky the inflamed tint of irritated skin, of rosy petals, of ruddy cheeks. The wind starts to howl, drowning out papers beating against poles, the thrumming of cars. Left, right, twist, take – she feels ghost fingers flicker across her scalp –

massaging, gently tugging, intertwining to the drumming of rain. Wood against her back melts to worn leather, warm whispers seep into her ear. 

It’s as if her mother was still here; a sojourn to commemorate the past five years of her death. 

When Luna finishes knotting the last braid, she removes her hands back into her lap. Luna does not expect the foreign woman to take her hand – soft against her scabs – and smile, eyes twinkling as green as grass tread upon by the barefoot of youth, green as fleshy grapes, warm like her mother’s laughter. 


“What if I fall off,” Luna hesitates, staring at the clusters of bulbous grapes that seem to touch the gray clouds. Their coiling vines clamber around the thin branches of a tree, swaying in the wind as if tempting her. 

“Well, what if you succeed?” her mother answers, nudging her daughter forward. “Just imagine the glorious sweetness of the fruit!” 

“If I fall, then I’ll break a bone and it’ll be all bloody,” Luna mumbles. “Maybe I’ll try when I get taller.” 

“It’s now or never,” her mother says. “You don’t have to keep waiting to do things – why don’t you climb up that tree now? I’ll be here to catch you if you fall – I promise” Luna thinks for a moment, then trudges to the tree, eyes as wide as the grapes themselves. Her hands hug the trunk, bark jabbing her skin as she inches up. Up, down, up, then down again. Luna glares at her mother, who spectates in silence. She’s about to forfeit and run back to the house, but seeing her mother’s patience, she decides to give it one last try. 

Her feet threaten to slip as she worms up once more, this time energized with more fury and determination than ever. When Luna finally reaches the top, collapsing on the branch, she hears her mother’s cheering, eyes the glimmer of grapes. She pops one in her mouth, tasting overbearing sweetness, victory, her mother’s embrace. 


An elderly woman bears braids like bundled memories, and she can’t stop grinning, admiring herself in the mirror of her compact. Her face is warm and flushed. A shrill squealing signals the bus’ arrival; it plunks along the sidewalk with a weary sigh. The woman starts to stand, opening her mouth to express her gratitude. 

“Wait one second, one last thing,” Luna says, stuck in the sentiment of the past. Her fingers steadily remove her hairclip, lodging it into the woman’s braids with a jingling click. The woman hobbles on the bus, displays her missing teeth, and waves goodbye. Against the plastic seat, she touches the hairpiece, brushing soft ridges. When she opens her compact mirror once again, she notices clipped peonies gushing from her hair, vibrant – as bright as teenage suns and sparkling full-moons.